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I hope it's not a case of hair today, gone tomorrow

Published 6 June 2004
News Review
569th article

Michael Winner, Vanessa Perry and Jay Maggistro at No 5 (Taryn Lucas)

Geraldine thought Jay Maggistro was a very good hairdresser. She stopped going to him because he didn't turn up. He wasn't there when she'd made an appointment.

Vanessa Perry, who'd recommended Jay to Geraldine, stuck with him. Vanessa is my ex-girlfriend. She featured in this column for years.

It's possible Jay got a bit distracted from the hairdressing because he opened a restaurant called No 5. This occupies a large house in Cavendish Square. At, amazingly, number 5. Vanessa suggested we have lunch there.

It's a pillared, 19th-century building, overdecorated far too brightly. But still quite nice. The dining room, on the first floor, is red with impressionistic pictures of people and horses.

The waiter said, "Would you like a drink?" Vanessa and I both replied, "Still water." The waiter responded, "Would you like an aperitif? A Negroni?" I said, "We've just ordered." He said, "Fizzy water." I said, "No. Still water." This sort of conversation does not endear me to eating establishments.

A pleasant South African lady came to take our food order. I said, "Do you have a pad? I only order when people have a pad." She gave me a look as if to say, "Don't you trust me to remember?" No I don't. You or anyone else. She returned with a pad.

Then Jay, the owner, appeared. He's very charming. "To open this place, he must have done very well on tips," I thought. I expressed it somewhat differently. "I see you've found a backer," I said. "Big backer. Bloody right," said Jay. I was told who the backer was, not by Jay, but I won't reveal his name. I doubt he'll make a fortune.

When I returned a few days later to a drinks party given by my friend the hypnotist Paul McKenna, I went upstairs to check out the restaurant. At 8.30pm there were only two people eating and three more in the bar.

Jay explained they also had eight suites to rent. He assured me they were very popular. Until two weeks ago he did hairdressing in his salon in a mews at the back. Now he's given up. "I'll do you," he volunteered. "Why should I use a retired hairdresser?" I asked somewhat ungraciously.

Jay used to have a restaurant called Mezzaluna in Finchley Road. It was bought by Mr Philpott. So it's now Philpotts Mezzaluna. The publisher, Jeremy Robson, who will present my autobiography in September, took me there.

Vanessa volunteered further information about Jay. "He's got a very beautiful wife," she said. My veal chop arrived. It was very good. Just as I dictated, "There's no sign of vegetables," a man appeared carrying them. I took a bit of spinach. I don't know why. I detest spinach.

Everything's on a bed of spinach today. When I was young we all hated spinach. The only way parents could get us to eat it was to say it was healthy. They referred to Popeye, the cartoon hero, who poured spinach down him from a can and then beat up all the baddies with spinach induced vigour.

I don't know what they put in my lunchtime spinach, but it tasted better than any I'd ever had. It was a commendable main course. The beans and potatoes were good, too.

The fig and marzipan tart was a letdown. The figs were sticky, the pastry horrid.

Their doorman closed the passenger door of my Rolls Phantom V -but not properly.

We had to stop so my chauffeur could get out and do it again.

Vanessa rang me at 6.30pm and said, "You didn't pay the bill." This was true. I'm so used to having restaurant accounts, I'd just walked out. Nobody said anything. I phoned and had them fax it at once. I paid, as always, very promptly.

I recently returned to the marvellous Cipriani. I explained to Jason Phillips, the too-young man I had Arrigo take as restaurant manager, "I don't mind the small table you gave us for three people. It's just okay for two. But I'd rather not see other couples sitting at a larger table." "You'll have the big table," said Jason definitively.

I didn't.

Halfway through the meal two people were put at a larger table. "Mauro did that, not me!" explained Jason.

I liked Mauro.

He dimmed the lights enough to take the glare off a white wall facing me. I decided to praise him.

I faxed Jason asking for Mauro's full name and title. Jason did not respond. Was he jealous? Or did he think Mauro was in the secret service?

His boss, Arrigo Cipriani, told me Mauro's second name was Manfe and he was a manager.

See, Jason, he isn't in MI5. Well, probably not.

Winner's letters

Having watched Gordon Ramsay giving forceful views on television about how restaurants and kitchens should be run, it was with anticipation I went with two girlfriends to his Boxwood Cafe. The head waiter (who looked no more than 12) took our order with, "All right, girls, know what you're having?" He was far too familiar. The asparagus soup was thin, watery and tasteless. We were torn as to which of the two household-name packet soups it resembled the most. The duck and the calves liver were ordinary, verging on boring. While the desserts were good the overall experience was lacklustre and disappointing. It didn't help that we sat shivering with coats on as our section offered Siberia-like air-conditioning. Despite repeatedly asking for the bill we had to wait an interminable 25 minutes - not something one wants to do at midnight. Gordon Ramsay should start by putting his own restaurant in order.
Debra Lewis, Hertfordshire.

I'd like to respond to your findings about Loch Fyne in Barnet last week. We have a unit situated among the dreaming spires - okay, Oxford. My wife and I enjoyed several good meals there until one day we were presented with a "retired and drawing pension" fish. I advised my other half to return it, but she thought that too fussy. She later regretted her decision. After a cooling-off period we went again when some staff appeared to be drunk. They never collected our main course plates so I collected them myself. Predictably we had to leave and won't be returning.
Mark Goodall, Oxford.

I understand M&S is no longer to use the name St Michael. Go for it, Mr Winner.
D Rimmer, Southport.

Following your advice (Winner's Dinners, April 4) we visited the Stepping Stones in Westhumble, Surrey. You must have been feeling generous when you reviewed it. No staff offered menus; luckily a customer helped out. We had to queue for the food as we hadn't booked. It was more chaotic than the first night in Hell's Kitchen. The pastry on my steak and kidney pie tasted of rancid oil, the vegetables were ghastly. My husband's haddock and chips were very mediocre. You said you expected it to be a disaster -then went on to praise it. Your first thoughts were accurate.
Allyson Webb, Surrey.

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk