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Who ate all the pies? You need look no further

Published 27 June 2004
News Review
572nd article

Ready and set: Michael Winner prepares for lunch at home (Dinah May)

Never mind so-called super chefs decorating the plate with squiggles and plonking the dreaded bed of spinach underneath everything. You can't beat a good pie!

I'm driven to these thoughts because my cook, Donata, recently took her four week annual holiday in the Philippines. This left only six household staff to look after me. We all suffer at times.

Luckily my chief receptionist, the talented and beautiful Dinah May, is a star in the kitchen. She runs her family home in the Wirral - two sons and a husband - and, like many housewives, knows more about preparing a superb meal than our famous chefs.

I'm also lucky to have a first-rate butcher in nearby Holland Park Avenue, called Lidgate. Holland Park Avenue is not the leafy, elegant thoroughfare the name implies. It's a ghastly main road running from Notting Hill to Shepherd's Bush.

The only person I know who actually lives there is a man I always disagree with, but immensely admire, my friend (well, acquaintance!) Tony Benn.

Lidgate is not my principal meat supplier. That honour goes to R Allen of Mayfair, which provides the best meat and poultry ever. It is above historic. Except when it occasionally delivers late and I go ballistic.

What Lidgate does offer are unbeatable pies. They are made daily with Lidgate's own butter-based pastry. Ten varieties range from steak and kidney and cottage pie to lamb, leek and apricot.

Dinah adds peas (fresh not frozen) and broccoli. This lunch is delicious. I could eat it forever. Particularly as I've given up on dinner.

It may be perverse for someone who writes Winner's Dinners not to eat dinner but - except on special occasions -that's how it is. I'm following the lead of my friend Lord Glenconner who told me he kept thin by having no dinner.

I now refer you to our photograph where I'm sitting at my dining table holding two Lidgate pies and facing a splendid display of tablemats. The sharp-eyed reader will notice one of them depicts Van Gogh's Sunflowers.

I think the presentation of any table at which we eat is highly important. That's why the Wolseley is particularly pleasant - because all the accoutrements are so tasteful. But Messrs King and Corbin have nothing to match the quality of my tablemats. I make them myself.

When I was first placed in Who's Who, many decades ago, I took it terribly seriously. Under hobbies I put - most boringly - "walking around art galleries, museums, antique shops". Later I lightened up and added, "eating, being difficult, making tablemats, washing silk shirts".

I took up the home manufacture of tablemats when some splendid ones I'd bought in Florence, showing old master paintings - in particular that coy nude lady standing in a seashell -became somewhat dog-eared. The firm in Florence was no longer there.

The mats available in London were all thin, silly, spindly things showing Regent Street with carriages traversing it. Or even drearier images.

Then I had my brilliant idea! A chain of shops called Athena sold art prints on thick board with a cavity in the back. It was intended you put a nail in the wall and hang these things up. They came in all sizes. Some ideal for tablemats. Some perfect for coasters.

With do-it-yourself genius, which would have made Leonardo da Vinci proud of me, I took a selection of these prints back home. They were dowdy with a matt surface.

I filled in the cavity in the back of each print with plastic wood. Then I varnished the front seven times. Now they had a shiny surface. They were durable.

The works of Rembrandt, Canaletto, Renoir and other luminaries glowed with precision.

Then (wait for it!) I glued dark green felt to the bottom, cut round it, and stood back to admire. Everyone lucky enough to enter my house comments on my marvellous tablemats.

I phoned Athena to check, as I knew you'd want to go into the tablemat business.

Sadly it no longer sells prints on wood. It doesn't matter. You can buy art postcards, or even use family photos.

Order plastic of the same size, glue them on and go through the same process of varnishing and felt underlay. I have some like that, too.

Study my dining table further and you'll notice my salt and pepper pots depict an old man and an old woman. The man contains pepper. When you shake him he goes, "Atishoo!"

The lady houses salt. When shaken she says, "Bless you!" It's a laugh a minute in my house!

  • PS: I do hope the educational content of today's discourse has been of help to you. Next week: how to boil an egg.

    Winner's letters

    How is it you manage to persuade the luckless chef to pose with you for a smiley photo when in fact you're about to slate his restaurant?
    R Thomas, Guernsey

    You asked last week for opinions on where your glasses went. I think the restaurant couldn't take seriously anyone wearing green glasses. The ever tasteful Geraldine decided to save you from further vulgar display - and herself from even more embarrassment than usual - by dropping the offensive accessory into a pot. By now she's probably got rid of the red ones, too. I hope you weren't wearing them at the time.
    Michael Bright, Oxford

    Your red and green glasses were given a complimentary ticket and were making a spectacle of themselves at the next table.
    Justin Jones, Saurat, France

    The clues were in your column: the butter you ordered didn't arrive; pigs eat anything. Your glasses slipped to the floor. While picking them up the waiter remembered the butter. He rushed to a local farm to obtain some. In his haste he slipped and fell into the sty where the pigs ate him. Your glasses are now being worn by a short-sighted French pig.
    David Miller, London

    You wrote, "I eat anything put in front of me. I'm a pig." You ate your glasses.
    Alton Douglas, Warwickshire

    We suffered badly at Heathcotes flagship restaurant near Preston, waiting one and a quarter hours between courses at my wife's 60th birthday dinner. Vegetables were served after the main course. Mr Heathcote refuted our allegations even though he wasn't there. We issued a summons in the Small Claims Court and we won. The action came under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. The law demands food be supplied of a reasonable standard and expects reasonable care and skill. Failure to deliver such puts the restaurant in breach of contract.
    David Evans, Blackpool

    I was interested to see you praise Virgin airline food last week. You should try travelling economy! Flying to and from New York the food was disgraceful. I wrote to Sir Richard but he didn't reply!
    V Lord, West Sussex

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