A trip to the meat market leaves me hungry for more
Published 5 September 2004 News Review 582nd article
Pole position: Geraldine Lynton-Edwards at Smithfield market (Arnold Crust)
Near Smithfield meat market in the City is Club Gascon. It's not a club. It's a small restaurant with a lot of marble and mirrors so it looks like a toilet. It's quite famous and has a Michelin star.
I went with Geraldine and Dinah May, our receptionist. It was full of men in suits. Not a buzzy crowd.
The menu offered eight types of foie gras, six soups and much more. It's £38 without wine, gratuity or coffee for five courses.
Nobody rushed to take our order. Eventually I requested "melting lamb delicacies, brain and tongue, creamy morels" and then "hot and tasty pork bites". We got a starter of sausage, sliced duck and some shellfish. It was delicious, but there wasn't much of it.
Geraldine speaks fluent French. She tried it on the waiter. Unfortunately he was German.
Some food went by. I said to a waiter, "What's that?" He said, "It's from the kitchen." It turned out to be sauteed parsnips and heart of artichokes. But not for me.
I asked the lady sitting behind, "How did you get your bread?" She said, "They offered it to us." No one offered me any. So I asked for it. When it came it was unexceptional. We got another minuscule offering of jelly and tomato sorbet.
No one seemed to be in charge of the room. It was appallingly run. After 45 minutes we didn't even have our first course. Geraldine said, "I'm starving."
My lamb dish was tiny but exceptionally good. The ladies liked what they were eating. "Just as well," I said, "You may never see food again."
Trays of food came from the downstairs kitchen. I looked, hoping they'd be for us.
They weren't. A waiter apologised for the frequent, loud use of the "f-word" by guests at the adjoining table. They'd stormed out in a huff. "He's got Hermes deodorant," said Dinah. "Who?" I asked. "The waiter," she responded.
I was given the dessert menu. Dinah said, "I haven't had my main course yet." "You have," I said, "you just didn't recognise it. Sadly, nouvelle cuisine lives."
Dinah said, "I'm hungry." "Eat a lot of cheese," I suggested. The ladies ordered cheese. I requested "velvety chocolate and violets, crunchy praline, coffee sauce".
Geraldine said, "I think it's lovely here. I haven't got enough to eat, that's all." "Well, dear, it is a restaurant," I murmured.
Dinah wasn't keen on the toilet. She said, "As you go in there's a mutually shared wash basin area with a gents' cubicle facing the ladies' cubicle." She didn't consider that proper.
Geraldine said, "The toilet's very small but the flint stone floor, the fine metal walls and the material are beautiful." Dinah responded, "It looks like a hospital toilet."
"There's a certain disagreement about the toilet here," I dictated into my tape, adding, "They can't even get a dessert out of the kitchen. I mean, how long can it take to bring some chocco-poco and some cheese?"
I decided to ask for the bill the minute we got the cheese. Otherwise it could take an hour.
My dessert was another pleasant mini-item. I said to the waitress, "Could I have the bill, please." She said, "Do you want any coffee?"
I replied, "No, just the bill. I won't live long enough to get coffee."
Amazingly, the bill came quickly. With it was a card reading, "Club Gascon welcomes your comments." They demanded your day and month of birth. "Why should customers have to give their day of birth?" I asked. "Perhaps they send you a birthday card," suggested Geraldine.
"I'd like the chef up very quickly for our photo, please," I said to a waiter. Geraldine added, "Tell him not to bother about his hair and what he looks like." "You're absolutely right," I said, "chefs are the biggest bunch of prima donna twits in the world." Dinah said in a hushed voice, "They're not prima donna twits." "You haven't met the chefs I've met," I responded.
As we drove off I observed, "Look there's whole pigs hanging in that truck outside the meat market." Geraldine said, "That was beef." "I don't recognise them when they're cooked," I said, "how should I know them raw?" Dinah said, "Now we know how it is at Club Gascon, if we come again, we can have dinner before."
PS: I disliked the photo of chef Pascal Aussignac and me. I returned to Club Gascon with the wrong Leica camera. Battery dead. No film. I carry a reserve in the Bentley. That had no film! I went again, on Saturday at lunchtime. The restaurant was closed. So I captured Geraldine by the meat market. Perseverance pays!
Having read last week's Winner's Dinners I can say I have never read such a load of bunkum. I am 57 and luckily at 20 I married into a French family where the grandparents on one side were cordon bleu chefs and on the other, wine merchants. The notion that clarets have to breathe is an old wives' tale; all opening the bottle does is allow oxidation to start. You may have to decant some wines (Moldavian being a good example) but most, just drink and enjoy. Michael is just pretentious and I really would like him to test himself with different wines.
Philip Galvin, Southampton
Michael, you're overweight, overpaid, and overbearing. And if you continue to eat the fried fat off your roast beef as you did last week, you'll soon be over altogether.
Freddie Witney, Isle of Wight
The device for aerating wine you were seeking last week is used at the Saffron Lounge at Hale, Cheshire. It also provides entertainment for the diners. It must be easy to use as my son is a waiter there.
Kevin Wilson, Bath
The Tollgate is a "typically English inn" (Winner's Dinners, last week). What a shame it displays a "typically English" attitude to children by banning them. Michael endorsed this. I'm developing similar prejudices. I don't want to eat anywhere that serves television car insurance salesmen. Surely these bans must breach some legislation?
Richard Lyddon, Somerset
At the Tollgate Inn I couldn't eat my main course of beef. It was all fat hidden by a mountain of rocket. I quietly explained this to the lady owner. She went into a diatribe of where the meat was purchased and how it was cooked. No apology. We were treated like second-class citizens. I asked for the bill and for my main course to be wrapped for our dogs.
Christopher Elworthy, Wiltshire
You're not a food critic, Mr Winner. You're an entertainer. Your victims, hoteliers and restaurateurs, shouldn't worry. For the purpose of amusing Sunday reading any publicity is good publicity, isn't it?
Ann McCann, Sussex
Last week Mr Munro of Essex wrote about "pre-booking". Can anyone tell me what pre-booking is and how it differs from booking?
Paul McGee, Kent
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