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Dinner went down a bomb - and I nearly exploded

Published 17 October 2004
News Review
588th article

Vineet Bhatia explains the menu choices to Michael Winner (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Five years ago a fantastic woman, then not Lady Caine, but Lady Caine now, said, "Let's have an Indian." Since Shakira is herself Indian I assumed, as with all other matters, she knew what she was talking about.

We went, with hubby Michael, to Zaika. This was a recently opened place with a chef, Vineet Bhatia, much acclaimed in Hammersmith (isn't everyone?) who'd moved to the Fulham Road.

On my first visit Vineet did to me exactly what he perpetrated on my first visit to his new place, Rasoi Vineet Bhatia off the King's Road in Chelsea. I wrote in 1999: "Vineet insisted I try almost everything on the menu.

I had four starters, five main courses, one vegetable dish, two accompaniments and two desserts. They were all brilliant."

Obviously since 1999 my stomach has enlarged (sit down the reader who said, "We can see that from your photos!") because this time I scoffed considerably more.

Vineet was the first Indian chef to get a Michelin star. This glory was tarnished by his boss, Claudio Pulze, banishing him to ugly premises in a strange part of Kensington High Street. So Vineet sensibly left to open his own, elegant restaurant in a small townhouse near Sloane Square.

On the ground floor are two dining rooms, upstairs can house private parties. The look is extremely pleasing. Pastel shades, Indian artefacts framed as pictures, bells hanging from the metal struts of an observatory roof.

Vineet's wife did the decor.

She usually manages the restaurant but was noticeably absent when I visited. "Probably terrified," explained Vineet. He smiles a lot and has great charm. Rare for people in the totally misnamed hospitality business.

We started with what I guess were small, round poppadoms. Three containers of brightly coloured accoutrements to go with them were in a long china bowl. All delicious. By the time we'd finished we didn't need anything else. Cuppa tea and the bill would have done me.

Instead we got a seafood platter, a duck platter and a tandoori paneer. Don't ask me what it all consisted of. Find someone who knows about food. It was above historic. Really delicate flavouring. Beautifully prepared. But only the start of foodie world "shock and awe".

Then came ginger and chilli lobster, grilled red mullet, prawns poached in coconut, tandoori chicken breast, Kashmiri lamb and accompaniments of mustard-tempered vegetables, tarka dal (whatever that is!), kachumber raita, trio of breads, old Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Everything was so sensational I just kept eating. It's a miracle I didn't blow up, blasting little pieces of Winner over the other diners.

Indian desserts are usually beyond belief frightful. But I had rose petal and vanilla beans, pistachio and coriander and mango ice-cream. Also marsala tea and lime ice-cream. I think the marsala tea was a variety of ice-cream. Geraldine never eats desserts. She kept taking mine, observing it was rather like a pink blancmange.

I made Vineet write down what I'd had. I'm giving you the twice-nightly version as we say in the theatre.

That means his real descriptions indicated much more.

To finish me off I had Indian petit fours. This meal was, without doubt one, of the great food experiences, even though I was so stuffed I could hardly walk.

Our photo shows Vineet writing down what had so pleased me. Next time I'll eat a tenth as much and be even happier. But it was explode-a-Winner night. It would have been churlish not to join in.

  • Paul Joslin writes from Oxford, "I see the great man (that's me, good thinking, Paul!) acquired 12 wine aerators at £9.95 each from Scotts of Stow. My new Christmas catalogue gives a price of £15.95. Has word got around?"

    I contacted Nigel Swabey, chairman of Scotts of Stow. If I'd increased his selling price by 60% I intended to ask for a donation for the National Police Memorial that I'm placing in the Mall. Mr Swabey explained Paul was referring to another wine aerator which was silver-plated, posher - and more expensive.

    I immediately ordered three.

    Mr Swabey told me he gave journalists a 30% discount! Far be it from me to look a discount in the mouth, but I was disappointed.

    This grander version didn't aerate wine at all like my ugly, cheaper model. There was no stoppage at the bottom of the funnel to send the wine out, fountain-like, streaming through little holes, thus letting it breathe. It was just a silver plated funnel with a sieve you could put in the top to collect sediment.

    I gave one to my receptionist Dinah. I don't know what to do with the other two.

    Winner's letters

    Thanks for last week's invaluable advice. I don't know what I'd do without you. The next time I fly up to the Borough Arms in Newcastle-under-Lyme by helicopter to give a mid-dinner speech, I really must remember to order the bread roll and smoked trout with potatoes, carrots and beans.
    David Miller, London.

    Michael Winner always provides us with useful tips. Here's another for his readers. If you go to the Bury central library you can reserve his autobiography, Winner Takes All, for no fee thus saving £17. In addition it comes with a "historic" plastic protective cover preventing grease marks while eating and reading at the same time.
    Bob Hargreaves, Bury.

    I can't get my head around your picture being taken with restaurant staff exuding geniality and bonhomie when you're usually preparing to shaft them. Don't you know that's the sort of thing despots do?
    Colin Drury, Glamorgan.

    Your column is a wonderful reminder of how lucky I am to be contented, unpretentious and poor! Sue Steel, last week, must have the forbearance of a saint to manage to smile on your photo after having been dismissed because she didn't have a spouse. She should have replied, "And whose husband are you?" Come on, Michael, you've obviously missed out on the 20th century. Please try and make it into the 21st!
    Tony Limbert, West Yorkshire

    I always wondered how you managed to visit so many places. Now I know. You have a posse of dopplegangers. I met one recently, along with a pretty good surrogate Geraldine, at Sandy Lane. I realised my error when you ordered a bottle of Banks beer and I spied a child beside you. It turned out to be someone who resembled you closely. How many doubles do you employ and who trains them?
    Michael Morgan, London

    Nobody can suggest Michael Winner gets the same treatment in restaurants as ordinary people. He needs disguises, and good ones, to get an impartial view of food.
    A J Cotter, London

    Following your recommendation I visited the Splendido hotel in Portofino. It was stunning. But archaically the ladies' menus don't show prices. What if Geraldine is paying?
    Neil Lemel, London

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