It must be a good restaurant if I'm not allowed in
Published 9 January 2005 News Review 600th article
Geraldine, floor manager Po Land Lai, Wendy and Michael Winner (David No-name)
Those of you attuned to my every whim will recall I hate Charlotte Street. It's an unattractive dump north of the wrong end of Oxford Street - if Oxford Street even has a right end! But it has always housed excellent restaurants.
My friends David and Wendy refuse to let me print their second name. You can't get more ridiculous than that. So what? I'm often ridiculous.
David chose a restaurant in Charlotte Street called Roka for our soiree. I decided to drive my Suzuki Grand Vitara, which is smaller than the Bentley, and thus easier to park. I found space in a side street right outside the door of Roka. I pushed but the door was locked.
Various oriental employees looked at me as I tried to get in, not helping at all.
One of them pointed to their door in Charlotte Street. I went round and headed determinedly for the door. I wasn't let in.
I addressed the staff still standing there. "This door opens," I said pushing it.
"Why did no one let me in?" Later the floor manager, Po Land Lai, said: "We wanted to see you make a grand entrance through the main door."
My host, David, said: "It's the sign of a good restaurant that they wouldn't let you in." "It's a disgrace," I said, "I shall tell the general manager." "She's left for the evening," informed Po. "Must have heard I was coming," I remarked.
Roka is a good restaurant. Very good. But as David observed: "It's the sort of place you wouldn't rush back to." Roka is owned by Zuma, the ever-so-chic (and absurdly noisy) place in Knightsbridge. It's the cafe version.
The menu card is ridiculous.
It's very stiff plastic. So stiff you can't open it more than 45 degrees and then you have to fight to keep it open.
I ripped out the paper pages in the middle.
Dishes are under headings such as chu-maki, roka dishes, robata sakana and many more. David said: "Shall I order lots of things?" I asked: "Do I trust you? Do you know what you're doing?" David said: "Tell me at the end of the meal." "That could be too late," I advised.
"There's a McDonald's down the road," said David ordering like mad. "At least they'll let me in there," I said, adding to Po: "You've got to tell me what I get because I won't know what it is." "I'll give you a copy of the bill. You can look at it when I've paid," offered David.
He did give me the bill. It came to Pounds 247.60. It included edamame (raw beans), kim chi - no idea what that is, couldn't find it on the menu - egg roll, king crab hotpot, rock shrimp (particularly delicious), onion rings in bread crumbs, crispy prawn maki, salmon hand roll, tiger prawns, quail marinated in plum wine and red miso, lamb cutlets, sashimi, chicken skewers, I could go on. It was all absolutely fabulous, to quote my friend Joanna Lumley.
My main disappointment of 2004 was that they offered me a job acting in a commercial Jennifer Saunders was making within the Absolutely Fabulous Christmas special and then, because they couldn't get some singer, they wrote it out of the script.
At Roka, I got unbelievably excited ordering. I interrupted and kept choosing new things. "Calm down," said Geraldine. "How can I calm down, they wouldn't even let me in!" I responded.
My tape recorded notes are odder than usual. Here's a sample: "A cold roll. It's like a square thing. We're now hearing this thing is called something completely different. It's an egg omelette with a fish stock. We've had tuna and now we've got tuna on white things."
I asked for a knife and fork. I'm useless with chopsticks. Then, when a new course was due, a waiter put the knife and fork aside. I can't stand that. I don't want to eat off cutlery with congealed food on it.
After I decided I was totally full up a lobster appeared. I managed to force some down before ordering a dark chocolate and nougat pudding with plum wine ice cream. Geraldine said: "I'll have some of his." I don't want to share my desserts. "Give her a whole portion," I said magnanimously as a person not paying the bill.
"I'm definitely going out that way," I said to Po, pointing to the fire exit that I'd not been allowed in through. They opened both the fire doors so I could get to my Suzuki parked right outside. "Thanks, Po, nice to see you. Thank you," I said.
And then I was gone. Leaving a restaurant of highly relieved staff and customers.
PS: Our competition "What most impressed me on my travels?" continues. Last set of Concorde cutlery and other goodies as prize.
To win your competition, you asked readers to suggest what impressed you most on your travels. I'd say that Geraldine puts up with your eccentric behaviour.
Rolf Soderlind, Thames Ditton
... your modesty in all things, your attention to unnecessary and unrelated detail, and your lack of expertise in the subject you write about.
John Prince, Isle of Man
... an English bank holiday. You know you'll have a brolly good time. B Davies, Reading
... the number of people prepared to grit their teeth and travel economy.
John McCall, Billingham
... your impersonation of a gourmet.
Alan Douglas, Kings Norton
... the impression left by your trouser belt on your ever expanding midriff.
Roger Gunter, Rugby
... the person who takes your picture and gets all of your head in the frame.
Phil Bentham, Liverpool
... that when I wrote to you to "Michael Winner, London" my letter was delivered and you personally answered!
Barry Mason, Staffordshire
At Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons our main course was Angus fillet with foie gras. When I cut into the foie gras it ran all over the steak as if it were a sauce. This suggested it was overcooked. The vegetables were very bland and combined with the mashed potato turned into a mushy mess. Raymond Blanc's prices reflect a three-Michelin-starred restaurant rather than a two. His chefs would benefit from taking dinner at Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. There I have never been dissatisfied.
W J Leedham, Surrey
You've written glowingly of La Petite Maison in Nice. When I went recently a family of eastern Europeans were celebrating a birthday at the next table. Glasses were noisily smashed and ground underfoot! We and another table of diners left after our first course as we thought this disturbance not conducive to a night out in an expensive restaurant. The manageress accused us of trying to get a cheap meal!
Catherine Cavendish, Dublin
*Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org