Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

Hotpots and chilli delights from my park paradise

Published 13 March 2005
News Review
609th article

Winner with, from left, Billy Reid, Camilla Jessel and Julie Blay (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I could go on Mastermind with my special subject being the Belvedere restaurant in Holland Park. When I moved into a house bordering the park in 1946 the restaurant wasn't there. Lord Ilchester, the freeholder of the area, wouldn't allow any development.

After he died, the park was handed over to the London County Council and the historic houses around it were destroyed galore in favour of horrid 1950s blocks of flats. J Lyons and Co, who used to have marvellous "corner houses" all over London, opened the Belvedere. It was comfortable but not that good.

The next owner, my Swiss friend Dieter Abt, was wrongly charged with fraud. The judge stopped the trial on the second day. Dieter ruined the place by changing the entrance and generally messing up a Jacobean building. John Gold and Bill Offner, then owners of Tramp, took it over. The food remained indifferent, but Johnny had such a following the atmosphere made it well worth a visit.

I nagged Marco Pierre White to get it and eventually he did. The food became rather fancy for a poor boy from Willesden like me. But Marco had it beautifully redesigned and the downstairs room is now one of the best in London.

Recently Marco’s partner, Jimmy Lahoud, bought Marco's share, simplified the menu and introduced an excellent Michelin-starred chef, Billy Reid. His fiancee, Julie Blay, runs the front of house.

My neighbour, the lyricist Don Black, said: "At last I can understand the menu." It includes hamburgers, calves liver and bacon, smoked haddock and other basics.

I went with Geraldine and the Hon Camilla Jessel, who wrote a book called The Taste of Spain. David Frost and Alastair Campbell were there and, on another visit, my friend Charles Allen, the chief executive of ITV.

The food is at an all-time high. But not without hiccups. I had a heavy pheasant pie as a starter; Geraldine adored her foie gras; Camilla said of her capellini of crab, lemon and parsley: "It's different." "That's not the highest praise possible, is it?" I commented. "No it isn't," replied Camilla in her highly aristocratic voice.

I advised Jimmy to get a pianist to cheer things up in the evening. He did. Although on my mandatory nightly walks through Holland Park (Geraldine forces me!) I don’t often see the pianist.

I ordered plaice, which came on the dreaded bed of spinach. I hadn't noticed it said that on the menu. It was dreary.

Camilla had rib eye of beef. She hated the gravy poured all over it. The menu mentioned nothing about any gravy. Camilla said: "It's juicy and tender, this steak. It doesn't need all this sauce."

I thought I'd got dud batteries in my tape recorder so Geraldine went all the way back to my house and got some. Then it turned out I hadn't turned the switch from "off" to "on". I'm a mechanical idiot.

I spilled food all over my shirt. "Never mind spare batteries," said Camilla, "you should bring a spare shirt." Thus humiliated, I decided on treacle tart with clotted cream, even though I remembered having it before and not liking it much. Geraldine ordered creme brulee and mango sorbet.

Camilla was still considering the choices. I said: "I don't know how she wrote a cookbook if she thinks this long over ordering dessert. Must have taken her about 36 years to write the cookbook." Camilla said: "I like everything.”

I responded: "Well, you didn't like the sauce and you didn't like your starter." Camilla replied: "That's when I got to it. In theory and on paper I liked it." Camilla's souffle arrived very quickly. She described it as "maybe a trace over sweet".

I called for Billy the chef. "You know what would make this place a raging success?" I announced. "No idea, sir," said Billy. "Three words: chilli con carne," I suggested. "It's my speciality," said Billy. "How's that?" I asked, "you come from Lancashire." "That and Lancashire hotpot,” said Billy. “Why not have your specialities on the menu?" I remarked. Billy said: "Next time you come I'll make you a chilli.”

On my next visit I specially phoned to warn them I was coming and asked: "Could I have chilli?" Billy said: "No. I've got Irish stew." It wasn't. Even though it was so described on the menu. It was lamb with a bit of sauce, masses of mashed potato and large cabbage leaves.

Billy did come to my house to serve his chilli con carne and Lancashire hotpot. They were two of the great taste sensations.

"Okay," I said as we finished our lunch, "we'll do the photo outside." "I'm not photogenic," muttered Billy. "Neither am I. It never stops me being photographed," I responded.

Winner's letters

It's no wonder you're always dining out with the lovely Geraldine. If I was married to the awful looking Mrs Winner pictured last week I'd want to get away. Send Mrs W to Shepperton studios to kick butt in the canteen.
Nick Tree, Kent.

My wife Linda looked at last week's photo, recognised you, and said: "I may be fat, but she is ugly and I can diet." Being displaced Americans, it's nice to know the English have a sense of humour.
Dale Renner, Malta.

It was enlightening to read last week's critique of the Shepperton Studio restaurant. Perhaps next we can get the lowdown on esure's corporate dining room. What about an esure recipe book or a third party planner's guide? Maybe even a no claims discount card!
Freddie Wilson, Isle of Wight.

I'm not surprised Mr Winner is capable of "doubling up" as in his latest TV ads. It set me wondering what other films might have suited his talents. John Huston's 1972 classic, Fat City, would surely be one. Or Get Shorty, something the Shepperton caterers were probably thinking as he headed back to the set. He might have landed two title parts in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He'd never have made it into The Thin Man series though.
Nigel Galloway, Sussex.

What twaddle was written by Robert Holland last week about the permissibility of cheese being eaten straight from the knife. Anyone with the merest knowledge of prandial etiquette knows that only peas may be eaten straight from the knife, the instrument being dipped into a glob of honey or butter to facilitate adhesion.
Robert Randell, London.

When I was at the George V in Paris (Winner's Dinners, February 27) we ordered drinks in the bar to be told it closed at midnight. They offered to serve us in the room. Who wants to sit in bed drinking whisky and soda? Unlike you, I found the staff a poker-faced lot.
John Carter, Rochdale.

The sylph-like Geraldine is a trained dancer. You are a physical mess. What could Geraldine make of you on Strictly Come Dancing?
Dennis Pallis, Kent.

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