Too much noise, the right sized chef, not enough cutlery
Published 3 April 2005 News Review 612th article
Preman Mohan, Michael Winner and Karunesh Khanna at Amaya (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
A second string of excellent places, but where the atmosphere is not as good as at my premiere lot, is Rasoi Vineet Bhatia, the Square, the Connaught and the Bombay Brasserie.
So what on earth was I doing visiting Amaya in the Halkin Arcade, Belgravia? Either someone recommended it, invariably a disaster, or it was the idea of my friend theatrical agent Michael Linnit.
Geraldine and I attended with Michael and his wife, the excellent singer Jenny Wren. I had a bit of trouble choosing a table. I walked round checking out various options, none of which looked historic. The very charming restaurant manager, Preman Mohan, eventually led me to a window table which was as good, or bad, as any.
Michael Linnit arrived and said: "When I came here before I was given a table right by the kitchen." He indicated a counter behind which people were doing strange things to food. "It was unbearably hot," he explained. "What do you expect?" I asked. "You're not exactly an A-list restaurant person." Michael kindly ignored that. "We had to wait at the bar for 20 minutes before they found us another table,” he recounted. "I'd have given them my clear opinion of the matter and walked out,” I said.
I don’t know why anyone who's not an expert bothers to read Indian restaurant menus. They mean very little to me. "Cod and chips" I understand. "Sausages and baked beans" - that’s clear as a bell. A lot of fancy Indian stuff, described in terms that are utterly incomprehensible, goes right over my head.
Michael Linnit said he had the introductory tasting menu before. "You can't beat that," he assured us. I'm easily led. "Okay," I said. Saved a lot of trouble asking, "What's this?" and "What's that?"
We got some poppadoms which were fine. When are they not? Then minced chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves with sweet chilli and coconut sauce, chicken tikka and three different naan breads.
"Sweet potato something with yoghurt and tamarind sauce," I dictated. Groupa came in a pandan leaf, whatever a pandan leaf is. Then the pandan leaf appeared again with an osso bucco.
"They've obviously got a lot of pandan leaves," I observed, "perhaps they fell off the back of a lorry." Linnit said: "There's a tree in Belgrave Square." "No leaves on it, they're all here," I interjected. I asked for ice and lemon on the table and it didn’t come until after two reminders.
Somewhere in the middle of this plethora of courses Michael Linnit said: "Now can we have some clean plates?" Jenny chipped in: "I asked him to say that. By now we should have clean knives and forks too." She was absolutely right. It's horrid that these places keep bunging food in front of you, lots of different courses, and you're supposed to eat off congealed plates and congealed cutlery. Jenny said: "I mentioned that because I know about washing up."
The food was all right. It certainly wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t meaningful.
The restaurant was getting grossly noisy. It's at best a room that isn't nasty. To my surprise the desserts were very good. First time I've ever encountered that in an Indian restaurant. I had lime and mint tart and a coconut creme brulee. Linnit had the French pomegranate granita. They were all fantastic.
I was glad to see the chef, Karunesh Khanna, was fat. I always assume a fat chef likes his own food so much he eats a lot of it.
"Gets very noisy, doesn't it?" said Preman, the restaurant manager, as we left. "Certainly does," I agreed. Far too noisy for me to return, that's for sure.
Marvellous Things I Have Eaten Recently (an occasional series): a Victoria sponge cake at the Wolseley. Sponge cake is very difficult. This was light and tasted of something. I’m not clever enough to know what. Just after I wrote this Jeremy King, Wolseley owner-partner, rang to tell me it was vanilla butter cream. The jam and cream filling was good too.
I also had the marvellous three-course £23.50 weekend set lunch at the Ivy. The lamb hotpot with turnips and pearl barley was exemplary, so was the treacle sponge pudding.
The Ivy and Le Caprice have admirably retained standards after the sale to Luke Johnson and Belgo. They have menus even I understand. That’s truly remarkable.
What a life you live! I've never had a doorman open a car door for me. Open your flipping car door yourself. You'll be asking them to wipe your bottom next!
Ros Beck, Granada, Spain
I don't accept last week's version regarding the position of your Bentley. I think you were staggering, uncertain and carefree, from the Connaught due to your cinnamon and cider babas being spiked by offended colleagues of the doorman. The photo sees you seconds from being flattened by said Bentley in a revenge attack from the enraged, Do-nothing doorman.
Barry Kane, Nottingham
Normally we see you with assorted chefs and staff. Last week we got the dish itself. Having described your roast suckling pig at the Connaught as "no crisp skin, layer of rubbery brown exterior, centre quarter red and underneath white slime", you were good enough to illustrate the story by showing the offensive mess propped up against the front of your Bentley. Well done.
S Dickson, Edinburgh
After an excellent Easter lunch at La Colombe d'Or, St Paul de Vence, we spied Richard Madeley. Then we saw a curvy, tanned blonde being helped from a golden convertible. "Here's Judy!" we thought. Closer inspection revealed it was you! So, where was Judy? Are you one and the same?
Nicola Bannister and George Plant, London
The devil's advocate I'm not, especially in defence of the sinner called Winner. But his old trainers, however disreputable, must have carried a truly spectacular whiff for Ms Whiteside of Herts (Winner's Letters, March 27) to have detected their effluvia via a Sunday Times photograph.
Bryan Owram, West Yorkshire
Your number plate in last week's photo - NYF 555P - obviously stands for Not Your Fault. Could that be not your fault for parking at right angle to the pavement in order to get the name of the Connaught in?
Robert Edwards, Kent
Some letters are getting increasingly and unkindly personal. "Ugly as usual ...nauseating cheesy grin ... horrid old jeans." It's difficult to tell with the jacket and shirt but it seems you've shed a few pounds. I hope so. You may live longer.
Glenda Brett-Holt, Malta
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail email@example.com