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My encounters with the Pacific rim prove oceans apart

Published 8 May 2005
News Review
618th article

Michael Winner with Ian Pengelley, far left, and staff at Pengelley's (Charles Brooks)

The first time I went to Pengelley's, a swish, newish restaurant on Sloane Street, I liked it. The second time I most certainly didn't.

It's one of those Pacific rim - are they Chinese or are they not? - places. The first-floor room is low-ceilinged and gloomy. At one end there's a wall displaying what the chef-owner, Ian Pengelley, described as homo-erotic art.

When my friend Michael Caine arrived he said: "I've got someone's bum facing me. Was it up there before or was it put up for our benefit?" His wife, Shakira, preferred the first, larger table we were offered. "It's too bloody late now," said Michael. So we stayed put. I think he was right.

To the table we'd left came my ex-gardener (honest!) A A Gill. Well, it's nice to see the staff having a night out.

Michael, ever observant, noticed some of the tables had cloths (ours did) and some did not. "Perhaps it's half price over there," he mused.

On this visit we all thought the food was excellent. We had prawn pitaki, dim sum dumplings, scallops, tempura, shitake mushrooms, steamed halibut, caramelised pork chop with chilli vinegar, beef rib-eye with something or other.

Don't ask me to explain each dish. In general I was happy.

"The Duke of York is nice, isn't it?" said Michael. That's the pork to you who are ignorant.

Ian Pengelley was the opening chef at e&o in Notting Hill, still one of my favourite restaurants. Then he waited a long time to find his own place, and this is it. Financed by Gordon Ramsay's company, owned by Ian Pengelley. "I majored in desserts," I advised Ian as the main course plates were being cleared. "You want a good review, give him a lot of chocolate," Michael Caine suggested.

The desserts were okay. The service was good. Except I asked for ice on the table.

I kept looking round and there wasn't any.

Obviously I liked the place because later I took my friend Nicholas Cowell, brother of Simon, and his wife, Katie, mother of baby Georgia.

Paola and I arrived first. We studied the menu. After some time I said to the restaurant manager: "You should have interesting cocktails here." "We do," he said. "Where are they? Why are they not known to the guests?" I asked. "We have a cocktail list but we don't like to give it out because we don't want people to have too much to read," said the restaurant manager. That is the most stupid remark anyone has ever made to me in any restaurant in my entire life.

When Nicholas and Katie arrived we sat for a while. Then Katie asked: "Why are there only two menus between four people?" I told the restaurant manager there were four of us and unless they were saving on menus, could we please have one each.

Later in the meal I looked round for the ice I'd asked to have on the table and, as on my Michael Caine visit, there wasn't any. What's wrong with these people? A trained gorilla could serve ice in a bowl. Why can't they?

When people say to me: "You never get bad service because they're all on red alert when you come in," I can respond: "They weren't at Pengelley's. They were on sleep non-alert."

We none of us liked the food much. This time I thought it lacked focus. There was no item which said: "I'm special. Like me." It was all mushy-wushy, if you get my drift.

The only person who particularly enjoyed any dish was Paola. She liked her fish.

Nicholas thought the food was far better at Eight over Eight, the e&o clone in Chelsea.

At Pengelley's the spare ribs were very feeble.

Earlier Kate said she'd like some bread to chew on and they told her: "We don't have bread, we can give you edamame." That's a sort of bean. Anything less like bread I can't imagine. "I really think on this visit Pengelley's was a fiasco," I dictated into my tape. It's a miracle I could hear the playback later, the restaurant noise had become so catastrophically loud.

Tana Ramsay was there. She's Gordon's wife. One of the most beautiful and sweet-natured people ever. Didn't make the meal any better. But it was nice to see her.

  • PS: Paola and I were at the Dorchester Grill for Sunday lunch. John, the superb assistant restaurant manager, said to her: "Do you want cream with your coffee?"

    "No thank you," said Paola.

    As John took the cream away she added: "Piggy'll have it." When I got up to leave, I said: "John, Piggy's going." "She's brave," he murmured.

    Winner's letters

    Was that the real Michael Winner in last week's News Review escorting Her Majesty? With a suit, a tie and just enough cuff showing above the coat sleeve. Are you really a bully? I say: "Well done, Michael" for your persistence in getting us a National Police Memorial.
    Brian Mullen, Tadcaster.

    Despite having slimmed down you're still bloated with your own self importance. But thanks to one man with an obsession we have a national memorial to honour our deceased police officers. And keep it up, Sundays wouldn't be the same without you.
    Barry Mellish, Kent.

    I absolutely loathe your pretentious Winner's Dinners column but admire beyond telling what you have done for the police. Pray accept my deep-felt congratulations.
    Sir Bryan Thwaites, London.

    You wrote (Winner's Dinners, April 24) your historic welsh rarebit at the Fountain restaurant had a poached egg on top. Surely, that made it a buck rarebit! I once asked for a welsh rarebit in a restaurant and was told they only had buck rarebit. I'm still trying to work this out.
    Geoff Benfield, London.

    You recounted last week the PR lady at the Palace hotel, Gstaad was unable to book you into the Sonnenhof restaurant. But when Tanya and Sarah went there personally, they got you in. Do you really believe the PR lady should have gone herself to secure your reservation? Would that be while on duty, or off duty? Why should PRs dash around making bookings for you?
    Marcus Brooke, Glasgow.

    You said last week you'd lost so much weight you were ordering new jackets. Who then is keeping your trousers up?
    Fred Beckett, Cheltenham.

    Is there any correlation between having a lovely new girlfriend and your weight loss?
    Rhys Thomas, Newcastle.

    One presumes the service at Betty's Cafe (Winner's Letters, last week) is a tad on the tardy side as they have "vintage Victorian waitresses".
    Paul Simister, Twickenham.

    In Betty's Cafe they serve a cake called "fat rascal". It must have been made for you!
    Martin Nettleton, Yorkshire.

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