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Paola's quite right, you know - I really am a pig

Published 26 June 2005
News Review
625th article



Iain Wilson and Michael Winner outside Byfords in Holt, Norfolk (Paola Lombard)

Sausage rolls are extremely difficult. They're one of my favourites. Where can you get a good sausage roll these days? At Byfords in Holt, a small town in Norfolk.

It's a long way to go for a sausage roll.

Byfords is large and quaint. It serves food, cakes, flapjacks. Attached to it is a shop selling much the same; above it, luxurious rooms are let at £130 a night.

It's owned and run by Iain and Clair Wilson. I didn't know you could spell Clair without an e on the end, but she does. I never met her. She was at home with her children and declined to come in to greet me. How anyone can prefer their own children to me, I can not imagine.

There's an exposed brick wall. A massive pile of logs for the real fireplace was stacked next to my bay window table. A mouth-watering display of cakes rested on the wide window ledge.

On a tour of the premises I took a chocolate flapjack from the deli counter. Didn't like it. I'm not sure chocolate should be in flapjacks. "They sell very well," said Iain, attempting to put me in my place.

"Your ordinary flapjack is excellent," I said in the hope of mollifying him.

"They're just made of syrup, oats and butter. How can anyone mess that up?" asked Iain. "People can mess anything up," I responded.

The home-made bread was superb. So was my aromatic crispy duck soup. I thought Duck Soup was just the name of a Marx Brothers movie. I tried a vanilla milkshake.

"Rather thin," I dictated into my tape.

"The best milkshakes are in Harrods at Morellis," explained Paola. She's a great fan of Morellis milkshakes. I'm not sure I can face the crowds in Harrods to check them out. So I drank Paola's milkshake instead. "You call me a pig," said Paola, "You're a pig! You've taken all of my milkshake. That's after you grabbed six sweets from different plastic trays at the sweet shop!"

I tried a Bakewell tart. Poor. Then a Victoria sponge. Not good at all, very clammy. Paola was having cheese on toast with apple and mint chutney. I ate some.

It was fantastic. The banana bread was very good too. I was beginning to feel rather bloated. So we left.

"That restaurant was full of tall young women with very long legs, wearing thin dark blue jeans," I observed as we walked past a twee shop called Art-e-fax. "That's what you wanted to be there," said Paola. "It wasn't. There were lots of old people, children and young mums."

One thing's for sure, San Lorenzo in Knightsbridge is full of women with plastic surgery. From my regular table, facing steps leading down from the entrance bar, I witness a Miss Plastic Surgery pageant. Paola and I seem to be the only people with our own, unmessed about faces.

Restaurant critics tend to dismiss San Lorenzo. Ridiculous. It's extremely good.

The home-made pasta - and even the bought-in spaghetti -are marvellous.

Paola's parents were born in Italy. She's a great cook and she thinks San Lorenzo is like mama's cooking. Lots of the stuff there is superb.

Watching the owner, Mara, aged - well, shall we say not young - working the room and checking on every detail is to observe one of the greatest restaurant professionals.

Her chocolate ice cream is definitely historic. The best ever by a long way. Another advantage is, with my Kensington and Chelsea parking permit attached to my Suzuki Grand Vitara, I can park easily.

Unfortunately, the wardens in Westminster don't acknowledge the permit. I was at the Ivy enjoying excellent salt-beef and carrots when they advised me I was getting booked.

I rushed out, thanked the warden and asked: "Now I've got a ticket, can I be clamped?" "No," he said firmly. Some 20 minutes later, while I was pouring cream on my jelly, I was clamped! I phoned from the table and they released the Suzuki 10 minutes later.

I should have listened to Paola. She told me to park in a forecourt opposite. It was Sunday lunchtime and the building was closed, Nobody would have minded. Still, it kept the Westminster traffic people busy. And helped subsidise the rates.

Here's a naughty tip: if you see a warden on the west side of West Street, where the Ivy is, drive over to the opposite kerb. That comes under Camden. Forget about eating. Just endlessly take your car from one side of the road to the other.

The Ivy won't care. They still, deservedly, get a thousand reservation requests a day. One thousand and one if you count me.



Winner's letters

We made a booking at the Black Boys Inn near Henley for 8.30pm on a Saturday night. Unlike Leila Clarke (Winner's Letters, June 12) we didn't even get to try the apparently delightful nosh. On sitting down the senior waiter asked us to leave as we'd arrived late. Possibly the rudest service of 2005 thus far!
Dr Pauline Sharpenn Buckinghamshire

I'm glad the Swinfields (Winner's Letters, last week) realise and disclosed the poor effect "Londonites" have had on Norfolk. They are moving round our coastline converting good, wholesome food outlets into "dusted large plate" scenarios. And tell me, please, do you make your complaint about poor food and service to the management at the end of the meal? Or do you let them sweat until it's in print?
Paul Hurst, Norfolk

You poor old thing, pictured forgetting to put shoes and socks on again (Winner's Dinners, June 12). I'm pleased to see Paola put an ID bracelet on your wrist. So when you say: "Do you know who I am?" people can look at it and say: "Yes, you're Michael Winner!"
Wes Gilbert, London

I concur with your judgment last week about Cocoon. Our starters were quite pleasant. However, the main course was not only average, but cold! Our problems started at the front door. Having been told they had a valet parking service, when we arrived at 8.15pm we discovered it didn't start until 9pm. A disappointing evening at a highly pretentious restaurant.
Jack Levene, London

Is the electrical device attached to the front of the delectable Paola's T shirt in last week's photo a tracker so you can find her when she does a runner?
Bob Mitchell, Yorkshire

During a recent holiday in Sicily we were driving out of Arigento on the way to some ancient ruins when we passed a place called the "Winner Cinema"! Is there no limit to your influence?
Pam Bridges, Lancashire

I see a new emporium bearing your esteemed name has opened in Seymour Place, London W1 selling snacks, sweets and newspapers. Is this your pension if all else fails?
Alan Rind, London