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If this place is the Swan, who's the ugly duckling?

Published 7 August 2005
News Review
630th article

Richard Hanlon, Graham Williams and Michael Winner at the Swan (Paola Lombard)

Last week I warned of the horrors of eating at the Ledbury in Notting Hill. I'm now restored to my normal, benign, jovial, beaming self and offer you somewhere absolutely splendid for a slap-up meal.

It's a bit out of the way, unless you live in Broughton Poggs, Gloucestershire, in which case it's just down the road. I refer to the Swan at Southrop. It was recommended by my friend Richard Hanlon, a superb interior decorator with a lovely cottage (or is it a small house?) in Burford, Oxfordshire.

Richard, who cavorts on the beaches of Barbados at Christmas, has decorated his own dwelling in delightfully simple and elegant style. I needed some classy prints of flowers and/or plants for my indoor swimming pool. Doesn't everyone? Richard led me to his bedroom - I'm an old whore, I'll go anywhere -and produced from under the bed some excellent Florentine 18th-century floral prints - or rather skilful copies on vellum.

After this high excitement we drove to the Swan, an old pub, which, inside is pleasingly modern and jolly. The co-owner is Graham Williams, ex-general manger of Bibendum (still first rate) on the Fulham Road. "You thought you could escape me, but I found you!" I said to Graham as I walked in.

The first thing I ordered was a Pimm's. It tasted fine, but came in a medium-sized wine glass.

"Bit dainty this, for a Pimm's!" I exclaimed, "it's meant to be in a tumbler." "We don't want you falling over," said Graham. But he produced a tumbler-full anyway.

And I fell over. No, I didn't really.

Paola asked for fresh orange juice. Graham came back and said: "The oranges aren't very nice." "That means they don't exist," I said. "They don't look very nice because they're not here."

After that it was all a triumph. My English asparagus with balsamic vinegar and parmesan was terrific. Then I had some marvellous roast pork with a lot of extra crackling. Paola had the same and asked for Yorkshire pudding with it. Quite right. Yorkshire pudding goes with anything. Except, possibly, chocolate souffle.

The bread was crispy and very good indeed.

Paola liked the decor because it was simple and bright. She doesn't like gloomy. "It's full of character," she said. "You talking about the pub or Michael?" asked Richard. "Definitely the pub," said Paola, "it's nice. I don't like old and grubby." "What are you doing with me then?" I asked.

Paola offered her crackling to Richard. I immediately interceded and grabbed it.

Paola thought her pork "lovely, really nice" and the Yorkshire pudding "fantastic". She was right.

To pass the time I ran my hand along a window ledge. "You could definitely improve the dusting here," I said to Graham. To finish I had a historic apple and sultana crumble and custard. Cost me a fiver, if you really want to know. Then I tried the ice cream. That was great, too. The chef is James Parkinson. He deserves mammoth applause. That's if mammoths can clap. If not, too bad. I'm in a particularly childish mood this week, aren't I?

NB: I'm bemused at the absurd lengths food-providers will go to in the hope of deflecting my outstanding criticism. You may remember I lunched at a house near the Wimbledon tennis courts when American Express kindly asked me to the men's finals. The food, catered by Lena Bjorck of Inn or Out, was pretty awful.

In her Summer Update newsletter Ms Bjorck said I went into a huge sulk when one of her staff nicked my parking space. Because of that, Ms Bjorck implied, I gave her a "less than flattering review". What ridiculous rubbish!

I did display a tiny and fleeting sulk when I couldn't park. This was resolved in a few minutes. Who cares? To suggest I impart my opinions on the basis of a parking glitch is libellous and silly. I say what I think. I neither favour friends nor condemn enemies.

Ms Bjorck could rectify her problems by joining her key staff on a year's learning experience with Mustard, Rhubarb or Admirable Crichton. Three brilliant caterers who would have provided a great lunch before the tennis, instead of a mediocre one.

Ms Bjorck telephoned my PA to say she'd like to deliver some canapes to my house. I can't tell you the flow of food people send me! It arrives by mail, by courier, storks bring it, tortoises line the garden path with freebies strapped to their backs - it's ridiculous.

I never eat any of it. I never accept it. If I want food, I'll buy some. I'm pure as the driven slush. That's my summation and I'll stick to it.

Winner's letters

You said last week: "I don't know much about food, but I prize myself on being a world expert on desserts, particularly chocolate souffle." The first part is clearly evident from your weekly articles. The second part we could gather from the accompanying photograph.
Tom Lynch, Dublin

I can't believe esure replaced you with a cartoon mouse from New York! What next, Winner's Dinners becomes Mouse's Munches? Calm down dear. Less acting. More time for lunch.
Paul Inman, Berkshire

I use your entertaining article as a guide to fine dining. A simple rule applies. If you like a restaurant, and if they like you, I avoid it. If you slate it, I'm on the phone straight away to make a booking. My theory was proved correct when you wrote Harry's Bar, Venice was your favourite restaurant (Winner's Dinners, July 24). Prior to your praising it we went there. What a disaster! A wobbly table, an atmosphere of hassle, eye-watering prices and the most awful food encountered on our many trips around the world.
Steve Brown, Warwickshire

I noted with some distress your mode of conveyance was downgraded from the Bentley to a lowly Suzuki Grand Vitara for last week's visit to the lacklustre Ledbury. I cheered up when I realised "Michael Winner" is not an anagram of "irritating, amusing, self-aggrandising tubby geezer with a bad line in blazers".
Christopher Tombs, Bermuda

Your avid reader Peter Mate claimed last week you are "the most preposterous and pompous man" he has ever come across. Has he never looked in the mirror?
Eric Brown, Lincoln

The UK is full of pretentious pubs and restaurants run by video-trained short-order cooks who think they're Egon Ronay. And student waiters and waitresses on minimum wage with an attitude problem. How can ordinary folk shell out £60 a head for the pleasure of eating out? Especially when the food is normally dire and a tablecloth and decent cutlery a rarity. You're not short of a million or 20, Michael, but not so us mortals. Please campaign against restaurants that charge an arm and a leg.
Mark Gould, Hampshire

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