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Forget about past failings - remember to go again

Published 5 August 2005
News Review
633rd article

Philip Pang, left, and Kim Sherpa in front of Michael and Kam Po But (Paola Lombard)

Eleven years ago, when Paola worked for me, I introduced her to Ken Lo's Memories of China in Pimlico. It had a fantastic chef, Kam Po But, who's still there and still producing marvellous food.

Chinese food, which used to be everywhere, seems now replaced hy a mass of hybrid stuff. Pacific Rim, Pan Asian, pan lavatory and whatever.

I stopped going to Memories of China for many years because the company that owned it, A to Z restaurants, had the impertinence to say I hadn't paid my bill. Paying bills promptly is my major speciality. That's why, although I can be difficult, suppliers love me. Their accounts are settled within three days.

At the time I'd given an ex-girlfriend permission to have Chinese takeaways from Memories of China in Kensington - not so good as the Pimlico one. Suddenly they declined to serve her, saying they'd rung my office to remind us to pay our account and we hadn't.

My phone is answered by Mr Fraser. He's worked for me since we were at school together. He is the most reliable man on the planet. No phone call goes unrecorded.

The bill, for one year, was over £4,000! What idiot company lets a bill for Chinese takeaways reach £4,000? They'd done the same a year earlier and their bill had been paid within days. This time we'd never received it. Or a reminder. So I settled it and never went to their establishments again.

A to Z went into administration not long ago. Before that it fell out with and lost three of the greatest chefs in London: Gordon Ramsay, Giorgio Locatelli and Marcus Wareing. A considerable non-achievement! It didn't surprise me they went down the pan.

Memories of China was bought by my friend Claudio Pulze who'd once been part of A to Z but baled out long before the crash. He and two others now own it.

Before I abandoned Memories they'd changed the seating and my usual space vanished. So I did a reconnaissance before booking. It now has an Italian manager, Giorgio Abis. He recommended table numbers seven and eight. Why I can't imagine as they faced a wine rack. I booked tables four and five, which faced the wider expanse of the room.

When Paola and I arrived we were crossing the road and saw Giorgio standing in the doorway. He clearly saw us. I expected him to wave or greet us. Instead he ran inside!

I found that odd. Paola knew the staff as well as I did. She'd been going in regularly. Strangely, because Italians are usually very welcoming and hospitable, the assistant general manager Phillip Pang and the bar manager Kim Sherpa well out-smiled Mr Abis. They beamed, hosted and made us feel really pleased to be there. They are exemplary.

Kam Po But is very low key and immensely pleasant. I left him to choose for me.

Paola said: "Everything on the menu is fantastic." She ordered vegetable dumplings with sauce from another dumpling called red oil dumpling. All that's far too sophisticated for me. I'm just a poor boy from Willesden. She also asked for sizzling iron plate chicken with black bean sauce and vegetarian fried rice.

We started with prawn crackers, one of my favourites. They were as fresh as anything. Then I had a prawn roll, also very good. Then deliciously light prawn and chicken dumplings.

Paola said: "Let's try and eat slowly otherwise we get full so quickly." I'm a gobbler. I gobble. Paola said: "You make me eat fast in order to catch up" She was using chopsticks. That's well beyond me.

We followed with roast duck cut up and in pancakes. I haven't had that for a long time. It really is, when well done like this, exceptionally pleasing. I also had sweet and sour fish with vegetarian rice. "It's plain rice," corrected Paola, hearing me speak into my tape.

Dessert was toffee apple and toffee banana. I assumed the round one was apple and the sausage shaped one the banana. Paola assured me the sausage shaped one was apple. She got quite concerned. "Don't you know that's apple? You've just eaten it!" she exclaimed. "No," I answered. "It's very scars that you can't taste if it's apple or banana," said Paola. After further consideration I did notice the difference. There's hope for me yet.

The ice cream was Haagen-Daaz vanilla. I like that. Though not as much as the vanilla at Miki in Santa Margherita, Italy or Marine Ices in Camden.

Kam told me he opened the restaurant 20 years ago with Ken Lo and his wife. 20 years of producing great food is quite a record. Kam should be proud.

Winner's letters

In last week's photo a shadowy figure wearing dark sunglasses strolled purposefully towards you through the market square at Stow-on-the-Wold. One hand was concealed behind his back. Was it by any chance your "over-chummy, non-genius, forgetful Australian waiter" intent on revenge? lf so, what happened next?
Jacqueline Grace, Lincolnshire

With your constant criticism of culinary delights. albeit constructive, l am becoming increasingly reclusive and refusing to dine out.
Barry Mason, Staffordshire

When next eating asparagus, poached egg and parmesan in the Cotswolds (Winners Dinners, last week) Michael could try Cotswold House, Chipping Camden. We enthused that their asparagus - so absurdly difficult to avoid vastly over or under cooking - was just perfect. Alas, it might be out of Michael's price range. Dinner for two was £35!
Bill Russell, Lancashire

Did you know there's an excellent magazine called Winners Friend? I've scoured numerous back copies to see if you or your friend are involved. but without success. Then it dawned on me that as its a useful source of information for nennlce who want tn net more enjoyment from their lives, you most certainly wouldn't be.
John Smith, Derby

Mike Vandy (Winners Letters, last week) is wrong. Michael was correct to refer to Lake Geneva. That’s how it is in English. In German it's Genfersee, in Italian Lago Lemano or Lago di Ginevra. Only in French is it Lac Leman. I run a translation bureau!
Eddie Street, Slough

In last weeks News Review Michael was quoted saying: "Restaurant staff are absolutely snooty and arrogant and only there to aggrandise their own self-importance." Surely the ultimate case of the pot-bellied calling the kettle black.
Anthony Williams. Staffordshire

Like Rick Bakker (Winners Letters, last week) we too had a dismal meal at Carluccios in Hampstead. The spaghetti volpone was tasteless and watery. the risotto pale. soggy and lumpy with no flavour The steak, which should have been medium. was dry. tough and inedible. It may be inexpensive but that doesnt excuse wasting peoples money.
Suzanne Davies, London

Send letters to Winners Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk