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Who says pigs can't fly? They did at my dinner

Published 9 October 2005
News Review
639th article

Giacomo Macconi, Michael Winner, Joan Collins and Nick Jones (Paola Lombard)

The true test of any restaurant is: having been once, do you go back? Often I quite like places, report them to you favourably, but never return.

So it's a considerable recommendation that within two week's of visiting Cecconi's in Mayfair, I was there for a second dinner. And the Princess (sorry, Paola) asked me to make a reservation for her upcoming 40th birthday. I have permission to give her real age. Even though she looks 25 and people's mouths drop open when she tells the truth.

Cecconi's was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It was owned by Enzo Cecconi. I took glitterati there ranging from Sean Connery to Dennis Hopper. Then, when Enzo started packing in extra dining tables and adding them to the bar, it slipped into restaurant oblivion. It was bought by some group, I know not who, and for years was, in my view, mediocre.

It had an odd restaurant manager, John Davey, who could easily double as a used car salesman. But, as far as I know, doesn't.

At the beginning of this year it was bought and redesigned by Nick Jones. Nick is a man of considerable taste. He has the amazing Electric cinema in Portobello Road and the Electric Brasserie and club attached thereto.

"Thank for you for what you wrote about the brasserie," Nick said as I entered Cecconi's.

"I was rather kind," I responded more bitchily than I should have done. The Electric Brasserie is a pleasant restaurant but the atmosphere exceeds the food.

Nick also has a posh country hotel, Babington House in Somerset, and Soho House clubs in London and New York.

As with many of today's super-rich, he dresses, as I do, like a load of old baggage. When I was young a millionaire looked like a millionaire. Now most of them look like hippies gone wrong or aged twits clinging to their youth. I put myself firmly in the latter category.

My first visit to Nick's Cecconi's was with Joan Collins and her exceptionally charming husband, Percy. Joan looked spectacularly good, even for her. The restaurant manager, Giacomo Maccioni, displayed a suckling pig on the trolley. The skin didn't look that crisp so I said I'd consider my position.

We sat at a corner table on dark green, velvet-covered banquettes. "I could have a jacket made out of this. It'd look great," observed Paola.

The tables are well spaced apart. There's a bar in the middle and a nice buzz. It was unbelievably dark, like a night club. Then the lights rose a bit. They'd obviously heard me complaining because Giacomo asked: "Are the lights all right now, Mr Winner?"

Joan had liked the lights low. "It's so flattering," she'd observed.

When the lights went up I dictated into my tape: "Joan's in a dark bit."

"I don't look so bad in a light bit," she advised. This is true.

They gave us an excellent freebie starter of shrimps, quail's eggs, oysters, langoustine plus this and that. I ordered tagliatelli with tomato and basil with some roast suckling pig on a side plate.

Joan greatly liked her chicken with truffles and fried zucchini. She ordered creamed spinach and got shredded spinach. When she asked for it to be changed she got shredded spinach with a bit of cream added! The pasta was good, not historic but acceptable.

There was an amusing cabaret with the suckling pig. Giacomo brought the trolley over. Just as it reached our table, the front wheels came off. All the pig shot from the trolley onto the floor! When I went to the Wolseley a week later the owner, Jeremy King, said he'd been told the suckling pig landed in Joan's lap! It didn't land in Joan's lap, a place where I'd be happy to sit. It landed on the floor, where I'd not be happy to sit.

The pig itself was tip-top. The skin not crisp enough. "Did they serve it from the floor?" I hear you ask. No. It wasn't a whole suckling pig. It was large bits, some of which had obviously been held back because Giacomo produced more on a silver tray.

On my second visit the skin was much crisper. Good, but not perfect as the suckling pig is at Sandy Lane.

There it's historic beyond belief.

Desserts tried out included tiramissu (superb), a lemon sorbet (marvellous), a vanilla panacotta (good), a fig tart (okay).

As we assembled for our photo Nick advised: "Nothing's ever gone wrong with the trolley until you came in. Then it has to collapse in front of you!"

I said: "Put it in the garage now. We're leaving." On my second visit it was fixed. That's called progress.

Winner's letters

Mr Tang's confrontation with an irate diner explains why you never wear a tie. You're less likely to be throttled by restaurateurs. Mr Tang should learn the tricks of his trade and wear clip-on ties!
Glenda Brett-Holt, Malta.

How refreshing to see you in egalitarian mood at David Tang's restaurant last week, requisitioning Stella McCartney's table without even a "May I?" I thought you only did that to the proletariat. Bang goes your supply of discounted designer frocks for future television appearances.
Marvin Pryce-Jones, Solihull.

It would have been a more exciting cabaret if Stella McCartney had strangled you for taking her table.
John Broster, Spain.

We laughed at your story of David Tang with the rich racist. We thought that sort of thing only happened on Saturday night in Derby pubs. Glad to know posh people do it as well!
Joyce and Graham Pateman Derby.

As someone who can never attract a waiter's attention I was heartened to see, despite your enormous wealth and fame, you had to get up from the table five times at La Reserve de Beaulieu (Winner's Dinners, September 25) to sort out poor service. Devastating for your ego. But I'm sure the exercise will have done you good.
Pam Tasker, Hampshire.

We've always enjoyed La Reserve, but you were right in saying when the cat (owner M Delion) is away the mice will play. Three days in advance I told them we'd eat in on our last night. But on that night we were informed we couldn't because two large outside parties were taking so much space. I thought hotel residents came first!
Edgar Wallner, Berkshire.

I took my wife and friends to Peter's Southside restaurant in Glasgow for her birthday. I told the waiter there was only the most minute amount of meat on my lobster and it was inedible. He explained: "The meat was bad and the chef threw it away!" We left after that that but were charged the full amount. I have three witnesses to this. Could you or your readers suggest an appropriate comment for such an event?
Finlay McNaughton, Glasgow.

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