Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

A dreadful opening scene - but a happy ending

Published 19 February 2006
News Review
657th article

Michael flanked by Azedine Dhaheri, left, and Henrik Meuhle (Paola Lombard)

The only person in public relations I respect is a lady named Tanya Rose. She represents the Capital hotel and restaurant in Knightsbridge. In my search for a decent Sunday lunch I thought I'd try the Capital. It has two Michelin stars.

I rang on Saturday evening.

The assistant restaurant manager, Azedine Dhaheri, answered. I said: "Michael Winner here, I'd like to come in for two at 1 o'clock tomorrow." I was told the chef had a crisis with his son and had gone home, so he wouldn't be there.

Azedine asked: "How do you spell your name?" I patiently spelt out W-i-n-n-e-r one letter at a time.

Then I said: "With respect, I do think restaurant managers should know who the main food critics are in London."

"I know who you are, Mr Winner," said Azedine.

"Why then," I thought, "are you asking me to spell my name?" Determined to remain cheerful, I said: "I'll see you tomorrow at 1 o'clock."

Azedine responded: "I'm looking at the book, Mr Winner. You don't seem to have made a reservation."

"I'm phoning to make a reservation," I said, controlling total hysteria. "How many people for?" asked Azedine. I'd already said two people at 1 o'clock but, with considerable difficulty, I kept calm and said it again.

I rang my friend Tanya Rose and recounted my nightmare attempt to book a table. "Put them on red alert," I begged. "Right now they're on sleep mode."

"I'll deal with it," Tanya promised.

Next day I arrived at the Capital with the Princess, aka Paola Lombard. Miss Lombard is no longer a girlfriend. She's a friend.

I remain on very good terms with all my ex-girlfriends. This is because I'm such a wonderful person.

The hotel manager, Henrik Muehle, was at the door to greet us and the doorman took the Bentley very promptly. The dining room is plain, small and L-shaped. They offered a table in an area resembling a corridor. So I moved to where I could see through into the lobby and the lounge beyond to give a bit of perspective. Outside the window I had a clear view of my doctor's surgery.

Azedine was poised for our order. I said: "Please get a pad." He assured me: "I can remember it." I said: "No, get a pad. I never order without a pad." I've had more disasters relying on the enfeebled memory of waiters than I care to recall.

The Princess and I ordered salmon marinated in treacle with spices and coriander and deep-fried soft crab.

As I remained frazzled by my dreadful greeting the previous day I selected a half bottle of Petrus 1989 at £731.25 including 12.5% service. I later phoned Serena Sutcliffe, scintillating head of wine at Sotheby's. She explained: "There's a great argument about whether the '89 or '90 is better. But they're both wonderful. The last full bottle of 1989 Petrus at Sotheby's sold for £902." So half is £451.

Congratulations Capital! That's a low mark-up for restaurant wine. The Petrus was pretty good.

Our starter had six tiny rolls of treacle-marinated salmon standing up like midget soldiers with a sprig of greenery planted at the top. Then the crab, a spring roll and a lot of plate decoration.

It tasted fine. Except the salmon was in such minuscule bits it didn't add up to much. The crab was delicious.

Henrik looked in to explain he was there because Tanya had rung him. "You rescued me. I was meant to be at home preparing the roast," he said. He told me the chef, Eric Chavot, was in Arcachon in France "because the products he uses are mainly from the southwest of France. We send him away sometimes to refresh". A different story from Azedine's. He said the chef had a drama with his son and had to go home.

My main course was a daube of beef with a garniture of grand-mere. I thought that meant boiled grandmother.

Azedine assured me it was red wine beef stew. Azedine was growing on me. I liked him. The hotel manager was very charming, too.

Paola had grilled fillet of red mullet with aioli and crushed potatoes. She rightly stated: "The food is lovely but you can only have it once every so often."

I finished with blood orange jelly with chestnut chantilly and Jivara ice cream. I observed: "It's a good meal but very prissy-dissy. I'm happy to come here once, but I won't be back."

You should try it. There's no dress code. I was about the only man wearing a jacket. It's rare when I'm the best-dressed kid on the block.

Winner's letters

What fun we had last Sunday completing the headline "The dispossessed of the Dorchester are still searching ..." For your waistline? For missing jacket buttons which popped off under the strain of three five-course meals a day? For Mr Winner's taste buds? A comb? A nubile blonde? It provided so much amusement for the family we didn't have time to read the letters, let alone your column!
Tracey Christiansen, Lincoln

Congratulations on your amusing stories about the dreadful mess they've made of the Dorchester. It's tragic that one of our great hotels has been decimated without a shot being fired. I started my first honeymoon there nearly 50 years ago. Then it was a beautiful hotel.
Stirling Moss, London

Last week you spoke of Anna your new PA and your long-suffering assistant (show us your legs) Dinah. Previously we saw the re-emergence of Geraldine. Pull yourself together and marry one of them. Or have they already refused you?
Clive Brickell, Dorset

You referred last week to hotel manager Ross Stevenson enforcing a "stupid dress code" in a ghastly hotel in St Lucia. It appears Brown's in London also have a stupid dress code allowing you in looking like a refugee. Anna should be fired for allowing you out in public with your shirt hanging out!
Roger Boyland, Barbados

I'm sure all your readers must be pleased to hear you're counting the calories. Having looked at your portly frame last week, it seems you haven't counted to 10 yet.
Emrys Sparks, Bedfordshire

My wife and I celebrated St Valentine's day with a lovely dinner at our local restaurant which is called after you -the Famous Grouse.
Bill Walker, Crieff

If you feel like topping up your tan you may be tempted by Ferran Adria's second El Bulli restaurant outside Seville, thus avoiding the year's waiting list for his three-Michelin starred one in Roses. Don't! One course was a single olive which had all the olive removed from the inside and replaced by ... air! The whole meal was an overpriced monumental disappointment. Two tiny bottles of cava from the minibar in our room cost E120! Outrageous.
L Nott, Marbella

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