Lunch with Mo - all over the shop but still historic
Published 12 March 2006 News Review 660th article
Michael with Mohamed al-Fayed at the Georgian restaurant
It was so embarrassing. After 50 years Harrods cancelled my account. Had they heard I was flogging off some 200 of my original Donald McGill postcard watercolours, exhibited from Tuesday at the Chris Beetles gallery in St James's?
When people ask why I'm selling, Chris responds, "Because Winner's hard up!" All right, so I'm down to my last £xm. By Philip Green standards I'm a pauper.
But to have my account cancelled at Harrods! Humiliating.
I only found out because my assistant, Dinah, was going in to get me some sheets and pillowcases. Wanting to check everything was hunky dory, I phoned Mohamed al-Fayed's super-efficient PA, Wendy Allen.
"I suppose Mohamed's abroad," I started.
"He's here," she said. "I'm sure he'd love to talk to you." Thus I was put through to his Pharaoship.
"I'm only phoning to check my account's okay," I stuttered.
"Come to lunch," said Mohamed.
Later Wendy rang and asked, "When did you last use your account?"
"Five years ago, when I came to see Mohamed, I bought a pink marzipan mouse for £1. I managed cash for that," I explained. It seems I hadn't used the account for so long they'd closed it. Thanks to Mohamed's intervention it was instantly reinstated.
Shortly thereafter I found myself sitting in his Georgian restaurant eating stag's testicles from his estate in the Highlands. The taste, shall we say, was unusual.
Having raved about them, I noticed Mohamed slipped his portion onto my plate. He assured me they had great powers of libido revival.
The Georgian restaurant is a marvellous room. A large, elegant space, big tables set well apart, a pianist tinkling away. There's an excellent buffet, although our meal largely came from some of the 30 restaurants spread all over Harrods.
I'm a great fan of Mohamed al-Fayed. He has a marvellous sense of humour. Comes out with dialogue few would dream of daring to say. He's extremely cheerful. I think it amazing that successive British governments have denied him a passport.
"Do you still care about that?" I asked. Mohamed looked wounded.
"My Filipino maid has a passport," he said quietly. Adding he employed thousands of people.
I know he's unbelievably generous to his staff. I heard, not from him, some of the super-support kindness he has shown to his employees who are ill.
"Are you still living in Switzerland?" I asked.
"I can't run this business on 90 days a year in England," said Mohamed. "I made an arrangement with the revenue and I'm back." He only left because the tax people reneged on a deal he'd done with them. Naughty tax people!
The meal continued with Mohamed's own recipe (his staff kindly gave me a photo of him in full chef's uniform in the kitchen) of lobster in a shell, a sauce with oysters, tomato relish, mozzarella, breadcrumbs, garlic and caviar. Fantastic. It came from Harrods oyster bar.
Then we had a bouillabaisse fish soup from the Sea Grill bar downstairs. This too was outstanding. The main course was beyond belief.
Really simple. Roast duck, saddle of lamb from the rotisserie and roast beef from the Georgian restaurant. All three were absolutely exceptional. They were organic and from Mohamed's Highland farm.
For dessert I was given bread and butter pudding. "My own recipe," advised Mohamed. It was light, very tasty. I ate everything, sultanas and all. This was accompanied by a selection of Morelli's ice cream from its bar on the ground floor.
Paola's always raving about Morelli's ice cream and milkshakes. She's not wrong.
There was vanilla, banana, some pink stuff and a few more. All delicious.
This was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. I'm not sure I'd ask for stag's testicles again, but the rest - beyond belief.
"I must pay," I said. Mohamed waved his arm dismissively as we started our trip round the store. "All right," I said, "what charity do you favour?"
"I do a lot for the Great Ormond Street children's hospital," replied Mohamed. I sent him a £500 cheque for them. No freebies for me, thank you.
As we progressed round various departments I stopped to admire a £20,000 television. Looked good, but could I afford it? Mohamed pointed out some 40 sculptures on the staircases showing his face in Egyptian style and headdress.
"The decor is all listed, so they've got me forever, the bastards," said Mohamed grinning broadly. He still intends to be mummified in a great tomb on Harrods' roof.
We passed an entrance door. Mohamed noticed a gloomy employee facing the incoming crowds. "Smile!" he instructed as we walked by. He was right. Mohamed leads from the front. He smiles a lot. I like that.
The three bizarrely dressed people pictured last week at a B&Q garden centre confirmed what I've long suspected - Winner's Dinners is a spoof. There are no private jets, surly Swiss sommeliers and historic £1,000 sausages. If "Michael Winner" exists, the only Sandy Lane he's ever likely to see is on the Cherry Tree estate in Watford.
Peter Grundy Newcastle-upon-Tyne
I can't believe you chose to wear last week's appalling shirt. Surely someone made you wear it.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire
Your landlord Graham Dobson (Winner's Dinners, last week) has even worse dress sense than you. A checked shirt worn with a tie made from one of your shirt tails is the pits. The meal sounded horrific. But did you have to handcuff the restaurant owner Eddie Lim?
Dr Colin Key, Portugal
The forename of last week's correspondent who claimed to have had a one-night stand with you suggests it was not a heterosexual encounter. If true, it seems you're not only irresistible to the ladies, but also to your own gender. Your choice of ladies has always been impeccable. But John Cleese? Per-lease!
Dennis Pallis, Kent
What did you expect for £16.50 south of the Orkneys? You wouldn't have gone within a Roller's length of L restaurant and bar if you were out to impress one of your ego-boosting girlfriends. I hope gent and landlord Graham Dobson repays the culinary insult with a hotpot a la Rachman to his cheapskate tenant!
Ralph Treasure, Bristol
Last week you said when you were "six feet under" your house would be left as a museum for the nation. Why not open it now while the main attraction is still available?
Graham Richards, Devon
What is it about Americans and tipping? In the States if they hold a door open for you they expect a tip. When I was night porter at a top hotel despite my excellent standard I never received a penny from any US citizen. The best tipper was a man performing empirical research with two ladies. Every time I delivered a bottle of Bollinger he gave me £25. No, it wasn't Michael Winner!
Barry Mason, Staffordshire
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