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All dressed up with, finally, somewhere to go on Sunday

Published 26 March 2006
News Review
662nd article

Paola, Michael and the Bentley outside the Connaught hotel (Giacomo Puntel)

Having failed to find a good English Sunday lunch following the desecration of the Dorchester Grill, both visually and culinarily, by hotel vandals Ricci Obertelli and Christopher Cowdray (name and shame, I say), I headed for the Ritz hotel.

The Barclay brothers, who own it, should be proud. They've preserved the finest dining room in London plus other grand public areas of their hotel. I have an ungenerous, suspicion this might be because the interiors are listed. If not, they should be.

I'm a great fan of the chef, John Williams, who once graced Claridge's. Which has been semi-desecrated.

Although I dropped in recently and their Gordon Ramsay restaurant was very busy.

On Sunday morning two weeks ago I reserved for 1 o'clock with the Ritz assistant restaurant manager, Marco Roya. There, even on Sunday, a tie and jacket are required. Jeans and denim aren't allowed. No other restaurant in London has these absurd restrictions.

I'm now so thin I wear clothes which have hung, plastic-covered, in my attic for years. I've lost two and a half stone. I decline to use kilograms. Foreign muck.

I donned a 1984 Maxwell Vine of Mayfair handmade black single-breasted blazer. Enhanced by a white Turnbull & Asser shirt, a Hermes tie and black silk Maxwell Vine trousers. All denigrated by scuffed black suede loafers. Looking unbelievably beautiful, I set off on the 15-minute journey. If only.

Piccadilly was blocked at Hyde Park Corner. So were all other southern and eastern streets leading to the Ritz. There was a St Patrick's Day parade.

Paola, coming from Hertfordshire, was turned away north of Berkeley Square and had to go north up Shaftesbury Avenue. Then police directed her to the Marylebone Road. We conversed on cellular phones, with increasing desperation, finally meeting in George Street.

It had taken Paola an hour to get from Hitchin to Berkeley Square and another hour to reach Marylebone. I'd wasted an hour getting there, when it should have been a quarter of that.

I wrote to the Ritz general manager, Stephen Boxall, pointing out that if Jeremy King - owner of the next door Wolseley - could warn me when there was planned disruption, why couldn't his staff do the same? Jeremy only has diners. Stephen Boxall has residents and people who might wish to visit residents as well as punters coming in for posh nosh.

"Why don't you phone the police and check?" I asked. "After all, these events are planned months ahead." The response was that traffic was flowing by 1.15pm. Not what the police said and not what Robert Holland, restaurant manager of the Wolseley, said. He guessed 1.30pm. Either way I should have been warned.

So there were Paola and I standing in George Street, forlorn and dressed up with nowhere to go. "We look like we're going to a wedding," observed Princess Paola, adding, "or to a funeral."

We ended up at Angela Hartnett's Menu restaurant at the Connaught hotel in Mayfair. I hadn't been for over a year. It's more than very good. It's absolutely terrific. A beautiful, peaceful panelled room, tastefully furnished, best no noise level in London.

The only complaint I have is the bread arrived promptly, then 15 minutes later some excellent hot rolls were produced. By which time we'd sampled the less good ordinary bread.

My grilled foie gras with chopped fruit (why should I know what fruit it was? It's a miracle I remember it was foie gras) was historic. My main course sea bass couldn't be bettered. The vegetables were perfect. Even though they didn't have fresh peas. Princess assured me frozen peas were nicer.

The pre-starter of freebie tomato soup was delicious. The dessert, rhubarb and ginger trifle, exquisite. There was no plate decoration. The food was not overworked. I think Angela Hartnett is far and away the best of Gordon Ramsay's circle. Even though she did once give me ghastly suckling pig with a slimy surface of fat and blood oozing in the raw centre.

The Menu service was impeccable. The meal was a credit to senior sous chef Diego Cardoso, Angela being at home on the Sabbath as all good girls should be.

The restaurant manger, Giacomo Puntel, is one of the best. Concierge Alan Noone had the perspicacity to suggest he moved my grey 1975 Bentley in front of the hotel from where I'd parked it as "it's the sort of car we like to see outside the Connaught".

Angela is about to oversee a new Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Boca Raton, up the Florida coast from Miami. But she'll still work at the Connaught. A word of advice for you, dear. There are lots of Jews in Miami. Don't give them raw pork. They may not appreciate it.

Winner's letters

Strolling past Sandals, Antigua, my boyfriend said, "Winner stays at Sandals, Barbados." "He goes to Sandy Lane," I replied. My boyfriend said, "Sandals is only for couples, anyway. Mind you, his head's big enough for two people!"
Susie Godwin, Cheltenham

I support your comments about the disgrace of successive governments failing to offer Mohamed al-Fayed a British passport. Perhaps a small donation from him to the Labour party would resolve the matter satisfactorily.
Brian Shaw-Rudd, Devon

Having lived in the area of Lake Luzern for 25 years I'm curious to know how you ever thought the Palace (Winner's Dinners, last week) would match your requirements. It's a fading hotel that has to rely on conference trade - hence the porno films!
Clive Nathan, Switzerland

My wife and I honeymooned 43 years ago at the Palace, Luzern. Nothing seems to have changed. My mother-in-law gave me cream-coloured silk pyjamas as a wedding present. I carelessly left them in the bedroom. When I wrote wondering if they'd been found I got no reply!
Jonnie Hok, Hampshire

You really are the author of your own miserable destiny. You shamble into a restaurant, wearing a blazer, pyjama tops and crumpled trousers. Whichever poor girl is with you must be mistaken for a nurse from the local rest home. You demand the best seat, order all that pretentious fodder and then start insulting everyone when it turns out to be just that!
Paul Butterfill, Hove

Your trip to Switzerland had an undeniable link to your childhood. Ordering sardines in a landlocked country can only be described as a schoolboy error!
Michael Crane, London

Michael Winner should know a man is judged by the company he keeps (Winner's Dinners, March 12). Much mystery surrounds the source of the bazaar keeper of Knightsbridge's wealth. Will the same clouds of doubt now swirl about Mr Winner's prodigious fortune?
MJ Jackson, Elstree

I can't believe people write in every week complaining about your lifestyle. Don't they realise it gives the downtrodden masses something to aspire to?
Mark Madden, St Albans

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