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I'm always happy to be shown the door by this lot

Published 28 May 2006
News Review
671st article

Michael and 'the best doormen in the world' at the Ritz hotel

The only place in England offering a really splendid British Sunday lunch is the Ritz hotel in Piccadilly. It let me down dreadfully, horrifically and sensationally in one area, but it remains overall superb.

The place itself is the last of the grand hotels that's not been messed about or largely destroyed. Its interiors remain as they were when it was built in 1906.

The main entrance has been moved from Piccadilly, where horse-drawn carriages would visit in more elegant times, to Arlington Street round the corner. There it sports the best doormen in the world. As opposed to the Connaught, who employ the worst.

The Ritz doormen are attentive, cheerful and old school. Although, when I went recently, a new young man was on duty plus a baggagiste, Paul Wingco - the one not wearing a top hat in our photo. Paul often looks after me, and very well.

Apart from the biggie disappointment, the only other problem I have with the Ritz is their absurd dress code. No jeans. Ties always. This does not produce an elegant clientele. Particularly on Sundays, it's a "special event" place.

People turn up from the suburbs to celebrate Granny's birthday. Penge must be empty. I'm sure they're all marvellous human beings, but wear total rubbish.

Ever willing to obey rules I donned a Brioni double-breasted jacket, a silk tie from Sulka & Co, handmade Savile Row trousers and scuffed black suede shoes. I was sartorial perfection.

The Princess (Paola Lombard) and I entered the marvellous hall and walked past the grandly designed tea room to be greeted by Simon Girling, restaurant manager of the finest dining room in London.

Gold statues, gilt chandeliers, sky painted on the ceiling, enormous. Not cut down like Claridge's or disastrously re-designed like the Dorchester. It's just a fantastic room.

The tables look beautiful, the view to the garden and Green Park is fine. A pianist tinkled Some Enchanted Evening, even though it was lunchtime.

The set menu is £35, including service. My favourite chef, John Williams, knocked it down from Pounds 45 and massively increased the business. The place was packed.

Seven types of bread were presented in a vast basket and then served on a little silver tray. It was exemplary, fresh and tasty.

Princess started with a confit of beetroot with biscotti and roquefort and horseradish cream, lentil dressing. I considered a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1961 for £2,800 plus 15% service - £3,220 in all. But Princess chose a Brunello di Montalcino 1998 for £120. She's a cheap date.

I've got Chateau Latour 1961 at home which I bought in auction years ago for very little. It's considerably better than the Lafite. But I ruined the first four bottles because I didn't realise you had to let it breathe for at least four hours. I drank it soon after opening.

We started lunch with a freebie tomato gazpacho, avocado mousse with a piece of fresh crab, a parmesan crisp and topped with beluga caviar. I followed with the best asparagus ever, from Evesham.

Paola said, "Did you notice something different about me the other day when we were talking to those posh people in Ayot St Lawrence?"

I said, "Yes, you tried to make your accent better."

She said, "Do you think I was successful?"

I said, "You only do it with posh people. You don't do it with me."

Princess responded, "Well, you're a fake."

Now to the disaster. I was greatly, massively, enormously, desperately looking forward to a rib of beef from the trolley. Last time I came they had the fat sitting beside it. Instead there was a roll of sirloin. No fat. I was shattered.

"It's sirloin from Prince Charles's estate," explained Simon. So what? This meant nothing to me. Please, John Williams, get the conventional dish back. It was nice beef. But not a patch on the texture, look, quality and taste of a good rib.

The Yorkshire pudding was perfect, the veg terrific. To top it all the souffle potatoes were triple, if not quadruple, even five-truble, historic. These are blown up, fried bags of potato. Only John Williams does them in the whole of England.

For dessert I had an excellent Rothschild souffle, with candied fruit and a little Grande Marnier. Princess had great mango and lemon sorbet.

When John Williams came over to see me (and didn't sit down as that upstart chef Paul Muddiman did at Simpson's-in-the Strand) I said, "I should have asked you to do a treacle sponge."

John replied, "We have an event coming. I'm doing a treacle sponge as they specially requested it."

I'll be back, John. Get the mixing bowl ready!

Winner's letters

The transformation is now complete. You've lost 2½ stone, the $5 jacket, had a new hairstyle, a few tucks here and there and taken up cross-dressing. It's a completely new Michael as last week's photo at La Colombe d'Or proved. "Geraldine with the Calder mobile"! I don't think so. Widow Twankey eat your heart out.
Phillip Dutton-White, Hong Kong

I tried to book a table at the Ivy for lunch, four months ahead. They told us 2.30pm. By the time we'd had a drink and ordered the meal it could be 3.30pm before we were eating. Who lunches at 3.30pm?
Robert Mitchell, Dorset

You informed us last week of your displeasure at the attack by "London Germans" on the small remaining space around the eight-place end of the pool at La Colombe d'Or. It could have been better if you'd not lost the infamous 2 1/2 stone. Then, there would have been no space for them to have mounted an attack. You and your unshed bulk would have occupied all eight places.
Barry Kane, Nottingham

Whoopee! No picture of Michael Winner with last week's column.
P Motte-Harrison, West Sussex

Having acquired the semblance of a normal physique you should ask the lovely Geraldine, a former professional dancer, to partner you in Strictly Come Dancing. Ballroom dancing requires elegance, graceful movement and gracious behaviour. I'm not sure you'd be allowed through the door.
Dennis Pallis, Kent

We do prefer to see a picture of you, Michael, rather than your companion of the moment. This could have something to do with the fact that I'm female. Also, with all this advertised weight loss you might consider an outfit that shows you off to advantage - just for a change.
Glenda Brett-Holt, Malta

At Richard Corrigan's Bentley's we waited over 40 minutes for the starter and 35 minutes more for the main course. Despite the restaurant being very quiet when we arrived for an early table. I wrote to Mr Corrigan, but no reply. At least I had the satisfaction of removing the 12.5% "discretionary" service charge.
Peter Stubbs, Staffordshire

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