Published 10 December 2006 News Review 699th article
Michael and Wijesiri by Kandy Tea Room (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
A sign outside the Kandy Tea Room reads "Nice tea for nice people". I wonder, does that include me?
Holland Street, Kensington, is in an enchanting area with lovely little shops. I've passed the Kandy Tea Room for years. It always resembled the delightfully genteel Kensington I used to know.
Then it closed and re-opened.
One evening I wandered in. The owner, Ananda Wijesiri, explained his wife died so he shut down for a year and a half. Previously, Ananda worked in the British Museum as a library assistant. He wanted to open a bookshop and tea room combined, but the book bit didn't happen.
Kandy is a lovely room with fruit-patterned Victorian wallpaper. Every table has a blue and white Chinese pot with flowers.
On the wall are photos of Prince Philip, the Queen, Viscount Linley and Prince Andrew. None of them came to eat. But Princess Margaret did. Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack used to live in a flat above.
I later returned to Kandy for lunch. I asked for the soup but Ananda said he wasn't making it that day. The man opposite said, "It's very good, the cheese on toast."
Geraldine chose an organic egg and mayonnaise sandwich adding smoked salmon and salad. I asked, "Can I get a fried egg with my cheese on toast?" Ananda said, "Difficult." I asked why.
He answered, "Because I don't fry anything in the kitchen." Geraldine cleverly suggested poached, which I thought was accepted. But later I found it wasn't!
They have a lot of teas on the menu. And exquisite crockery. I ordered Earl Grey; Geraldine, an organic apple and crushed ginger drink.
It took a very long time to get my toasted whatever. I eyed Ottolenghi, a cafe-patisserie opposite.
Geraldine said, "I could go and get you something from there." Isn't she considerate!
I advised, "Better not, it would upset Ananda."
Geraldine's food arrived well before mine. She said, "The smoked salmon is much better than Lidgate," Lidgate is a rightly famous local butcher, but their smoked salmon is the worst.
I eventually got my cheese on toast with salad. How exciting can that be? Geraldine said, "The plates are a bit small." She was right.
The toast kept sliding and knocking my salad onto the table. Then I dropped a tomato on my shirt. I always start a meal with a clean shirt. It's very rare I end with one.
Everyone in the place was very discreet and quiet. A lady sitting with two female friends said, "Excuse me can we take the bill, please?" I suppose she meant, "Can we have the bill?" She came from Newcastle. My tax inspector's in Newcastle. They don't speak the same language up there.
I tried the chocolate cake, quite good. The apple pie was ghastly. They were bought in from a firm that supplies the BBC and the House of Commons. That should tell you everything.
Kandy is a particularly pleasant room, fine for tea or light lunch. But I don't think I'll become a regular.
Talking of the new Jeremy King, Chris Corbin place, St Alban, (you're right, we weren't. We are now) I've been a lot. It's early days so I won't yet offer an erudite and incisive review. "Did you ever do one of those? We must have been away that Sunday!" I hear you say.
On a recent visit to St Alban I had "Joselito gran reserva ham". It was unbelievably tasty. Historic. Jeremy King gave me a discourse on what it was fed to make it so good.
I didn't have my tape recorder, but I think he said the pig dined every night at Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea (three Michelin stars) and ate lunch every day at Philip Howard's The Square in Mayfair (two Michelin stars).
At weekends the pig took it easy and went down to Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons near Oxford (two Michelin stars). On returning piggy occasionally visited St Alban to see who might be going to eat it.
When this pig reached the right size and texture it was done in. Curtains for Piggy-wiggy. Then it was sliced up and served to me as a starter portion at £16.50 plus 12.5% "discretionary" service charge.
You're lucky to have a food expert like me to educate you about these details. No one else would.
PS: A dear friend of mine was last week treated with such unbelievable rudeness when seeking a reservation at Scott's, the new Ivy group restaurant in Mayfair, that I rate the ability of its general manager, Matthew Hobbs, as zero minus three million and sixty-five.
I very much doubt Michael was served fresh cod in Portugal. It's the national dish, but a heavily salted, strong-smelling, dried version mostly imported from the Arctic. The Portuguese claim to have 365 different recipes. I've yet to find one appealing to the British palate.
Geoff Cooper, Sintra, Portugal
So you hated the food in Portugal! I agree. The restaurant Gambrinus in Lisbon is full of mirrors. It's truly disconcerting to have to see oneself eating terrible food. I must be getting old. I'm beginning to like your taste!
Jamie Gamell-Riera, Madrid
At the Pestana Palace hotel, Lisbon - a national monument no less - we booked our favourite table but were forced to sit at a worse one and then left alone for 30 minutes. We thought the meal was a rip off. We filled out a complaints form. We're still waiting for a response!
George and Ann Stewart, Ashby-de-la-Zouch
You've obviously not paid for a plumber recently. Their charge of approximately £1m-an-hour enables them to build huge retirement homes in Portugal. Those small, utterly boring bungalows you wrote about last week were almost certainly built by retired MPs.
Tim Burton, Wokingham