Published 17 December 2006 News Review 700th article
Michael with Henry Wyndham at Le Caprice (Jose Silva)
The restaurant event that most bemused me this year was the alleged 25th birthday celebrations for Le Caprice.
2006 was not the 25th anniversary of Le Caprice. I was a regular in the 1950s when it was all red banquettes with an alcove round the back where they put the Jews.
That is true.
I went with a distinguished lady theatrical agent so I sat in the best place, where the entrance is now. Noel Coward to the left, Larry Olivier with dear Vivien Leigh to the right, Ivor Novello here, Rex Harrison there. After theatrical first nights everyone wore black tie. We were greeted by the ebullient owner, Mario Gallati, who named the place after his wife's bra.
Eventually Le Caprice went into oblivion to be rescued in 1981 by London's greatest restaurateurs, Jeremy King and Chris Corbin. It was later sold to Luke Johnson of Belgo and more recently to the oh-so-nice Richard Caring, ex-rag trader and general superguy.
So the "anniversary" being celebrated was the takeover by Chris and Jeremy. This went somewhat sour when they declined to attend Jesus Adorno's party for the event.
Mr Adorno is the current boss (miles under Richard Caring) of Le Caprice. But I, and many others, who know the restaurant trade well, were gobsmacked by his version of events. Suddenly Jesus had opened Le Caprice with Chris and Jeremy.
One newspaper interview he gave reported, "Jeremy King, Chris Corbin and Jesus Adorno decided to launch a new restaurant that combined French brasserie style with New York chic." Er . . . hello! I was there!
Mr Adorno was one of three employed headwaiters when Jeremy and Chris's Le Caprice opened. Then it closed for financial reasons. When it reopened Jesus was an ordinary waiter. He was not launching anything except plates of food onto punters' tables. That's not to denigrate his contribution to the success of Le Caprice, because Jesus eventually rose to head honcho and the continued excellence of Le Caprice surely owes something to him. Although, as one restaurateur wryly said to me, "History is being re-written. The only thing that's certain is the future."
Le Caprice remains an absolutely marvellous place. The David Bailey portraits, the simple decor, the superb staff and comforting food are an immense credit to all concerned. Mark Hix, chef-director for the Ivy-Caprice-Sheekey, and now Scott's, is a man of exceptional skill and longevity. Only Daphne's in Barbados is a carbuncle on an otherwise terrific operation. I exclude Scott's, for the moment, because I haven't been there.
I lunched at Le Caprice recently with my guest Henry Wyndham, the chairman of Sotheby's. There is no more delightful man in the world than our Henry. With unusual modesty I even rate him more delightful than me.
I had crispy duck and watercress salad (always great), braised ox cheek with beef steak, mushroom and celeriac mash and muscat jelly with cream. I love jelly. A thoroughly pleasing meal!
Henry enjoyed eggs benedict followed by the restaurant's most popular item, salmon fishcakes. I asked them to bring him some extra sauce. Other Caprice favourites of mine are sauteed foie gras with caramelised apples, deep fried haddock with minted pea puree, chips and tartare sauce, and chopped steak Americaine, a hamburger minus the bun.
I greatly like their restaurant manager, Nick Roderick. In over 60 years (note, not 25) I've never had a bad meal at Le Caprice.
Talking about Gordon Ramsay (which we weren't), as my chauffeur was off duty I rang Addison Lee to book a car for 7pm to go to his 40th birthday dinner. They said, "You can only have it at 10 to 7, or 20 past"! Before I could say, "Close the account" the employee had gone to get the supervisor. I listened to music for one and half minutes before ringing off.
I called back to make sure they knew I didn't want a car, had music for another one minute 17 seconds. My third call produced music for one minute 10 seconds.
That's four minutes of music!
Addison Lee's chairman, John Griffin, wrote this was "not an outrageous time". If I want a concert I'll go to the Albert Hall. Music on the phone is worse than music in restaurants. At least in restaurants you can eat.
PS: I am meticulously careful. Last week I rated the general manager of Scott's zero minus three million and sixty-five after they were unbelievably rude to a friend of mine. I called him Matthew Hobbs. Then The Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard called him Matthew Robb. I thought, "Oops!" Well, they were wrong and I was right. Trust only me!
MW takes a pop at Scott's of Mayfair because they showed "unbelievable rudeness" to a friend of his. A chappie at my local chippie - Fatboy's Fryer, Forest Hill - was a bit uppity with me the other night. Could I prevail on MW to hand out a bollocking on my behalf?
Robert Randell, London
As a recent convert to your column, I am pleased to say I'm now a more confident and informed diner. Only yesterday, on taking my children to McDonald's, I sampled a little of everything from the menu, complained about the service, then had my photo taken with the manager.
Michael Jones, Cardiff
If a restaurant is called Gordon Ramsay or Alastair Little surely the named chef should be there. Why pay enormous bills for the monkey not the organ grinder? You wouldn't pay Picasso prices for work done by a student because it was Picasso's day off!
Andrew Gibb, Richmond, Surrey
At the famous Sharrow Bay hotel on Lake Ullswater we were told we couldn't have Sunday lunch as it might ruin our dinner! They offered us a sandwich. Further, the place had the ambience of an old people's home.
Alexandra Harvey, London