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Oh go on, last one to get a table is a sissy

Published 15 April 2007
News Review
717th article



When I phoned Reubens restaurant in Baker Street a recorded voice announced: "We are closed for Pesach, and will reopen on April 15." When I phoned again the word "Pesach" had been changed to "Passover". Although my knowledge of such matters is less than minimal, even I know they're the same thing. Some sort of Jewish festival.

It was towards the end of my stay at the London Clinic that I decided to take the advice of Mr Gary Quitak, whose letter we published, much praising Reubens. I expected nothing. I received some of the tastiest, best food I've ever eaten.

My super-sleuths Geraldine and Dinah went to get the grub. They were fascinated to see Jewish men in skullcaps decorated with silver and gold. Dinah added: "They had posh clips fixing them to their heads."

Geraldine met the manager, a beautiful girl with dark curly hair, then the mother came out who seemed to be the owner. She remembered me from when I used to visit them in George Street and I always insisted on table No9. I have no recollection whatsoever of going to Reubens in George Street or of table No9. Which doesn't mean Mrs Reuben (assuming it was her) spoke incorrectly. There was also a very handsome husband.

As you enter there's a big counter with, among other things, fresh chips which both Geraldine and Dinah found irresistible. There are tables without cloths, but downstairs tables are fully laid in an elegant way.

In spite of the fact that the food is close to historic I can't see you rushing off to Reubens. Nor do I hold that against you. I've never been there myself. Like you, I'm a creature of habit. I'd rather eat tired sea bass on a bed of exhausted spinach with the "in" crowd at some mediocre Chelsea or West End venue. That makes us feel comfortable. Better than going to some odd place on the west side of Baker Street and being surrounded by strange men in funny hats.

Reubens is light years ahead of all the other restaurants serving this sort of middle European food of the diaspora. For example, there's a thing called chicken soup with matzo balls. You can get this at the Wolseley. I've had it on many occasions at many places. The matzo balls are always too hard. At Reubens they're soft, flaky and delicious. All their soups were outstanding.

I had a stuffed cabbage with sauce that was one of the most memorably excellent tastes ever. Their smoked salmon sandwiches on rye bread with lettuce are simply the best. I was amazed my beefburger was so good, because Reubens is kosher. I've always understood kosher meat, while being religiously pure, is not too tasty. This beefburger was.

Then they do memorable saute potatoes with onions, and latkes beyond belief. A latke is a fried potato pancake. They're often slightly below nauseous. Reubens ones were near perfect.

Normally, Jewish desserts are an unmitigated disaster. Cloying, heavy and simply inedible. I've never had better apple strudel than the one from Reubens. Actually it was equalled by one I ate in 1968 which came, warm, from the oven of a villager in Austria when we were filming. Their apple crumble has sultanas in it (or were they in the apple strudel? I'm never good at remembering these things when I don't tape record it), anyway the crumble was unbeatable.

They even do a lockshen pudding (usually horrid, horrid, horrid) which I think is made from some sort of vermicelli. Currants were in there, too. Geraldine put it before me. I thought: "I'll never eat this." I finished the lot.

The salt beef, particularly recommended by Mr Quitak, is moist and of great quality. Even better than at Selfridges.

It's possible you're now saying: "What on earth is the use of a picture of you alone outside Reubens? Where's this lovely girl you spoke of, or her parents?"

When I decided to go and take the photo last week, the place was shut. Pesach and all that. So use your imagination. See whatever you like around me. Little men in skullcaps, lovely daughters, beaming parents, waiters with piles of latkes and chicken soup.

I do recommend you go there. Even if it's just once for a bit of fun. "Darling, I went to this strange place in Baker Street because of that Winner fellow. It was a real hoot. Another world."

Reubens has an enormous menu of almost everything you could want. To my knowledge none of it, thankfully, served on a bed of spinach. And the chips? They're to die for. Be brave. Give it a try.



Winner's letters

Although MW is physically on the mend he seems to be losing the mental battle. First sign was the preposterous story of Richard Caring drilling bore holes beneath Scott's, his penchant for eating with deranged people, and making up a disease that no one in the medical world has heard of and sounds like a Roman sex toy (Vibrio vulnificus, I ask you). I suppose next the poor old soul will tell us he's getting married!
Edward Evans, Brighton

A programme on Radio 2 reported that chickens, while difficult to catch in daylight, can be picked up at dusk. A time of day when their vision is so badly impaired, they just sit waiting to be caught. My suggestion is that instead of children of 12 being able to earn a massive £3 a bird because it takes six hours to catch them (Winner's Dinners, last week), they could catch 25-30 birds an hour by doing it in the evening.
Catherine Bell, Suffolk

You're the fourth person this year that I have heard of returning home ill after holidaying in Barbados. I'm pleased your appetite is back to normal. What I'd like to know is will you ever return to Barbados for seconds?
Lawrence Fugasi, Cheshire

How wise of you not to allow "sawbones" to take off your affected leg. Long John Winner wouldn't cut quite the same dash about town.
Dennis Pallis, Kent

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