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Opening doors and soaring to new heights

Published 6 May 2007
News Review
720th article



Here's an example of pathetic, inept, inhospitable restaurant management. My assistant, Calvin, phoned Galvin at Windows on the 28th floor of the Hilton hotel, Park Lane.

"I'd like to book a table for two for Michael Winner tomorrow for lunch at 1 o'clock," he said.

"He can't come at 1. He can come at 12.45 or 1.30," said a Frenchman. He would be French, wouldn't he?

"He'd like to come at 1," repeated Calvin.

"Chef has two large groups," explained the Frenchman.

"Mr Winner is going to review your restaurant," said Calvin.

"I'll get the manager," said the Frenchman. On comes the manager, also French.

"Is he reviewing for a magazine?" asked Frenchman number two.

"No, for The Sunday Times," explained Calvin.

"I'll speak to chef and call you back," said Frenchman number two.

In a couple of minutes he called back. "Mr Winner would be most welcome at 1," said Frenchman number two. "We'll see he has the best table."

At least in the kitchen they know who I am. I arrived at 1.05 at the restaurant. Was it full? Of course it wasn't. It was two-thirds empty.

There was no sign of any large groups. Throughout my stay of two hours the place was never remotely full, nor did any groups appear.

The general manager, Fred Sirieix, looked after me impeccably. He was warm, charming and highly professional.

As I left I said, "Why do you allow all this nonsense of staff inventing a crush that doesn't exist?"

"I think my staff were being a little overcautious," said Fred.

I felt like saying, "Not overcautious, stupid," but I let it rest.

When I arrived at the Hilton a cheerful doorman opened the car door.

"Hello, Mr Winner," he said. "Welcome to the Hilton."

Then he noticed my leg splint. "Been playing football?" he asked.

"How do I get to the 28th floor?" I said.

The doorman, Steven Thornett, replied, "There's lifts at the end of the lobby, or you could walk." Little joke there. But respectfully and nicely stated.

I'd expected a dreary hotel type dining room, but it was pleasant and elegant.

Fred led us to the best table, even indicating which chair to sit in. Below was a large swathe of London, including Buckingham Palace and all its gardens.

Chris Galvin took over in May 2006. He was the original chef at the Wolseley, then opened Galvin on Baker Street with his brother Jeff.

He was not in the kitchen, which was no surprise. Chefs, as soon as they become successful, tend to open restaurants all over the place, put their name on them, like a trademark. And that's that.

The warm, brown bread baguette was quite outstanding. Unfortunately the first course was a disaster. We ordered ballantine of foie gras, chicken and celeriac, truffle mayonnaise and pain de campagne.

I foolishly expected foie gras. There were tiny slivers of excellent foie gras hiding in a crush of chicken. Celeriac surrounded the whole thing. The chicken was tired, the celeriac meaningless. There were blobs of this and that decorating the plate. It was all too clever by half.

My main course was Anjou pigeon, petit pois a la Francaise and pommes cocottes. I consider myself expert in only three food items. Chocolate cake, ice cream and pigeon. I'm very fond of pigeon. Sometimes I stand in the garden with my mouth open, in flies a pigeon, chump, chump, and that's the end of it. Why restaurant pigeons always seem to come from Anjou I do not understand.

There was a very long wait for the main course. I noticed the flag was flying over Buckingham Palace, but I didn't see the Queen in her bikini cavorting among sun loungers on the lawn.

The pigeon was cut in half.

I prefer it whole. There was a nice sauce with it. It was good but not the best I've had.

The veggies came in a little pot. For some reason bits of ham were cut up among the petit pois. Why? I don't want ham and pigeon. At least I'd like to be warned it was coming.

Geraldine took some cheese so I joined in. There was white fig chutney and some others I can't recall. The biscuits were good. This was a nice course. Except I ate so much, finally eating blobs of cheese and chutney off the end of my knife. You can't take me anywhere.

I finished with excellent sorbet.

It's a special event place, really. But not at all bad. If you could persuade Her Maj to put on a show in the garden, the superb view would be even better.



Michael's missives

I wonder what the young waitress on the far right of your photo last week was thinking? Was it, "I know where I'd like to stick these two plates"? Or was it a bit of sympathy, "The old fart's just a shadow of his former self"? Can you enlighten me, Michael?
Iain Chapman, Marciac, France

Do you really think that should a big fat baby fall on you from a wheeled cot (known north of Watford as a pram) it would really hang around to do you harm? I can't imagine a greater incentive to encourage an infant to bypass learning to walk in favour of running, as fast as possible, from such a frightening situation. But I agree, great as it is, the River Cafe is best avoided during "nappy hour".
Fiona Smart, Loughborough

When you say vinegar is applied to your wounds each day, surely you don't mean our common northern chip shop vinegar. I thought at very least for such an important wound you'd have a Michelin-starred friend in Modena flying you in the aged, balsamic sticky brown stuff daily on a private jet.
Barry Kane, Nottingham

I hope that wasn't a rumbling of your vast oozing leg craters that hit Folkestone last week.
John Finegan, Co Cavan, Republic of Ireland

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