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Second time lucky for a brilliant brasserie

Published 15 July 2007
News Review
730th article

Michael with Claire and Mimi Ferrini at La Brasserie on Brompton Road (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

You may remember last week I started out to go to La Brasserie in Brompton Road and ended up somewhere else. You don't remember? Oh well, nobody's perfect.

This time I made it to La Brasserie. It's a very bustling, atmospheric place genuinely in the style of a real French brasserie. There are globe lights, fans twirling from the ceiling, French posters on the wall, waiters that look like they've served in Montmartre for 40 years.

Written in chalk on a wall mirror was "Speciality today is terrine de foie gras with onion marmalade and brioche £15.80" (plus service charge). The main, and enormous menu, has a two-course set menu at £17.50.

The general manager, James Ramsden, came over and said, "I won't tell the chef you're here, because when I tell the chef somebody special is in they always make a balls-up."

A very Chelsea-type girl with a striped sweater and frayed jeans sat next to us. Her boyfriend hadn't turned up so she was on the mobile phone, I assumed in search of him.

Geraldine ordered the foie gras then smoked chicken salad, watercress, pine nuts, quail's eggs and some sort of dressing. I chose French onion soup followed by scampi Proven├žal with tomato sauce and rice.

The boyfriend of the girl next door turned up in a red sweatshirt with "Abercrombie" on the front. They made a very nice, attractive couple.

Geraldine decided her champagne was bouchone. So they took it away and replaced it with summer rose. Geraldine is a bit of wine expert. She not infrequently finds the wine a bit off, something to do with bacteria from the cork getting into the wine. Which is why, she explained, plastic corks are being used more and more.

Her "bouchone" discoveries are not confined to restaurants. Quite a few of my wines at home get the same dismissal.

I'd asked for ice and lemon on the table, but neither came. So I settled just for ice. The water was Evian which, together with Malvern, is the best available.

The baguette was fine. The French onion soup, superb. Full of clingy bits of cheese that stretched forever. Geraldine made onion soup at home, all the cook had to do was heat it. But she put it in the mixer and it turned out like a thick sludge.

The couple next door were staring into each other's eyes. This is obviously a very serious relationship, I thought.

Geraldine said of her foie gras, "Mmm, that is perfection." My scampi were a tiny bit soft, the sauce and rice were lovely. A perfectly pleasant dish. Geraldine particularly appreciated the homemade mayonnaise with her chicken salad.

A large plate of oysters was put on the next table. I nearly had a relapse just looking at them.

Jeremy Lloyd came over to say hello. He wrote 'Allo 'Allo! and many other big television comedy hits. I employed him as actor in the early Sixties when he played debutante escort types. He did the twist for me in Britain's first twist film, Play It Cool, partnered by a girl called Wontner whose dad owned the Savoy. Bit of minor film memorabilia there.

Jeremy said, "I see you're at one of my regular haunts. I get 10% discount, I've been coming here for so long."

"It's only my second time," I responded. "So I pay full price." The last time I was at La Brasserie was 10 years ago. I'd been staying at Cliveden, mistakenly thinking it was near Chequers where I had lunch with Tone and Cherie and Bertie Ahern.

I'd walked out of Sunday lunch at Cliveden as everything was so awful. The hotel and the lunch. The then owner promptly banned me. The Daily Mail went down and published a two-page spread, headlined: "At last Michael Winner got it right". To be right once in 10 years is pretty good, isn't it?

The man next to me took his sweatshirt off. Underneath he had a T-shirt with "Abercrombie" in even larger letters.

Geraldine had creme brulee with ginger. I had a lemon sorbet. Both were extremely good. Unlike my lemon sorbet at La Trompette, this one spoke to me. I decline to tell you what it said. Some of you may hazard a guess.

I asked the lovely couple next door if they'd like to be in our photo. Turned out they were married. That's extraordinary, I thought, looking into each other's eyes so romantically - and married.

They were (and probably still are) Claire and Mimi Ferrini. Very nice class of people in La Brasserie. I may have let the side down a bit. But I'm used to that.

Winner's letters

I loved your comment last week that children under nine should be put to sleep the minute they enter restaurants. This is probably correct for British kids. But here in France children are better prepared for being adults and your comment should be adjusted to "children under three".
Geoff Taylor, Pouzois-Minervois, france

Children under nine put to sleep in restaurants? Why stop there? Mine always responded to the warning that misbehaviour would be sternly dealt with by the animated gentleman waving his napkin nearby.
Oliver Chastney, Norwich

Your correspondent Steve West should get out more, asking how you manage at Royal Ascot, Henley and Glyndebourne when you only ever seem to eat at restaurants. Ascot has various restaurants. At one it took five waitresses to open our bottle of champagne. At Glyndebourne the restaurant ran out of puddings. We who eat and drink for England have a hard life!
Andrew Bainbridge, London

Have you considered that if you dined more at the Athenaeum you'd soon be able to fit into your school uniform, which no doubt you have stored in plastic. It would only be a matter if time before you were back in terry nappies and sucking Jell-O through a straw.
Peter (second name not supplied), Southampton