Published 23 September 2007 News Review 740th article
I had not been out of England, or much out of hospital, since my last trip to Barbados on December 16, 2006.
So it was with some trepidation I recently set off for La Reserve de Beaulieu in the south of France. The two-starred Michelin food from chef Olivier Brulard remained amazingly good. I put on 10lb in 13 days.
This had to come off quickly on my return because I can't go round chubby promoting my forthcoming book, The Fat Pig Diet.
We tried only one new restaurant, La Pinede in Cap d'Ail. This is the last unspoilt area of the coast before you reach the hideous council-flat, over-developed piece of tat called Monte Carlo.
La Pinede is right on the sea, or rather on the rocks.
It's owned by one of those showmanship French restaurateurs, Eliott Guglielmi.
Geraldine and I went with Adam Kenwright, who has a major ad agency servicing top theatre shows such as Billy Elliot and Dirty Dancing and companies such as the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare, the Royal Court, the Almeida and others.
His girlfriend is an actress, Katherine Kingsley. When I checked the spelling of her name she said, "Add stunning," which I'm happy to do because it's true. She's currently touring in the Chichester Theatre production of Hobson's Choice, possibly at a venue near you.
I started with moules mariniere, very tasty and a nice soup or sauce or whatever it is they have with them. Geraldine had fish soup, which she declared one of the best ever. They exhibited a live lobster to Katherine shortly before its untimely death in the boiling pot.
My main course was grilled prawns, out of the shell. I refuse to do kitchen porter work and shell fish. Adam had sirloin steak with pepper sauce.
This is a very pleasant restaurant indeed. Not pretentious, perfectly elegant in a beautiful "I do like to be beside the seaside" setting.
I thoroughly recommend it.
There was the usual endless wait for the bill, so I did one of my rare napkin-waving exercises. A waiter came over and said, "Can I offer you a digestif?"
I said, "No, I've asked for the bill five times, that's what I want."
As we left, Eliott, the owner, said, "I'm sorry you had to wait for the bill. I was speaking to my wife on the telephone and now I've got a headache."
To other matters. I was born in 1935 and have seen many changes since then. Few for the better. Thank God I lived in England when it really was beautiful.
So as someone who finds change abhorrent I suffered a severe shock recently at the rightly fashionable, admirable Scott's restaurant in Mayfair.
For years the Ivy group, as I shall call it, served Malvern water. Suddenly there at Scott's, and a few days later at the Ivy, the only still water on offer was Tufa. I didn't like it much. A musty taste. Nowhere near the crispness of Evian or Malvern.
Having become, in my dotage, ever more cynical, I thought: I bet Tufa is cheaper to buy and thus they're upping profit in the water department.
Some rival restaurateurs even had the gross impertinence to suggest this was why Mark Hix, 18 years with the Ivy group, many of them as executive chef, was leaving next July. Because he'd been asked to increase profit margins by diminishing quality. After all, I thought, if the toffs at George club, also owned by Richard Caring, and only a few yards from Scott's, are served Evian, why must I suffer Tufa?
That extremely nice man Russell Norman, operations director of the Ivy group, was rightly appalled that I'd been beset with such untrue and scurrilous gossip. He assured me Tufa was chosen because of its superior taste and because it came in smaller bottles than Malvern. They were selling it at Pounds 3.75 for 750cl as opposed to Malvern at Pounds 4.25 a litre. If you can make sense of that your brain is bigger than mine. Which is highly likely.
Then came into my life the most delightfully Somerset-accented man, John Patch who owns Tufa. It apparently emanates from land untouched by human hand for centuries and is being supplied to Lady Bamford and Jane Seymour. Follow that, I say.
I shall obviously have to seek permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the Pope to take my own Malvern water into the Ivy group restaurants.
These all remain utterly superb and will be even better if I can drink the water I want. Or maybe I'll just ask Geraldine to smuggle some through in her handbag.
Is Michael Winner alive? I've not read any obituary or appreciation of his life. In recent photos he appears heavily made up by a professional undertaker and is always propped up on both sides. Could he give a little wave next time to reassure us.
Dr Michael Killourhy, Leeds
Last week's correspondent Jane Hodges should stop reading Michael's column and get some rest. I've been working for almost 40 years and I'll never make as much money in a week as Winner spends on lunch. But I do enjoy his nonsense. Long may he cavort!
Barbara MacDougall, Ontario, Canada
I've always believed criminals stick together. Observing last week's photo of you with Simon Cowell, it became apparent this rule also applies to culture criminals.
Keith Kirkope, Kirkcaldy
In the days of the Goring hotel's sumptuous blue-and-gold dining room you'd have been hard-pressed to find any fault. But I agree with your comments about their Linley lights. Since the appearance of these hideous excrescences it's inadvisable to allow one's gaze to stray to the ceiling.
Nicola Bryant, London
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk