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Small chance of living up to its big name

Published 7 October 2007
News Review
742nd article



One of my favourite restaurants in the world is La Petite Maison in the old part of Nice. It's run by an industrious, very welcoming French lady, Nicole Rubi.

It has a boisterous, casual atmosphere. They specialise in truffles with almost everything. The food is amazing.

Now an English version of La Petite Maison has opened in the staid surroundings of a Mayfair mews. I saw no similarity between this and the French one.

The UK PM employs the rudest, most pathetic reception staff ever. I phoned at 6.30pm asking for the restaurant manager. I was told to call back at 6.50pm. I did.

A snotty, arrogant, unwelcoming French woman said, when I asked for Francesco, the restaurant manager, "What do you want to speak to him about?" What did she think I wanted -a discussion on atomic fusion?

"I'd like to speak to the restaurant manager," I repeated patiently.

"What about?" repeated the French gorgon.

"I'm Michael Winner, may I please be put through to the restaurant manager?" I said quietly.

"What do you want to speak to him about?" repeated the French woman. She had a limited vocabulary.

"I wish to make a reservation for tomorrow night at 7.45pm. I'll be reviewing for The Sunday Times. With me will be Joan Collins and her husband Percy. Who do you have to be to speak to your restaurant manager, the king of England?" I snapped.

All right there isn't a king of England. Let's not quibble. I got through.

Francesco politely confirmed the booking.

During my meal Gary Rhodes came to the reception desk a little bit late, as he'd warned them he would be.

"They told me at 8.15pm I had to be out by 9pm," Gary complained later to me on the phone. "I walked out."

I said, "My chauffeur heard you say, quite reasonably, 'Do you realise who I am?'"

"I probably did," said Gary. They could easily have put people at the bar (where drinks are more profitable than food) for a short time to let Gary complete his dinner.

There is normally some courtesy shown to famous chefs by other restaurants. Food critics, of course, should be treated like rubbish. All this is particularly grotesque because the co-owner of La Petite Maison is a charming Indian gentleman, Arjun Waney. Why does he employ such inhospitable, miserable staff?

The low-ceilinged room is full of hard surfaces. This makes conversation virtually impossible. I chose a table near the door to cut down on neighbours. It was still noisy beyond belief.

Mr Waney was there (I bet he was allowed to speak to the restaurant manager) with Gwyneth Paltrow. I hope they could all lip-read.

Joan Collins said, "Darling, this looks entirely like the lunch place at Harvey Nichols." I agree.

It's famous for truffles but all the dishes with truffles were off. I ask you? Madness. I started with onion tart. This was five strips of what looked like British Airways canapes. Quite pleasant but not nearly as good as the onion tart I had at Brasserie St Quentin recently.

Joan had a starter of green beans and foie gras. Definitely a case for a trade descriptions officer. "Not even bite size, they're the size of fingernails," Joan said searching desperately for foie gras. This dish was an utter disgrace. "When we do this at home we have a huge slab of foie gras on green beans not little bits of it tucked away," said Joan.

Percy and I had the speciality main course, whole roast black leg chicken. "What did you think of it?" asked Percy.

"Okay," I said. Even though it was rather dry.

"You should taste my Peruvian chicken," advised Percy, indicating he too thought it not good. I had far better roast chicken from my butcher, HG Walter, at home two days later, cooked by my receptionist Dinah. The desserts were vanilla creme brulee and dark chocolate tart with orange cream. They were all right, not spectacular.

Joan loved her lamb chops main course. Geraldine liked all her food. This is, apparently, a very popular place. But unlike another of Arjun Waney's restaurants, Zuma -also deafeningly noisy but with spectacular food -what's on offer at La Petite Maison is ordinary.

Later my Jewish Suzuki dealer, Stephen Pincus from Leytonstone, told me he was there that same evening. As my left leg ain't what it used to be I had to swap my stick-shift Grand Vitara for an automatic.

I'd never met Stephen until he brought it round. Nice fellow. But I didn't ask the Leytonstone brigade view of La Petite Maison. My opinion is all that matters. It just about achieves average.



Michael's missives

How unwise of Michael to order beetroot soup from Mrs Dracula at St John Bread and Wine. I wonder where it came from. As a well-known insurance salesman I'm surprised he didn't order a bloody stake as a main course, with a hint of garlic!
Tim Burton, Wokingham

You bang on about the brands of water you like and dislike, yet insist on your glass being topped up with ice. As the ice is made from tap water, isn't your favourite brand diluted beyond its endearing quality and taste you demand?
Marvin Pryce-Jones, Barbados

Even if Michael obtains ecclesiastical support from three eminent churchmen allowing him to take his preferred brand of water into the Ivy group restaurants, it's unlikely to cut much ice with the staff. I tried recently, but the waitress forbade me to use it since the house brand was available.
James Hogan, Tipperary, Ireland

When sitting next to you at St John Bread and Wine (reviewed last week) I noticed that, in spite of your obnoxious snobbery, you were holding your knife incorrectly. It is not a pen! Where was you brung up?
Bill Sharpe, Chigwell

Only in Britain could a column which lacks both style and substance be so popular. God bless us all.
Jon Lea, Wimbledon

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