Published 14 October 2007 News Review 743rd article
Ever since I discovered Arab food when I made a movie in Israel in 1987, I've been a great admirer of it. I liked the Arabs, too. Very hospitable, great sense of humour.
Nothing is more beautiful than old Arab Jerusalem or the Arab town of Acre. In Acre, as the Israeli crew kept their eyes on rooftops for fear of snipers or rock throwers, I went round shaking hands with the Arabs sitting outside their terraced houses in the tiny, almost mediaeval alleys. They offered me coffee and honey-cake. They were marvellous.
I suppose I'll now get more letters from north London Jewish folk telling me, yet again, that I'm anti-semitic. These people should get a life -and a grip on reality. There's a considerable difference in atmosphere between Acre and Kensington High Street. But as in so many parts of London we have our Arab restaurant. It's called Al-Dar III.
Apparently two other Al-Dars are on Edgware Road. One featuring music and a belly dancer. I can manage lunch without that.
We sat near the door facing the bustle and buses of the high street. An extremely professional, cheerful and welcoming Palestinian waiter, Mohammed Ali, brought some Evian water and ice.
If an Arab cafe can provide Evian water why did the elegant Goring hotel palm me off with inferior Blenheim? And the superb Scott's/Ivy group with Tufa water?
There's a long counter full of delicious-looking stuff from pizzas to hummus.
Behind it beef and lamb roast on separate spits. There's also an enormous menu.
I started with the little pizza from the counter (pretty good). Geraldine had the vegetarian mezze of hummus, moutabal, tabbouleh, falafel and fatayah spinach. I nicked a bit of each item. Excellent.
As her main course Geraldine chose chargrilled boneless baby chicken with garlic sauce. I had a kind of in-between moment, with thin slices of beef from the spit. These were almost historic.
My main course was chicken cooked with vegetables and served with rice.
A sort of stew. Perhaps I was in a particularly good mood (rare, I assure you) but I found it extremely tasty.
Geraldine asked for white wine but they brought her red because the white was "finished". They've only got paper napkins, which I hate, but they intelligently change them after the first course.
Two policemen came in and went over to the chef. "I hope you're not arresting him," I said as they were leaving. "I haven't finished eating my meal."
Apparently they were inviting everyone to a Peace in the Park "do" that Sunday. That means noise and no peace for me as I sit on my back balcony overlooking Holland Park.
My dessert was baklava, cheesecake and other delights where nuts and honey featured heavily. Geraldine said they did milkshakes so I ordered a banana one. I think it had real banana in it. Tasted too much like a health drink for me.
They declined my American Express card -fee too high I suppose. When my Mastercard went in the machine Mohammed had to beckon to a fellow on the telephone to ring off because it's the line they use for credit cards.
The chef declined to be in our photo. Perhaps because he was serving two pretty girls with takeaways. Or maybe he's just shy. But some of his cohorts turned up, as you can see.
Your letters which adorn this column are a triumph. Sadly, we can't print them all. This one, from Andrew Morris of Northwood, Middlesex, which I thought excellent, was too long. Here it is in full.
He wrote, "You may not be aware of the existence of a female Michael Winner. But there is one and I'm married to her. Visiting a restaurant with my wife Debbie is an excruciating embarrassment for me - and something akin to the Spanish inquisition for the staff who are met with a barrage of questions and complaints.
"These usually start with one about the location of the table offered, the comfort offered by the chairs and the ventilation from the air-conditioning. This is followed by a forensic investigation of every item on the menu, and some not even on it.
"When the food eventually arrives inevitably something is undercooked, overcooked or just wrong and has to return to the kitchen. Finally the bill is scrutinised with a microscope and every item not precisely listed is aggressively queried.
Should you need a successor, Debbie is waiting!"
Andrew, you have a real treasure there. I hope you give your wife full credit for her intelligence and perspicacity. But should you ever divorce, please don't point her in my direction.
The "What about?" response from your French gorgon receptionist is standard at all levels in France. Mairie, tax office, social security and the local notaire. I always say, "About something that doesn't concern you." If the French ever sort out their unpleasant and arrogant ways of handling customers then, maybe, they can better tackle their 8.5% unemployment.
Jean-Louis Daeschler, East Lothian, Scotland
Such impertinence from that "snotty" receptionist you encountered at La Petite Maison. Where were her manners? When making reservations I've used the line, "I'm Michael Winner reviewing for The Sunday Times." On the first occasion I arrived to find the restaurant had morphed into a launderette overnight. The last time the maitre d' greeted me with a posse of his staff complete with knuckle-dusters, flick-knives and a machinegun.
Steve Christie, Afonwen, North Wales
Seeing Michael with Joan Collins last week reminds us how successful medical science can be. Bright eyes, lush hair, great teeth, smooth complexion, wrinkle-free, a hint of a tan. I thought Joan looked a bit rough though.
Tim Burton, Wokingham
Reading your column I'm always reminded of a friend's mother who used to carry in her handbag a note: "Why be difficult when, with a little more effort, you can be bloody difficult."
Hazel Leeming, Norwich
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk