Published 28 October 2007 News Review 745th article
Lucy Gemmell runs a caterer called Rhubarb. She serves 300,000 meals a year.
That's an average of 822 a day, every day of the year. I doubt if any restaurant in the UK achieves that. And Lucy does hundreds of cocktail parties as well.
I've often eaten Lucy's meals. Lord Lloyd-Webber uses Rhubarb for his "at home" Sydmonton festivals. Recently they did dinner for 250 for the wedding of Sir Michael Caine's lovely daughter Natasha to a nice man, Michael Hall.
Actually the wedding was at a church in Bray followed by dinner and sleepover at the Waterside Inn. Sadly I couldn't go as I was recording Michael Parkinson's show.
But I did get to the party at the Victoria and Albert Museum given by the groom's family. Drinks were served in a sculpture gallery.
The first-rate canapes included fillet of lamb marinated in shallots and honey and roasted pink, served on branches of rosemary. There were lots of others, I never know what they are, I just grab and eat. But as I'm promoting my diet book, I grab less.
Dinner was served most efficiently. Cornish crab, followed by slow-braised featherblade of beef in a rich red wine jus with parsnip mash, caramelised chicory, sticky shallots and Jerusalem artichoke chips.
The menu was not on the table as it sometimes is, but the wedding planner (I didn't realise they existed, I thought it was the name of a movie) called Nasser Awan got me things all written down.
Even I'd consider it impolite yapping into my tape recorder as every bit of food appeared, usually after asking Geraldine, "What am I eating?"
Self-service desserts were in miniature goblets. Geraldine got me about six and I ate them all. This was a very good meal. Miraculous really when you're chucking it out to 250 people at more or less the same time.
Lucy worked for eight years for the caterer I use, The Admirable Crichton run by Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh. The other great caterer in town is Mustard.
Choose any of those three and relax, with or without a wedding planner.
I did a bit of my own catering shortly after the wedding dinner. The book launch for Michael Winner's Fat Pig Diet was at the Belvedere restaurant in Holland Park. Good turnout, the Lloyd-Webbers, Shakira Caine (Michael was finishing his first day on a new movie), Simon Cowell, Cilla Black and so on to Lionel Blair plus the editor of the world's most distinguished newspaper.
Billy Reid, the excellent Belvedere chef, did canapes, including Toulouse sausage rolls, lamb and pepper kebabs, tartare of sea bass with lime on crackers, chocolate and lemon tart . . . it went on and on.
Once again I ate very little. You can't have a fat author promoting a diet book.
If a gross, moronic slob like me can lose three and a half stone and keep it off, then you can.
I'd failed every diet for 25 years. I dieted between meals. I'd eat tub after tub of ice cream after dinner. Those days are over. I am lighter and happier.
Cynics say, "Well, you were ill, so of course you lost weight."
I respond, "I'd lost it before I became ill." Now, with a depleted left leg, I can't exercise as much as I used to, so I have to diet even more.
The joy of this ("Highly amusing" - Michael Winner) book can be yours. Visit timesonline.co.uk/booksfirst or call 08701 608080. Its price is £11.69 inc p&p versus £12.99 in bookshops. I'll even send you a self-adhesive white label personally signed and inscribed to whatever fatty you think needs a copy.
In my new, self-appointed role as consumer protector, I leapt into action against Ikea's Wembley branch, when they delivered my assistant Dinah May a sofa she'd waited five weeks for minus instruction book, screws to put it together with and four feet.
Ikea's so-called Customer Service Department told Dinah, "There's nothing we can do about it. We'll have to advise the delivery service and it'll be at least a week."
I found out their PR people, demanded the name of their UK manager, Peter Hogsted, and generally raised hell.
Some customer service lady rang me. I said, "I want these items delivered today. Anyone can put them in a van. Just get them here."
"I do apologise . . ." stuttered the woman. "I'm totally uninterested in apologies. I'm only interested in action and results," I announced. My ferocity level was seven out of ten.
It was enough, Dinah got the missing bits that day. Another mini-triumph. "Oh really," I hear you say, "when did you have a mini-triumph before?" Er . . . can't remember. But there must have been one.
You said Ferraris are "the dud cars of all time". So why did you keep yours for 14 years? Barmy.
Richard Evans, Somerset
What a feast to see a person of your kidney at the Oxford Union last week. Clearly they have the brains and you have the brawn. I expect you talked tripe as usual. How offal.
Nigel Bartram, Torquay
"Watch out Ikea," Michael said last week. May those welcome words cast a long, dark shadow. Ikea must be the worst shopping experience known to mankind.
Murray Harrold, Buckinghamshire
Here's a limerick:
A restaurant critic called Winner
Took Geraldine out for some dinner
"This water's not nice
So I've called for more ice
And the food well, I'll end up still thinner".
Piers Ford, Ayamonte Huelva, Spain
Geraldine should start a club of her own. I'll be first to enrol. I've been married for ever to a complainer -"the rest of the world are idiots, no standards any more!" The Geraldine Appreciation Society (GAS) should meet and put the "boys" on other tables where they can put the world to rights. It's said I look a bit like the gorgeous Geraldine. Even if you, Michael, and my old man are somewhat deluded, this shows you have a modicum of good taste.
Di Monsen, by e-mail