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No problem being easily led if you end up here

Published 11 November 2007
News Review
747th article



I'm weak-willed and easily led. When I read Prince Harry (or was it William, Henry or Hymie?) took his girlfriend Kate (or was it Harriett, Liz or Rachel?) to Brinkley's on Hollywood Road, Chelsea, I decided to give it a bash.

The nearest I got to royalty was two Buck-Pal tea parties, one event where I gate-crashed a room I wasn't meant to be in, and was introduced to Prince Philip, and two hours with the Queen when I hosted her at the unveiling and subsequent snacky-poos when she officially opened my National Police Memorial on the Mall.

So the thought of lunching next to the future King of England and his debbie type date sent me all a-quiver. Should I ask for an autograph or sneak in for an intimate photo as if we were best of pals?

My heart was racing as I looked at a more or less empty dining room one recent Saturday. I thought the place was owned by an old friend, Sean Shelley. I'm sure he told me so when I once lunched at the next-door wine bar.

"He tells people that to help him pick up girls," explained the real owner, John Brinkley. "Sean's an employee, but he's not on today."

I considered saying, "I'll sit next to the prince," but as there were only two other people in the room, both pleasant-looking but unlikely to have royal blood, I settled for a corner table facing the door and the bar. Behind me was a canvass covered yard with tables.

It's a very nice place, simple, friendly. Mr Brinkley and friends were sitting outside, but I thought it was too nippy for that. It seems Mr B and cohorts won't be sitting outside for long. Because the Kensington and Chelsea council, in its lack of wisdom, has decided to prosecute Mr B unless he takes his exterior tables away.

I couldn't see them doing harm, so Geraldine and I meekly signed a petition thrust before us against the table removal. If we don't sign who knows what they might do to our food, I thought rather unfairly.

Then a posh gent came in and said, "I wrote to you as Sir Michael Winner when you helped us campaign against penthouses being added to the top of Melbury Court." That's a block of flats at the bottom of my road.

"Did we win?" I asked. "The council said no, but the developers appealed and the Department of the Environment gave them approval," said the customer.

That's it, isn't it? Death by a thousand cuts. An extension there, an addition here. Tear down my lovely local Odeon leaving a token of the 1930s frontage. It upsets me. But not enough to miss lunch.

Geraldine started with pate de fois gras with red onions, marmalade, toast and rocket. She thought it superb. I tried some and agreed.

I had "hot smoked salmon with home-pickled cucumber, dill and sour cream".

"How can you have hot smoked salmon?" I asked Geraldine. It turned out to be a decent piece of normal salmon, I suppose heated by smoke. A good starter.

To follow Geraldine had caesar salad with corn-fed chicken, anchovies and croutons. "How do you know that chicken is corn-fed?" I asked her. "Because it tastes so soft and moist," she replied.

I had the hamburger. A considerable disappointment.

It was far too compacted. Nothing like the Ivy hamburger, which is infinitely superior. Brinkley's put melted blue cheese on top of fried onions, thus moisturising the onions.

To finish I had hot coffeecake with ice cream. It was pleasant school-food stuff.

Not fine dining, but none the worse for it. Geraldine had white and dark chocolate mousse. I tried the dark chocolate mousse. It was historic.

By now John had introduced his beautiful wife Jenny and his daughter Olivia. It could be the other way round, I rang him once to check, I daren't ring again.

Anyway Olivia, Jenny, John and and some other man are shown with me outside in our photograph. By the time we took it, a lot more people were eating alfresco. A delightful experience. Except for the hamburger.

Then, and this is major, I was signing my Fat Pig Diet book at Waterstone's on Kensington High Street and wife Jenny (or was it wife Olivia?) turned up with a friend and bought four copies. Forget all I said about the hamburger. It was brilliant. Brinkley's restaurant is totally superb.

If she'd bought six books I'd have described the whole lunch experience as major historic. Even with no sign of Prince Harry, Kate Middleton or Chris Biggins. If that doesn't prove I'm weak willed and easily led, what does?



Michael's missives

You say you've three bottles of Chateau Latour premier grand cru 1961. The Times reports you were 72 on October 30. What are you waiting for? Get 'em down while you still can.
Oliver Chastney, Norwich

Please Michael, smile! Your dentist can fit a gumshield device before the photo. It will pull down your lower lip and raise the upper one to display your Pounds 100,000 pearly whites. Photo taken, device removed, you may resume your disdainful, tight-lipped, mirthless glare.
Jim Hamilton, Edinburgh

You complain that restaurant mark-ups on wine are too high so you drink it at home. The mark-up on food is much higher than wine. If you took the same line on ingredients you'd stay at home. Then what would you do with yourself?
Robert Sandall, London

You said last week you'd tattoo your rear with the Duke of Kent's family if they'd given you a Pounds 35m house. You could have done it with portraits before your weight loss. Now you'll have to settle for names only!
Terence Levine, Dorset

With Mickey Rooney starring in Cinderella in Sunderland as Baron Hardup, why don't you complete your convalescence by appearing in Peter Pan as a swashbuckling pirate? Geraldine could be first mate.
Don Roberts, Cheshire

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