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Me, never eat with kids? Bah, humbug

Published 23 December 2007
News Review
753rd article

Michael with his guests, Jesse and Benjamin (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Let it never be said the Christmas spirit of goodwill is not rampant within me. Here's a photo you never expected to see. Me with two children. That's kiddie-widdies with the man who said any child under 12 should be put to sleep (using whatever drugs necessary) as soon as they enter a restaurant.

The little dears are Geraldine's grandchildren, Benjamin, 9, and Jesse, 6. I've failed totally in my pleading with Geraldine to give out only the age she looks - 42 - rather than the age she is - 104.

I'd seen a chef called Brian Turner on television making a lot of sense in lauding fresh English produce. So I phoned the Millennium hotel in Grosvenor Square where he has his restaurant to book Sunday lunch.

A manager, Andre, said they were going to serve in the lounge because the restaurant was closed but it was Brian Turner fare. When I turned up with Geraldine, her actor son Fabrice and the little darlings, tables were laid. It looked like a dining room.

The menu was Mr Turner's but considerably downsized. We were the only diners until later a party of four came in. There was terrible piped music. I asked the restaurant manager, "As we're the only people here can you turn the music off?" Mercifully he did.

I ordered "pizza pollo ad astra" to start and then chopped steak burger, medium rare, with home-made fat chips and tomato and red onion salad. Fabrice wanted fusilli pasta chicken and mushroom. We all had bread plates with knives, but no sign of bread.

Eventually I asked Jesse to find a waiter and say, "Mr Winner wants to know where the bread is." She declined. Her brother Benjamin went and requested bread, but not in my name.

I asked the waiter, "Do you do bread or are the plates decoration?" When bread arrived it was horrific, tasteless muck. I doubt it was made that Sunday. Possibly a week before.

The food and beverage manager, Graham Wells, recounted a story about how a Russian was killed in their pine bar. I remember reading of it. I wanted food not history.

Benjamin was about to eat some more bread. His father told him not to. I said, "Don't worry, Benjamin, you're 9. You'll get some food when you're 12."

We got there at 1pm and ordered at 7 minutes past. It was now 1.45pm and no pizza. I said to the waiter, "Is there a problem in the kitchen?"

He said, "No."

I said, "There's a problem here. I'm going to walk out in a minute and go to the Wolseley where they're serving food." After 40 minutes my pizza arrived. It was very good. We shared it.

It took forever for the plates to be cleared. Then the waiter cleared one plate, leaving four dirty ones behind.

Geraldine got a charcoal grilled chicken salad which she described as "pretty tasteless". Then she said, "Why do they fill white wine glasses to the top so it can hang around and get warm?" No answer to that except the place was abysmally run. My chips were excellent. The hamburger, okay.

In clearing the main course plates the waiter left a plate of chips, a plate of bread, a tomato and onion salad, mayonnaise and tomato ketchup. Then he gave us one dessert menu for five people. This was the worst service ever.

My ice had melted but nobody noticed or replaced it. We ordered a chocolate "negus" terrine, one coconut tart, nutmeg ice cream with raspberry sauce and one warm apple tart with clotted cream for me.

The desserts arrived at 25 minutes to 3. Over an hour and half after we'd entered. The apple tart was horrendous. The pastry tasted as if it had been hanging around forever. It wasn't like pastry at all. I left well over half of this cloying monstrosity.

Jesse, understandably, became extremely bored. She used her napkin as an aeroplane, then she rolled up her menu and looked through it like a telescope, then she tried first to grab my tape recorder and then the camera.

Benjamin said the ice cream was horrible. Jesse reached out for my credit cards. The bill was headed, the Millennium hotel Mayfair Brian Turner bar. It totalled £155.70, including an optional service charge (for pathetic service) of £17.30. It was one of the most ghastly eating experiences of my life.

Mr Turner should spend less time spouting on television and get his act in order.

Oh, and Happy Christmas to all my lovely readers. It won't be if you go anywhere near the Millennium hotel.

Winner's letterss

Interesting to hear last week that Jeremy Paxman was the only other customer at Hereford Road, waiting for "someone terribly important at the BBC". Surely Michael is not suggesting that two BBC employees were having lunch on expenses while there are redundancies and other major cutbacks being implemented across that organisation?
Maurice Firman, Somerset

I realise Michael isn't always the most tactful of people, but when he allegedly treated Helen Mirren "like a piece of meat" did he have in mind a juicy slice of tenderloin, a tasty bit of skirt or a large rump?
Don Roberts, Cheshire

We recently booked a table for four at 8pm at Novelli's White Horse/Elephant. Novelli staff confirmed this booking by phone (twice) and also by text. On arrival at 7.55pm there was no table available. No orders had been taken by 9.10pm. We left.
Robert Wood, Hertfordshire

Geraldine must be a wonderful dinner companion. She hardly ever objects to any food item - or to her insufferable companion.
Professor Saeed Durrani, Birmingham

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