Published 6 January 2008 News Review 755th article
Michael with Dominic Chapman, left, and Sir Michael Parkinson at the Royal Oak (Terry O'Neill)
Sir Michael Parkinson (that fellow wot used to be on TV) owns a pub called the Royal Oak. The only trouble is he doesn't know how to get there.
He sent me via his PA, Autumn Kelly (does she change her name to Spring, Summer and Winter at the appropriate times?), the following directions: "Junction 8/9 off the M4, A308 signposted for Maidenhead central, roundabout A330 signposted for Ascot, two miles down that road turn right on the B3025 - signposted Paley Street it's the second pub on the left."
So I'm driving the Bentley down the A330 as instructed but after two miles, and many more, there is no sign on the right indicating the B3025 to Paley Street.
I said to Geraldine, "Those directions must be wrong."
"They can't be," responded Geraldine (her faith is touching). "Keep going." So I did.
After a while, by which time I could smell the sea air at Bournemouth, I dared to contradict my fiancee. "I'm going to stop and look at the map," I announced bravely.
Not trusting anyone named Autumn (or TV stars) I'd copied the AA road map of the area. And lo and behold we had indeed gone much too far. As did our co-diners, the brilliant photographer Terry O'Neill and his lovely wife Laraine.
I turned back, eventually finding the B3024, which even Geraldine now reckoned it had to be. It was not signposted Paley Street. It was signposted Twyford and Waltham St Lawrence. But there, after passing a village sign reading Paley Street, the second pub on the left was the Royal Oak.
Nick Parkinson, Michael's amiable and able son, runs the place.
"Your bloody father doesn't even know how to get here," I said cheerfully to Nick.
"He should," replied Nick, "He's been here often enough." Then I saw the oh-so-dreaded Hildon water being served.
"This is a disaster," I whispered to Geraldine. Things improved on presentation of a superbly made Pimm's.
The place is beautifully designed by Lady Mary Parkinson. When a young schoolteacher in Doncaster she was picked up by Michael on a bus. They've been happily married for 46 years. This shows the advantages of using public transport.
I suppose it's time I told you about the food. It is fantastic, super-historic, brilliant beyond belief. I ate as good a meal as has ever passed my ruby lips. This place is more than a must. It's a major-super-duper must. Miss it at your peril.
I started with a Scotch egg made with tangy sausage meat and containing a soft-boiled quail's egg in the middle. Total perfection. Then I had lamb's kidneys with scrambled duck's eggs. I'm brilliant at scrambled eggs. Ava Gardner told me my way (geddit?) was exactly how Frank did them. That's Sinatra, not Spencer.
The Royal Oak chef, a genius for sure, Dominic Chapman, is even better than me with the egg whisk. The kidneys were succulent, delicious, adorable.
There followed roast English partridge very nicely sliced and cut up, on a bed of runner beans. The gravy was unbeatable and the chips - well I can only say they're the best chips you'll ever get. Totally amazing. It's something to do with boiling them and then frying them three times. Who cares? The taste is mind-blowing.
I finished off with bread and butter pudding (the best ever) and quince and blackberry crumble - well up to the perfect standard I was getting used to. I've never had a better meal than this in my life. This is what cooking should be. Superb ingredients, simple, done with stratospheric skill. If I was giving out Michelin stars Dominic Chapman would have 5,681.
Everyone else at the table, including Sir Michael and Lady Parkinson, thought the food exemplary. Well, the Parkinsons would, wouldn't they? I later recommended the Royal Oak to my friends Sir Michael and Lady Caine, Sir Roger and Lady Moore and multi-Oscar winning songwriter Leslie Bricusse and his ex-actress wife Evie.
Bit of a problem when I visited with them. It was a disaster. The whole thing had fallen to pieces. Beyond belief awful. I can just see Parky's face reading this.
Calm down, dear, it's only a bad taste joke. Things were as impeccably fantastic as ever.
I advise you to get to the Royal Oak pub in Paley Street without delay. To make it easy I'll do something I've never done in the 46 years (slight exaggeration there) of writing this column. I'll give you the phone number. It's 01628 620541.
Call right now and say, "Michael Winner recommended you to me, I claim my 50% discount." You won't get it. But it's worth a try.
I thought last week's photo at the Malmaison hotel was of two dummies at Madame Tussauds. Then I realised it must be PC Plod hiding the handcuffs with his hands and an elderly transvestite he'd just apprehended.
Edward Pooley, Cornwall
I enjoyed reading your experiences with the tax men. Whenever my old dad couldn't find anyone to quarrel with he'd write to the Inland Revenue saying they were a bunch of bastards. This would set off a correspondence which kept him happy for months.
Adam Raphael, London
So Michael found his taxman Kain was not able. Does he have any more discoveries of biblical proportions to share with us?
John Simmons, Cumbria
Michael's historic struggle with the taxman could easily be transferred to celluloid as The Kaine Mutiny!
Nigel Galloway, Chichester
So Michael didn't enjoy his Millennium hotel experience (Winner's Dinners, December 23). Does he know Brian Turner, its chef, also markets a range of sandwiches. They are absolutely the worst around.
Chris Walker, Maidstone
Why did Michael need to speak to a general manager to make last week's Oxford hotel reservation? We all know he's pompous. Now he's being silly. Why doesn't he just call the reservation desk?
Rolf Sonderlind, Hampshire