Published 27 January 2008 News Review 758th article
I don't read restaurant guides much. I'm the only true prophet. But I was thumbing through the Zagat guide's good and bad comments from readers.
Of the Ivy it says, "dissenters don't know why people flock here". Harden's guide (similar twaddle) says, "the Ivy menu is ever more average. The place should be left to Wags". Harden's on the Wolseley: "the food is often rather ordinary". Zagat says, "staff there have a tendency to ignore normal punters to crawl all over celebs". Sensible, well-motivated staff, I say. Celebs over plebs any day.
Harden's even puts down Gordon Ramsay at his showplace Chelsea restaurant saying it's "now at risk of losing its customary preeminence".
Strangely both of these flaky guides offer nothing but praise for Enoteca Turi on Putney High Street. Zagat refers to it as "a little gem". Harden's: "a memorable destination. The food bursting with flavour". I didn't read every word of both guides, that bored with life I'm not, but I found nowhere else receiving only praise.
I went because it was reasonably close to Waterstone's in Putney where people had the unbelievable pleasure of seeing me sign Michael Winner's Fat Pig Diet book.
It's a pleasant room, wooden floor, wooden chairs, dreary piped music. Giuseppe Turi, the owner, was present and smiling. We were the only customers.
Geraldine ordered baked new season artichoke with ricotta, egg and toasted bread for her starter. I asked for homemade chestnut pappardelle with duck ragu simmered in red wine and herbs.
The order was placed at 12.40pm. It came at 1.15pm. That's 35 minutes to get a starter. Not service that "really goes the extra mile" as Harden's says. Unless the extra mile was taken by a waiter carrying our starters in the wrong direction. We both thought they were very good.
The bread was mediocre.
"Perhaps it's because we came early we got that crummy bread," said Geraldine.
"Bread tends to be crumby, darling," I responded, "that is just the norm of bread."
At 1.20pm the number of customers doubled. Two more people came in. We waited endlessly for our main courses. I noted the 14 bus outside went to Piccadilly, Fulham Road and Putney whereas the 74 goes to Marble Arch, Earls Court and Putney.
Food finally came at 1.35pm, 55 minutes after we'd ordered. My pan-fried hake with fregola and seafood guazzetto was fish in a soup with beans, clams and tomatoes. Okay. Not "bursting with flavour".
Geraldine had potato ravioli filled with goat's cheese and rosemary with raisin and balsamic butter. She liked it. Then she ordered tiramisu with almond biscuits. I chose panacotta with caramelised oranges and pistachio syrup.
Another delay. I threw a minor tantrum. "Come on, Giuseppe," I said. "We're only waiting for cold desserts for heaven's sake. I've got to sign books soon."
I decided to do the photo with Giuseppe and the restaurant manager, Katiuscia Giacon, just as the desserts were carried forth. So we held them for the camera. They were nice.
I just got to Waterstone's on time. The food had been generally good. But take your own coffin. You may die waiting for it. As for Harden's and Zagat guides: stuff 'em.
Let's stuff British Airways as well. My first newspaper article was printed on September 8 1950, over 57 years ago. No one has ever suggested I invented a quote, and nor have I.
Yet in a letter last week Julia Simpson, BA's head of corporate communications, said I'd invented words spoken to me by Theresa Sabin, PA to BA's chief executive, Willie Walsh. Of course I hadn't.
Having lingered on the Barbados flight waiting list for 10 months, in November 2007 I suggested to Ms Sabin that the Caribbean tour companies grabbed all the tickets leaving zilch for ordinary customers.
She replied "in a voice snooty enough to remove entrails from a rabbit" - "I don't think so, Mr Winner." I only called her shortly before my January 13 column to check she was still PA to the boss. Of course I didn't raise my complaint then.
We all know how the toilet-fodder executives of BA behave when they think they're threatened. With dirty tricks. That's how they got rid of Freddie Laker. That's why they were severely penalised by the courts for trying it on Richard Branson. Virgin are straighter, better and cheaper.
Ms Simpson said I should pick on someone my own size. I may have delusions of grandeur. But at my most insane, I wouldn't suggest my persona exceeded that of BA in the nation's consciousness. Following my criticism BA petulantly withdrew my Gold Executive Club Card. As my friend, the late Terry-Thomas, once said: "What a shower."
The "insult", you wrote about last week of having a "grossly fat woman" sit opposite you every breakfast time at Sandy Lane must have been an unpleasant experience. There's nothing worse than having to munch one's eggs and bacon in front of an overblown, over-indulgent, avaricious old windbag. The poor lady should have asked to be seated somewhere else.
John Lehal, Derby
I'm amazed you received a response to your British Airways complaints. I've been corresponding with them since March 2007 following mishaps and rude service. Then after months of being fobbed off I wrote to Willie Walsh to be told he doesn't answer personal letters.
Patricia Coates, Leicestershire
By publishing last week the whinging letter of complaint from Julia Simpson, head of corporate communications, British Airways, you well and truly punctured the pomposity of BA's precious upstairs people. Any good PR would have quietly dismissed your attack and hoped you wouldn't go public again.
Walter Walton, Buckinghamshire
What is it about Winner? My wife and I fly regularly to Miami with BA first class and we find the experience delightful. A few years ago we strayed into Virgin Upper Class territory. It was most unpleasant. Winner's a loathsome person. Yet every Sunday I find myself irresistibly drawn to his column.
Peter Frankel. London