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A star billing - but we're left wanting more

Published 18 May 2008
News Review
774th article



Once upon a time a very nice man, Ben Frow, a serious executive at Five, decided this column should be on television. We did a pilot. Everyone loved it. It was to be commissioned as a series.

Then dear Ben was fired from Five and his successor, as they always do, said, "Anything he did, I won't." So my TV series is now being offered elsewhere by others and good luck to them.

Ben got a great job in Ireland heading one of their TV stations.

He recommended lunching at Thornton's, a restaurant in the Fitzwilliam hotel facing St Stephen's Green in Dublin. There was awful, discordant, piped music, which I persuaded them to turn off.

They brought us a freebie of king scallops from Bear Island with a light truffle mousse.

Ben observed, "Never mind the truffle mousse, we've got the bread, where's the butter?"

He added, "I wish they'd tell you you're going to get a freebie because I wouldn't have ordered a starter."

We waited for our first course. "They're a bit slow," remarked Ben.

"We should have had the main course by now," I said, "let alone the starter."

When my first course finally arrived Geraldine asked, "What's that you've got?"

I replied, "It was so long ago I ordered it, I can't remember."

Ben said, "I think it's the chef's signature dish."

"If so he's a bloody slow writer," I observed. It was braised pig head with shallot puree poitin sauce. Pretty good.

My main course of roast goose confit, red cabbage, fondant potato and morel sauce was a disaster. A little pile of goose slices that were totally tasteless.

I had a housekeeper who wore a terrible wig, but she did a whole roast goose that was magical. Thornton's was nouvelle cuisine gone mad. Itsy-bitsy nothing.

After the dessert they brought a large tray of petits fours. Ben said, "I wouldn't have ordered dessert if I'd known we were going to get this." So he wouldn't have ordered a starter or a dessert. That would have saved me a quid or two.

I had a lemon tart, which was so light and fluffy it was hardly there at all. The meal was like the hotel - modern, dreary and not very distinguished.

As we left I saw a plaque by the entrance announcing it was owned by "Summit hotels and resorts". Summit? They didn't even reach base camp.

I read an interview with someone called Clare Smyth, who is head chef at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant on Royal Hospital Road. In it Ms Smyth made the appalling remark, "I don't know why people compare me to Angela Hartnett. She's a one star Michelin chef, I'm a three star chef."

Calm down, dear. You are not a three Michelin star chef. You're an employee of Gordon Ramsay. He was awarded three Michelin stars. You haven't even earned a commendation from the Jewish Blind School, let alone a Michelin star.

If the generous Mr Ramsay lets you have your own restaurant, then we'll see how many stars you may, or may not, get. In the meantime to put down Angela Hartnett is mean-spirited and catty.

Angela is my favourite of all the Gordon Ramsay disciples. Her food at the Connaught hotel was totally memorable, including one ghastly, almost raw, roast suckling pig. Angela has her own marvellous style. Her food is not over fussed and plate decorated.

If Clare Smyth ever achieves such excellence, then she can crow and boast with justification. I'm delighted to hear Angela is returning to Mayfair in her own "Italian" restaurant, Murano, just off Curzon Street. It's to be decorated with Murano glass.

In case you didn't know Murano is an island off Venice specialising in, you guessed it, glass. Opening is scheduled for July 1. Good luck, Angela. I'll be there, for sure. Don't invite Clare.



  • My vote's been for Labour ever since Tone became leader. I guessed, correctly, he'd be to the right of the adorable Mrs Thatcher. I never voted in a mayoral election, but I did this time to dispose of Ken Livingtone. I lived through the second world war German blitz on London. A barrel of laughs compared to what Ken did to us.

    I met Boris Johnson at a reception. "You've got to re-set the traffic lights at the Trafalgar Square end of the Mall," I said. "They're on red for 50 seconds and green for only 10."

    Boris corrected me, giving even more dire figures showing how much those lights favour red over green.

    This man has attention to detail. Everything about him, I like. Particularly if he makes my drive to the Ivy many minutes faster.



    Michael's missives

    If all McDonald's food was organic, as its rep tried to persuade you, there would be a huge advertising campaign to let us know. Unfortunately it isn't, except for organic milk. Perhaps this member of staff needs a re-training programme.
    Liz Boynton, Herefordshire

    A Quarterpounder with Cheese, a Chicken Legend, a Filet-o-Fish, a Bacon de Luxe with salads and chips washed down with milkshakes. I hope slimmed-down Michael didn't give his oversized clothes away!
    Geoff Smith, Cardiff

    The name-dropping that goes on in your column is usually the reserve of supercilious snobs. The kind that moan about standing in line with plebs at airports and what kind of water they're served. Hang on a minute...
    Marcus Chew, Dublin

    As your BA Gold Card was withdrawn I'm happy to offer you Gold Card membership with the T5 Willie advantage programme. Ground hours are awarded for flight delays, cancellations and mishandled baggage, and can be redeemed at T5's restaurants.
    Howard Long, Knightsbridge, London

    I've been a British Airways stewardess for many years. Congratulations on your recent comments. The majority of crew are far more afraid of bullying BA managers than of Al-Qaeda!
    BA stewardess, name withheld by request

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