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No black card - and no real black marks

Published 22 July 2008
News Review
779th article



I wanted to go to Arbutus in Soho. But when I looked at a photo of their restaurant it all seemed to be little tables where one person has their back to the wall, the other looks at the wall. I can't take that.

I spoke at length to their charming lady restaurant manager. She described all the seating. I said, "Terribly sorry but I don't want to sit anywhere you've told me about."

Then I found they had a sister restaurant, Wild Honey in Mayfair. The owner manager, Will Smith, promised me a booth.

I took Ramon Martin Melchior, managing director UK and Ireland of American Express.

With Amex you get decent "gifts" from its catalogue. As I spend around Pounds 300,000 a year with them, I Christmas-gift my 16 staff that way. However, Amex makes it highly difficult to locate its membership rewards. The website is confusing. It promises a written catalogue in a certain month and towards the end of that month it still isn't available. Oh well.

It's a nice panelled room at Wild Honey. Anthony Demetre is the co-owner and "in" chef. "How old are you?" I asked Ramon.

"Guess," he said.

"Forty-six," I replied. He was deeply insulted because he's only 44.

If people say, "Guess my age", always say 22. Doesn't matter if they're 84. Twenty-two will keep them happy. Unless they're 16 of course.

I started with braised pig's head, caramelised onions and potato puree. It was square. Didn't look like a pig's head. Quite tasty. Not mind-blowing.

Ramon had Cornish gurnard escabeche with blood orange and fresh anchovies on toast. He said, "There's something strange about the plate because everything is warm but the anchovy is cold." He liked it.

My main course was massively recommended. "It'll melt in your mouth," said Will. It was French limousin veal, soft polenta with parmesan.

"I'll have anything but polenta," I said, "marbles, toilet rolls, anything." I settled for mashed potato. A pleasant dish. Veal is always tasteless. This was soft and tasteless.

Ramon had Icelandic cod, potato gnocchi, wild garlic leaves and cockles.

He said his gnocchi were tender. I noticed he left most of his main course.

Things went stratospheric with their treacle tart. It actually tasted of treacle, which is rare. It was light. Historic. Ramon ate very little of his crushed honeycomb ice cream.

He exhibited his American Express cards in all colours, light green, dark green, gold, red, platinum and black. I think American Express black cardholders are dumb. They say, "I've got my own person and he makes bookings for me." How pathetic can you get?

Now for something completely different. You think banks mess you about? You think if someone's rich they get better service? Forget it. I have more than £29m in a thing called Zenith Funds in Guernsey. "Show-off, moron, bigmouth," I hear you say. Shut up and listen to the story.

Zenith puts my cash on the money market. All I ask is that each month it sends a valuation statement. A trained gorilla could do that. I got a statement so ineptly faxed that the last three digits were unreadable. Masses of white space on the other side.

We faxed Sue Moore, customer services manager, Syndicate Asset Management (Zenith's parent company), asking for a clear statement and suggesting she tell her staff how to use a fax machine. She didn't answer. So I phoned the number on her letterhead. I was told, "Sue Moore doesn't speak to customers."

"But she's customer services manager, I'm a customer," I said irately. "She doesn't speak to anyone," I was told again.

"Then I'll withdraw my £29m," I said. "Hold on," responded the anonymous voice. A man came on the line. "Can I help you?" he asked. "You're not Sue Moore, are you?" I said. "You sound like a man."

"Sue Moore doesn't speak to anyone," he replied. I slammed down the phone. More than once I've slammed down phones so hard they've shattered.

I faxed John Morton in Mayfair. He's group chief executive of Syndicate Asset Management. "How much money do people need to have with your organisation before the customer service manager talks to them?" I asked. "Obviously in excess of £29m isn't enough. Do they have to have £100m?

Or £6 billion? How much?"

Mr Morton phoned me. "I assure you we take this very seriously, Mr Winner," he said.

"Well your Guernsey office certainly doesn't," I replied.

Eventually I got a clear fax from him. What I only have to put up with. I sense you are totally unsympathetic. How cruel.



Michael's missives

Congratulations on last week's review. The composition was excellent, the subject very interesting. I refer to the photo of the delightful Geraldine, not that old tosh you scribble each week.
Nigel Parks, Surrey

To see delicious, historic, fresh Geraldine leaning cosily against Michael shows how successful his diet has been. He looks ever more like a lamppost. Can he shed some light on this transformation?
Tim Burton, Wokingham

The Jerusalem rabbinical authorities recently permitted observant Jews to eat giraffe meat. Since the giraffe is a protected species, the likelihood of availability is almost zero. If you'd adhered to the dietary rules of your race you'd have eluded the near-death, oyster-induced illness.
C M Jacobs, Hove, East Sussex

Please help stamp out the irritant of restaurant staff commanding, "Enjoy your meal." It's as tiresome as their other mantra, "Have a nice day."
Michael Horgan, Heswall, Wirral

The general manager rested my pinot grigio on top of an ice bucket at Churchills hotel, Llandaff. I explained he should submerge the whole bottle in ice and water. So he snatched the wine back, told me not to patronise him and to leave the premises. Astonishing!
Steve West, Cardiff

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