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You're on song, Chris...but this place ain't a hit

Published 17 August 2008
News Review
787th article

Michael with Chris Rea at the Park restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The Mandarin Oriental hotel is very grand. Marble pillars, lovely wrought iron, grand steps leading up from Knightsbridge. I once sat down in a chair there and placed my ex-employee OJ Simpson behind me.

When we developed the photo, he was pretending to strangle me. For a double killer, OJ is a very nice man. When he came to my house I said to Geraldine, "If he's got a knife, throw yourself in front of me."

The entrance lobby and stairs are the only good things about the Mandarin Oriental. Except for the staff - they're pleasant. More than you can say of the restaurants. There's Foliage (stupid name), which I massively hated. There's all-day dining at its Park restaurant.

Chris Rea, brilliant musician and lovely person (so's his wife but she can't play a note on anything), wanted Thai food. So I decided to try the Park. Worst decision of 2008. That leaves me a few months to make a lousier one. Which is unlikely.

The Park room is hotel-boring. The nice Polish waitress had her name, Monika, on a badge. That's in case she forgets it. She can look at her badge.

Chris ordered Asahi beer. "It's Japanese," he announced. The bottle label said it was brewed and bottled in the UK for Asahi Beer Europe Ltd, 17 Connaught Place, London W2 2EL. A very posh address for brewing beer.

I had pad thai - wok fried noodles tossed with fried egg, beansprouts, chillies, tamarind sauce, crushed peanuts and fresh lime - with chicken. And a spring roll.

Everything was horrendous. The spring roll was old and tired, tasted as if it had been deep frozen for ever. The dim sum were hard, rubbery and horrible. My main course chicken and noodles were also hard and dried out.

We went for Sunday dinner. This rubbish tasted as if it was made on Wednesday and had been left freezing and stiffening. A total disgrace for a supposedly first-class hotel.

For dessert I tried apple crumble and ice cream. To describe it as moderate would be a compliment. That also tasted as if it had hung around far too long.

In the background, pleasing live saxophone music came from the bar. Later Chris Rea rang Geraldine and said, "The saxophonist was better than the spring rolls." A rotting horse would have been better than the spring rolls.

Chris had just returned from a triumphant concert tour. His box set of a book and CDs of Fifties and Sixties rock, called The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes, is available on Amazon. He's working on a new collection of Italian music. His family came from Italy and ran an ice cream parlour in Middlesbrough. The boy done well.

  • Winner's Dinners is usually about lunch because I seldom eat dinner. To stay slim I have skimmed milk blended with Forever Lite Ultra vanilla shake mix. This whirls around in a Russell Hobbs blender named Pulse. It should be named Leaks. It always leaked. Then it got worse.

    I wrote to Martin Burns, chief executive of Salton Europe Limited, which owns Russell Hobbs, pointing out his blender was a waste of money and never performed as it should. Mr Burns responded, "In order to enable us to ascertain the precise cause of the problem, I suggest you send the blender to Mr Andrew McKinlay, our consumer liaison & investigations technician, so that he may carry out a full examination of the product before notifying you of his findings."

    That's a joke. The thing's useless. It leaks. It doesn't need an examination, psychiatric help or a Caribbean holiday. It needs replacing. Mr Burns said I should get proof of posting as "without proof there could be no claim from the Post Office for its loss".

    So Mr Burns thinks if this rubbish is lost, I'm going to write to the Post Office and say, "You've deprived me of a useless blender that doesn't work. Can I please have twopence to console me?"

    Mr Burns helpfully added, "Having made some inquiries we can advise that the cost of sending the blender to us by post would be in the region of £9 . . . we will notify you of any charge for repair/replacement." Plus £9 to send it back. With repair charges, that's substantially over £18.

    You can buy a new Russell Hobbs blender on the internet for £24. Why send my old one to Mr McKinlay in Wolverhampton to find out what's wrong with it? I know what's wrong with it. It leaks.

    I'm sure Mr McKinlay will be most upset not to receive my Russell Hobbs Pulse blender, but I've chucked it on my garden dump. I now use my Braun blender, which is considerably older than the Russell Hobbs one. That still works.

    I don't know what talent propelled Martin Burns to chief executive. It certainly wasn't his customer relations skills.

    Michael's letters

    Your fiancee's photo in the garden of the French Horn would have been perfect if she'd excluded the scruffily attired person on the left. If you'd been at the next table to me in such a fine restaurant I'd have asked the head waiter to remove you.
    Peter Greeson, Berkshire

    The only thing missing in the French Horn photo was the commode they'd just lifted you off. I'd like to know the name of the old folk's home you're residing in so I can send you a card.
    Iain Chapman, Marciac, France

    Sack your trouser presser.
    Fred Beckett, Cheltenham

    Can't say I've heard of Messrs Caine, Moore, Mitchum or Lemmon, whom you mentioned last week. But Hymie Pockle I knew well. He used to cut hair in my corner barbershop, drive a cab, work the gaffs (markets) and take bets on the side. Everyone knew Hymie Pockle.
    Michael Ross, North Yorkshire

    Hymie Pockle came from the buildings in Stamford Hill. He used to go about with Humpy Hymie and Issy Walkabout. Humpy was a barber and Issy was a bookmaker.
    Alan Gilbey, Middlesex

    You're confused. A woman doesn't have bosoms. She has a bosom, which consists of two breasts.
    Neil Stuart, Cumbria

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