Cheer up, Gordon, I know the way out of this crisis
Published 12 October 2008 News Review 795th article
Michael teaching the prime minister a thing or two about presentation (Chris Kewish)
Leeds is gloomy, unkempt, a place to stay away from. I had an important reason to go. To pay tribute to the police hero PC Ian Broadhurst, who was shot on duty. For the ceremony, his widow Eilisa came down from Scotland to unveil the memorial. She gave a very moving speech.
I stayed at the Malmaison hotel, which is in a converted warehouse. It's over chic, rather camp. The corridors are black cloth. Everything is sombre. Its only suite was dark, nasty and with a view of hideous office buildings. The sitting room was tiny.
We asked to move to other accommodation that the general manager, Grant McKenzie, had offered. This was a modest, bright room with a lovely view overlooking an old iron bridge, a canal and warehouses. In the suite, the ghastly view was free of net curtains. Here, the great view was blocked by net curtains you couldn't pull back. Figure that out.
We walked over the iron bridge. Of its six lovely globe lights, only two were on. An old man with a hearing aid, sitting outside a pub, indicated the way to the City Square. One delightful old building with an unlit (of course) statue of the Black Prince. Otherwise, horrible. On our way back, the old man said, "Not very inspiring, is it?"
The Malmaison lift offers a recorded voice announcing the floors in French. "Troisieme etage," it said. How naff can you get? The plastic room key read, "Stick with me, I'll open the door for you." The laundry bag, "Dirty clothes and thoughts in here." The cotton bud container, "Get an earful of these little beauties." Oh dear.
The dinner food was okay. One menu was headed "Homegrown & local". The waitress said, "The homegrown menu is homegrown local produce."
"I understand that," I responded. "It says it on the menu."
Grant McKenzie put us in a corner. "Will I get attention here?" I asked.
"I've got a dedicated team for you," replied Grant.
"How dedicated?" I asked. I told the waiter my bowl of ice would melt. Could he see it was kept fresh? It was taken away and not replaced.
Geraldine loved her caramelised onion soup. I had salad of confit suckling pig. Very pleasant. Then rabbit pie. The rabbit over-shredded but tasty. The pastry hard, ghastly. If you have to go to Leeds, I guess the Malmaison is as good as anywhere. Grant was superb. He's only 26. He deserves to be running a major hotel.
Next day, down to Luton for a ceremony for PC Jonathan Henry, stabbed to death outside the bhs store. His lovely widow Mary made another outstanding speech. The memorial was unveiled by Gordon Brown.
As we walked to the town hall, I asked, "On a scale of one to 10, how happy have you been the last year?"
Gordon said, "That's very difficult."
"No it isn't," I responded. "Just give me a number."
"Happiness, happiness . . ." repeated Gordon.
In the room, with the family, the mayor and various local dignitaries gawping, I tried again. After all, Thatcher, Major, Blair, they answered me.
"I'm asking Gordon a Marlon Brando question," I announced. "I want him to tell me how happy he's been last year on a scale of one to 10." That got a laugh from the guests. But no answer from Gordon.
I've known Gordon for years. I like him. He's clever, personable, sincere and kind. He needs me in the cabinet to teach him presentation. You know my number, Gordon. Call me.
I had a ridiculous lunch at the Ivy. I went with complaints from my friends about the awful service at the Ivy club ringing in my ears. That was hearsay. What I faced was not.
I entered the restaurant at 12.55pm. Ordered at 1.03pm. At 2.33pm I was still waiting for my dessert. An hour and a half and no dessert. Per-lease. As I had an appointment, I left.
Maybe they've cut down on kitchen staff. There seemed to be fewer waiters than usual. There were also noticeably fewer customers. On Saturdays, it was always overflowing with Essex-type, highly energised girls. Love 'em. Now it was scattered oldies. There were so many empty seats, I got snow blindness from the tablecloths. They've stopped the fantastic-value weekend set lunch.
I've had the Ivy hamburger for decades. This time, it came without gherkins. This is ridiculous. They've already downgraded to the dreaded Tufa water ("two-fa the price of one," a reader suggested); now they're cutting out gherkins and waiters.
With the Wolseley nicking many of its celebrity customers and the superb Quo Vadis in Soho being called "the new Ivy", the old Ivy should get its act together. I've seen these "in" places come and go. They're not protected by a heavenly deity. Only by the quality they provide. At the Ivy, it's slipping.
I wonder who writes your articles these days. Judging from your photographs in recent weeks, you obviously died some time ago.
Peter Ward, North Wales
Last week's picture showed you in rude health again, which makes us happy. Or was it from a library?
Jonathan Pearl, London
Luca di Vita told you last week he had no deep freeze at his restaurant Alle Testiere. Then where does he keep his chocolate and liquorice ice cream?
Graham Dove, Charente, France
At Alle Testiere, a lady was shown trying to avoid being seen with you. Was she the delectable Angelina Jolie sporting a new tattoo? Should Brad Pitt be worried? Is something fishy going on?
Brian O'Connell, Liverpool
I agree Harry's Bar, Venice, is the world's best restaurant. But please, recommend that Arrigo Cipriani lowers his prices. They've become a joke.
Leighton Mitchell, Corfu
You wrote, "Nice people, the northerners. No idea about clothes, buildings, hairstyles, anything." And we thought you were a southerner. You're one of us after all!
Rochelle Lindsay, Leeds
I notice your indifference towards us northerners. You don't often visit Scotland. Is this because when you were a young man, they built a wall to keep you out?
Dr Richard Evans, Colwyn Bay
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk