Published 7 December 2008 News Review 803rd article
Michael with Les Agaves' Danke Schulz and chef-owner Jacky Lelou (Geraldine Lynton Edwards)
I spent at least 15 Christmases in the south of France before becoming a Barbados beach bum. Mumsy would be losing millions in the casino, bless her. It was all very glamorous. Less so now, but still as good as you can get.
If you're there for Christmas try Les Agaves, a restaurant in Beaulieu. It's excellent. I go regularly. A Serbian lady, Danke Schulz, runs front of house. She doesn't want anyone to know she's Serbian, so I tell everybody. I mean, what's wrong with Serbia? If I admit I'm from Willesden, Danke can claim Serbia. What's a war crime or two between friends? Just another bad taste remark from me.
Danke said, "We tell everybody we don't serve oysters any more in honour of Michael Winner." Bit late for peg-leg me, the Heather Mills of Holland Park.
But she may save a few limbs.
Les Agaves occupies a lovely, simple space in the Palais des Anglais, a grand edifice built in 1884. It was a hotel, now it's apartments. That's fine, they kept the 19th-century exterior. More than they're doing at the Metropole, a sea front hotel adjacent to my favourite La Reserve de Beaulieu. That, apparently, is not going to be apartments, as I was told, but a new hotel replacing the original 19th-century building. Still dreadful to me.
Sadly Les Agaves has piped music. They also have photos of stars who've been there. Kevin Costner, Gabriel Byrne (a regular), me (star of stars) and Clint Eastwood. He's never been near the place. Danke said, "I put his photo up anyway."
Good for her.
First we got tomatoes "from a little farmer just outside Nice", with mozzarella from Naples. Then cold terrine of crab, eggs, celery, carrots, cabbage and curry cream. The chef, Jacky Lelou, was pulling out all the stops, even though I told him I only wanted three simple courses.
Up came lobster salad with mango, chickpea flower and raspberries. Then a copper pot of sweetbreads -served with bean sauce, garlic and separate veggies.
I asked Danke where she was before Les Agaves. "I was a rose in my husband's lapel. I never work a day in my life," she explained. Her friend Jacky bought the place 14 years ago and Danke went from dilettante to slave. Now she works like crazy and clearly enjoys it.
"I have a minority share in the restaurant," she explained, "but I have a majority personality." She's right.
Jacky came from the kitchen bringing enough dessert for 23 people. Soft chocolate cake, tarte tatin of figs, baccarat cake with vanilla, roasted peaches, fruit salad and various ice creams. Danke pointed out their Brittany lobster sells for €40 (£34.60), versus €58 for a club sandwich at La Reserve. They're both worth it.
I was telling Michael Caine about the horrific north London woman seated next to me at the Wolseley who imposed herself on me endlessly, interrupted my conversations with Geraldine and with friends who came over, and ended up swearing at me, using the f-word every two seconds.
Why she isn't banned I don't know.
I've been banned from restaurants for far less. Like giving a bad review.
Wait till Mrs (I know her name) starts harassing Lucian Freud or Fiona Shackleton, two other Wolseley regulars. I bet she gets the boot then. Perhaps the usually wise Wolseley owners, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, have a tryst with the north London mafia. Maybe, aged six, they were frightened by a rabbi.
Enough rumination. Back to Sir Michael. Hearing my lament he recalled, "What about me? I was walking up Shaftesbury Avenue with a girl just after Alfie came out. A cockney said, 'Michael Caine, I don't believe it! You're my hero. Alfie. I'm really seeing you. I'm your greatest fan'." Michael smiled and walked on.
The fan continued, "Can I come to dinner with you?"
Michael said, "No, I'm taking this lady out."
The fan said, "I'll just sit there. I'd love dinner with Michael Caine."
"Sorry," said Michael, "not possible."
At that point the fan got nasty. Using the f-word endlessly he screamed, "You stuck-up bastard." Then shouted to passers-by, "See him, Alfie, he's a real ****."
And more of the same. I wonder if it was the son of the non-lady who accosted me.
I've had a full-time stalker for years. She threatened to kill my staff. Was sectioned. Came out. Still around. At least she doesn't sit next to me in restaurants and hit on me while I eat lunch.
Every time I go to the Wolseley now I say, "Is Mrs X here? If she is I'm off to the Caprice."
One of my most famous banishments was by Antony Worrall Thompson. He even put my face on lavatory seats in one of his restaurants. Now we've made up.
I must visit his place. I can sit on myself while having a you-know-what.
My favourite insult came from the lovely Piers Morgan. When he was editing the Daily Mirror, Piers published a photo of me and OJ Simpson in my Rolls-Royce. The caption was: "The most reviled man in England with his friend OJ Simpson." Brilliant. Loved it.
Your betrothal to the gorgeous Geraldine was so recent yet you unwisely seek out the company of John Cleese whose views on marriage are (not surprisingly) somewhat jaundiced. If next week you're dining with Bernie Ecclestone I'll know all is lost.
Don Roberts, Cheshire
What a surprise to see you, last week, seated at the end of the table. Did you volunteer not to be in the centre or did John Cleese ask you to sit there? Presumably Geraldine sat in the centre when she returned from photographic duty.
Harry Barker, Cheshire
I was disappointed to see you lunching with convicted art fraudster John Myatt. He and his accomplices entered into elaborate schemes for their own gain at the expense not only of those they defrauded into buying fakes, but also cultural institutions into whose archives they inserted false documents, a fact which Myatt is quoted as boasting about even now. He should be shunned, not lunched, even if it is a Chinese lunch.
Jim Bartos, London
How thoughtful of Geraldine to have you not look at the camera. Please keep visiting Chinese restaurants.
Peter Grundy, Newcastle upon Tyne
With the tragic demise of Mumbai's Taj hotel, you can kiss goodbye to the best curry buffet in the world. I'll cry myself to sleep until I hear it's reinstated.
Brian Price, Chester
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org