How dare you say that I write a load of old waffle
Published 22 February 2009 News Review 814th article
Michael with Giuseppe Diliberto in the snow outside Richoux, Piccadilly (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Remember the snow? You must. It was only three weeks ago. On that one day when buses didn't run and everybody went bananas I wanted to lunch at Fortnum & Mason. Couldn't: it was shut. Nearby in Piccadilly is Richoux, part of a chain of olde-worlde French-type coffee shops.
In its heyday Richoux was owned by a delightful man, who, 15 years ago, paid me £5,000 to spend half an hour in central London handing out prizes to his staff. Recently I was paid £8,000 to attend drinks and dinner and to speak at Claridge's for a financial services group. Door to door, that was well over four hours. I know you'll be distressed that my hourly rate in 2008 money compared with 1993 money had massively diminished. I may be £6m in debt, but I ain't doing that again.
Richoux was sold to some Scots pub group and standards crashed to below zero. Now it's changed hands again and is run by Philip Shotter and Salvatore Diliberto. It's an attractively designed place; bit twee. Geraldine thought it needed an aspidistra and a string orchestra.
We were served by the trainee manager, Giuseppe Diliberto. When I phoned the Richoux head office to ask what relation he was to the boss, Salvatore Diliberto, a charming lady said, "He's a second cousin or something." Nothing wrong with nepotism if the lad can do the job. Giuseppe performed well.
The menu read, "Fresh orange juice."
"You don't have fresh orange juice, do you?" I asked.
"No," was Giuseppe's reply. "It's fresh, but it's not freshly squeezed." We all know what that means. Delivered in a plastic container housing who knows what. They also had the dreaded Hildon water.
Giuseppe, most intelligently, read our orders back to us. When I asked if the fish had been delivered that morning, always tricky on a Monday, Giuseppe went to the kitchen, returned and assured me it had been. Maybe in senility I'm becoming gullible, but I believed him. I started with french onion soup (acceptable to good); Geraldine had prawn and avocado cocktail. She liked it. Being common as muck, I ordered "traditional home-made fish and chips served with mushy peas and a lemon wedge". The haddock was fine. The mushy peas totally cold.
"Tepid," said Geraldine, forking them into her mouth.
"Cold," I repeated.
The chips were bought in, but they are at the Wolseley, Ivy, Caprice and most places. They were okay. I definitely liked the decor. Art nouveau meets Dracula. Even the piped music, very quiet and restful, was surprisingly passable.
For dessert I got a waffle with ice cream and maple syrup. Waffles are not easy. This one was historically awful. Grotesque. It was clammy, soggy; no crispness, stupid taste. It reminded me of breakfast in Barbados with my all-time least favourite chef, Grant MacPherson. His Sandy Lane menu offered waffles. Some years earlier Sandy Lane's waffles were as bad as my Richoux one. I told the chef where to get the best waffle mix, as used at the Beverly Hills hotel, and, like the chef does there, to add vanilla essence. He did. The result: a triumph.
Grant ditched all that. I waited endlessly for his MacPherson waffle. When it arrived I asked why it had taken 20 minutes. "We had to warm up the machine," Grant replied.
"Hold on," I mused: "waffles are on the breakfast menu. Why isn't the machine ready in case anyone orders them?"
I poured melted butter and maple syrup on my waffle. "Now you've ruined it," said Grant.
I thought, "This man definitely comes from another planet. He should return. I'll recommend my travel agent."
Now a surprise for you and particularly for Barry McKay, a reader. Mr McKay sends me many lengthy e-mails, sometimes two in one day. They include his views of restaurants in Barbados and elsewhere, news of a cruise he took, how he bought his children a dog, how he's suing an estate agent, his dental problems and much, much more. One letter was copied to two people on The Sunday Times and someone on the Daily Mail. How did the Pope and Osama Bin Laden escape Barry's cc list? Mr McKay tells me he'll send copies to more people in future, so His Holiness and OBL stand a chance..
The gist of Barry's enjoyable ramblings is that - I paraphrase - (a) I'm an idiot (he's right); (b) I'm grossly unfair to Grant MacPherson, as the McKay family enjoyed his food; and (c) if I don't retract he'll finance a website to "expose" my methods. Please do, Mr M. I'll log on and learn. I didn't know I was bright enough to have a method.
Barry should be well pleased that I thought the Sandy Lane waffle was absolutely marvellous. A rare moment indeed when dining under the aegis of the absurd Grant MacPherson. A man whom even Barry McKay describes as "not Mr Personality".
PS: the manager of Richoux is a tall, thin woman with black hair called Iwona, dressed in all-over black. She looks exactly like Morticia Addams of the Addams family. The restaurant ambience is gothic. I kept hoping other family members would turn up and do a dance. They didn't..
"That's all, folks." What's that supposed to mean? Surely not the end of Michael Winner. How would he manage without us?
Janet Clarke, Warwickshire
Your visit to Cumbria was interesting. You said, "The food was up and down." Who do you think you are - the Grand Old Duke of York?
Mark Capper, Cheshire
You said Sandy Lane had a "great beach". I don't think so. We visited at Christmas; Philip Green was there with several hundred sun loungers and beach umbrellas. It looked like Benidorm in the Sixties.
Ian Selwyn-Yates, West Sussex
We recently visited Sandy Lane's L'Acajou restaurant. There were 10 other diners. My starter of goat's milk cheesecake was so bland I couldn't finish it. The braised shank of lamb had an overwhelming burnt taste. I left most of that. My creme caramel was tasteless and rubbery. My husband was concerned as I'm usually a hearty eater. He complained. At least they didn't charge for the main course!
Geraldine Williams, Shropshire
I liked your appreciation of Frederick Forsyth's unbelievable imagination. In one of his books he had the villain sabotage the hero's Jaguar XK120 by putting a bomb under the front wing, with the contacts set between the coils of the suspension spring. Impossible. The XK120 has torsion bar suspension. I suppose Forsyth was once amusing.
John Fitton, Northamptonshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org