A walk on the wild side was met by tame indifference
Published 8 March 2009 News Review 816th article
Geraldine, Orama and Michael outside the Natural Kitchen (Dr Bernard Kaplan)
It's very big these days, isn't it? Save the planet, eat organic food, drive electric cars, use energy-saving light bulbs that don't give out any light. If there's a hole in the ozone layer, why not just send someone up in a rocket with a bit of plaster and patch it up?
In Marylebone High Street (trendy area) there's the Natural Kitchen followed by the words "Artisan, organic and wild cafe". It didn't look very wild to me. Downstairs there was a butcher's shop, lots of cheeses, masses of products and, at the back, some tables.
They don't normally reserve but they'd kept a table for me in the upstairs dining room. On a rooftop was a large model of a cow and a chicken. My table was next to the till. Brilliant. Staff would have been brushing against me endlessly as they dealt with bills. It was grotesquely noisy.There was a long queue, so I obligingly told them I didn't like the table and went downstairs.
There, surrounded by shelves of produce that was far too healthy for its own good, Geraldine and I sat at a table for four. Next to a similar table and facing a large communal table. The downstairs "cutlery" was made of wood. That doesn't save forests, does it? They brought me real cutlery and the upstairs menu. There was screeching, discordant, monstrous music.
"I can't believe it," I observed. "A place meant to be representing the countryside, with murals of cows and buttercups, and they've got this rubbish music." I complained to Sylvia, the manager.
"It's not meant to be that loud, I'll turn it down," she said.
"Don't turn it down, dear, shoot it," I suggested.
"I wonder if Grant MacPherson chose the music," I said to Geraldine. "It's exactly the sort of modern jazz muck he had blasting at Sandy Lane when we arrived." I don't know why, in places that are meant to be tranquil and relaxing, some idiot shoves this horrific cacophony down our throats. The waitress, Orama, a lovely girl from New Zealand, said, "The music drives me nuts."
I had the smoothie of the day, a mixture of berries with fresh apple and orange juice. Reasonable. Then I asked for "traditional homemade lemonade". That was very good. I ordered "chicken liver and black truffle parfait terrine with rustic breads". I didn't get it.
Orama explained, "The chef wasn't happy with the chicken liver so he's given you foie gras instead." It was adequate.
A couple came to the next table and looked confused. "We'll sit and see what happens," said the lady.
"It might be okay," said the man. The lady ended up getting all the food. It's self-service for the common folk downstairs. The husband sat there doing nothing. Except eating.
My main course beef stir fry was revolting. Tough, stringy beef. It may have been natural and organic. It tasted like nothing. Geraldine had chilli con carne. I thought it moderate. She finished the lot.
For dessert I ordered a chocolate cake and a flapjack. "The flapjack is heavy," I said to Geraldine.
"What do you mean 'heavy'?" she asked. "It's oats with honey over it."
" I still think it's heavy," I responded.
"Stop eating it and give it to me," said Geraldine. So I did. It was too healthy for me. The chocolate cake was ghastly beyond belief - dry, no taste of chocolate. Even the icing was bland. I left most of it.
The couple next door enjoyed their sausage roll and soup. But they came from Cheshire.
I asked, "What do you think of the music?" The lady replied, "I don't like it." Her husband said, "It's terrible."
"Who's better at taking photos, him or you?" I demanded.
The man, a doctor no less, said, "Me, by a thousand miles." He was carrying his own camera.
"What's a camera got to do with it?" I said to Geraldine. "He's a doctor, why isn't he carrying a first aid kit?" T he doctor took our picture. Did well, I thought. They were very nice people.
As for Natural Kitchen, natural it may or may not have been. I'm certainly not going back to investigate.
Friends galore at the Wolseley for Sunday lunch. Next table, superb act or Bill Nighy, nearby Lucian Freud whom I've known since 1955, other side Fiona Shackleton, round the corner Lulu.
Previous Sunday: Dawn French, Andrea Corr (so good in Dancing at Lughnasa at the Old Vic) and Ross Kemp. It's like a club. Service is great, too.
I told the owners Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, "Your straws are too narrow for my vanilla milkshake." This could be because I complained their milkshake was too thin, so they added more ice cream. To improve the flow, I brought my own straw.
Their suave restaurant manager, Robert Holland (like him), said, "Jeremy's just bought thick straws for you." My straw was better because it had a bend near the top. Thanks anyway, Jeremy. Your pastry chef, Matt Hayes, is fantastic. Unlike at Natural Kitchen, the Wolseley chocolate cake is superb.Matt's battenberg cake, four squares of coloured sponge edged with marzipan, is historic. Let me eat cake, I say. Even though Marie Antoinette proclaimed it first. All right, she said, "Let them eat cake." She meant me.
There's an army of people you've antagonised. Last week you named one, chef Franco Parisi, as Major Black Mark. I've worked out others: Grant MacPherson is Private Personality, Christian Roberts Sergeant Stellar, Maurizio Saccani Lieutenant Long Nose, Andrew Headly Captain Incompetent and Barry McKay General Nuisance. All facing Captain Catastrophe.
Nick Jones, Le Crestet, France
I was amused when Michael named and shamed the gentleman who e-mails him twice a day with his opinions. Michael has finally found the one person in Britain who cares about what he does, says or writes. What on earth is he complaining about?
Marianne Bartram, Torquay
Maybe the fact you were so loud in calling the restaurant manager a "bloody incompetent" was the real reason McKay was annoyed. Why not make your criticism discreetly rather than being rude? But maybe that's beyond your limitations.
Tim Jackson, Northern Ireland
Your relentless and possibly justified campaign against Grant MacPherson is undoubtedly courageous. When you next visit Sandy Lane I can't begin to imagine what parts of MacPherson you will be ingesting.
Graham Balfour-Lynn, London
You're spot on about the Cliff in Barbados. I went with my family and we were treated like pests.
Andrew Sloan, London
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