Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

Hitting the high life and plumbing the depths

Published 22 March 2009
News Review
818th article

Michael with Leslie and Evie Bricusse at Avenue 31 in Monte Carlo (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I went up to Cambridge at 18 and left aged 21 with an honours degree in law and economics. I was brilliant. Since then it's been downhill all the way.

I looked at fellow undergraduates and thought, "Will any of them amount to anything?" I knew Leslie Bricusse would. He wrote a great musical, Lady at the Wheel, while still a student and then wrote shows, movie music, lyrics and songs, including What Kind of Fool Am I?, Goldfinger, The Candy Man and Talk to the Animals, winning a couple of Oscars along the way.

Best for me is My Old Man's a Dustman. Dining at Avenue 31 in Monte Carlo Leslie told me he didn't put his name on Dustman as he thought it would drag down more serious work he was doing.

"Big head," said his wife, lovely Yvonne Romaine. She co-starred with Elvis Presley in Double Trouble. Dustman is credited to Beverly Thorn. Beverly was Evie's brother. Thorn is the name of the EMI building next to where they lived.

Leslie and Evie recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. Excellent speeches gushed on about how wonderful he was, she was, a passing tramp was. I said, "I've known Leslie since we met at Cambridge in 1954. I'm amazed he's been married this long. I always thought he was a woofter." I can bring down the tone of any event. "Politically correct" are words I ignore.

Leslie responded, "Indeed I have known Michael Winner for 54 years. That's what's called drawing the short straw."

Leslie knows infinitely more about food and wine than me. So does the toilet attendant at the YMCA. He recommended Avenue 31, housed in one of the endless Monte Carlo apartment blocks which shelter tax avoiders. Very modern, tubular lighting, wooden tables, no cloths. Like an Angus Steak House minus the red. No one there worth less than £50m. That was then. Now I'm depleted.

Leslie pointed to a long banquette table where he once saw the entire Monaco royal family. I chose ravioli shrimps and zucchini followed by tempura fish and chips. I don't know why but I was given a shellfish with claws, which I declined to peel. I was not put on earth to peel shellfish. I send them back for someone in the kitchen to deal with.

I was dictating my notes when Leslie returned from a visit. "You can say the men's upstairs is solid gold, the walls, the loo, the vulgar lid, it's all solid gold."

"How many carats?" I asked.

My fried cod was unbelievably tender and juicy, the batter was perfect. The dessert mille-feuille was historic.

As I left, my friend Sir Philip Green stopped his Rolls-Royce to come out for a chat. It's all very knobby in Monte Carlo.

  • Now to other oddities. I use Pimlico Plumbers. Their hourly rates start at £80 rising to £170 from midnight to 7am.

    Some Pimlico employees left to form their own business. One I particularly liked, Terry Leesing, joined such a group, Service Corps. It did good work on my roof. The bill was £5,285.15. It didn't list "hours worked" in the appropriate column. Nor any other details, just said "fixed price". I never agreed a price.

    Service Corps' Stuart Verity (he's misnamed) claimed Terry and his co-worker agreed a fixed price. Terry said, "Definitely not." I never talked to the other fellow.

    When pressed, Verity detailed cost of materials including a rope and harness, which Service Corps kept after charging me purchase price plus 20%.

    "You acquired these items free for stock and will presumably charge future customers the same price, thus selling them many times over," I wrote to Verity asking if Terry and his mate took lunch.

    He replied, "An hour a day."

    "So you're charging me £70 an hour for three days for two people to eat lunch off site. Knock £420 off the bill for a start," I suggested. Eventually Verity removed the irregularities. His new bill was £3,720.05. A deduction of £1,565. Or 30%. Take heed. Be vigilant. Particularly if, like me, you're £6m in debt.

    Terry left Service Corps to go it alone. I give him work. "What's all this got to do with food?" you ask. I made Terry a peanut butter and banana toasted sandwich last week. That's my speciality.

  • My enjoyable relationship with e-mail pal Barry McKay flowers. Having threatened that unless I retracted my "unfair" criticism of the ghastly Sandy Lane chef, Grant MacPherson, he'd report me to the Press Complaints Commission, the High Court, the Toilet Cleaners' Union and others, Barry told me he'd dined with Colm Hannon, former general manager of Sandy Lane, adding he thought the food was better under Colm.

    Allo, allo. Colm managed Sandy Lane for six years. Barry's saying after those six years the food got worse when MacPherson joined. Boy, do I agree.

    Marriage is now a certainty. Will we be Mr and Mrs Winner or Mr and Mrs McKay? Where should we go on honeymoon? Your advice, please.

  • PS: I paid Sandy Lane £98,400 for 21 nights over Christmas. Air fares and other Barbados meals made it a £120,000 excursion. As well as honeymoon advice, I suggest you organise a whip-round to top up my bank balance.

    Michael's missives

    If you marry Barry McKay, I won't let Geraldine dine alone.
    Simon Collins, New York, USA

    Glad to hear your friend Leslie Caron is overcoming the credit crunch by reducing prices. I hope she's topped up the gin cupboard. They ran out halfway through our order after a long journey from the south of France.
    Charles Thorneycroft, Warwickshire

    As I sit here each Sunday in East Grinstead (a place you never want to visit!) scoffing my corned-beef hash, I salivate at descriptions of your regular tuck. Any chance of a doggie-bag now and then?
    Richard Masters, West Sussex

    When we visited the Cliff the waiter sneered when we ordered tap water. Barbados tap water is safe to drink. I've no doubt the waiter drank it at home. I suppose he sneered because he thought if we could afford the Cliff we could afford bottled water!
    Maria Torok, London

    The Cliff is diabolical. Last time we made a reservation they wanted us there at 6.15pm. Hell, I'm still in my bikini at that time!
    Katherine Wilks, Barbados

    Never mind Sandy Lane, Barbados food is universally mediocre. We never had a decent meal in seven days. When we wanted breakfast the first two restaurants we visited had no eggs at 9am.
    James Munro, Hautes-Pyrenees, France

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