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Right next door to the ridiculous, the sublime

Published 29 March 2009
News Review
819th article

Michael at Coco Momo with Ginny, Rebecca and Natalie and, seated, Seth Berry, the waiter (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Next to the Natural Kitchen, a place I didn't like in Marylebone High Street, is Coco Momo. I expected to like that even less. We sat at a large table, big windows, views of the high street. Seth, an American waiter, came over.

Seth was studying finance at Pennsylvania State University. "The way the markets are going, that may not be a good thing," I suggested. "Mind you, it could be better by the time you get a degree."

"I'm graduating next year," said Seth.

"Don't hold your breath then," I advised.

Seth recommended the cheeseburger at £9.25. So I chose the Aberdeen Angus beefburger with cheddar cheese, tomato and onion relish, home-cut chips.

Seth assured me that they cut up the potatoes on the premises every morning and fried them just before serving. That's more than they do even at very posh restaurants. Seth said the "freshly squeezed orange juice is squeezed downstairs. They put it in a container and bring it up".

"So it was squeezed early this morning?" I inquired.

"No, sir, it was squeezed half an hour ago," replied Seth. Tasted like it. Remarkable.

"Seth," I asked, "are your parents very rich? Are you doing the world a favour by being here?"

"Not rich," responded Seth.

I persisted: "Scale of one to 10, how rich?"

"Five," said Seth. "They've got a house in Brooklyn, three bedrooms; my father has a chemical business on Long Island."

The burger was superb. The chips were real. Seth walked the room with purpose and speed. "I don't know how you are at finance, but you can always be a waiter if things go wrong," I told him.

"Duly noted, sir," replied Seth.

Geraldine had toasted Mediterranean vegetables, baby leaf salad, feta cheese with croutons and nicked some of my chips. She was pleased with everything. "It's a very studenty place," she observed. "I think they live round here because they're very young and with it."

"I'm not sure they live here," I countered: "it's a very expensive area."

Three girls came in. I asked one, "Do you live here?"

She replied, "I live in London."

"But do you live round here?" I said.

She answered, "No."

I asked, "Why not?"

She said, "Because I live in Clapham."

They told me they were on a neurolinguistic programming course. "What language are you learning?" I inquired.

"We're not learning language - it's kind of psychology stuff," explained Rebecca.

There was Natalie, who lives in Ireland, Rebecca, from Clapham, and Ginny, from New Zealand. Very pleasant people.

My dessert was sticky toffee pudding. Remarkably light, excellent texture, a lot of toffee in it. The ice cream was Jude's from Winchester. Not as good as Marine Ices in Chalk Farm, but good. As I paid the bill, via one of those credit-card machines they bring to the table, I informed Seth, "You can tell your boss I'm going to give this a very good review in The Sunday Times. If that doesn't put him out of business, nothing will."

  • I greatly admire Sam and Eddie Hart, who own and run Quo Vadis in Soho. I've sent them many customers. They have the Marx Room for private functions. Marking it out of 10, my award is minus 6,477,208. I recently attended the most incompetent, dire, pathetic, unprofessional disgrace I've ever encountered. Sam and Eddie should close the ghastly Marx fiasco until they've completed a course in how to run function rooms. I asked the restaurant manager what floor the Marx Room was on. "First." he said. It's on the second.

    It's horrid, grey, hard-surfaced, boring and dreary, with terrible acoustics. It's supposedly private but a side door kept disgorging people walking through to the staircase. The champagne service was derisory. Twenty-two people sat down to dinner, no wine in sight. The room was devoid of staff, so our courteous host went downstairs to complain. A waiter said, "We don't serve wine until people are seated."

    "They're all seated," replied my friend.

    The waiter argued rudely, then walked out. Probably a freelance from gorilla school.

    The hostess had ordered two white wines; guests were not offered a choice. The one waitress (should have been three for 22 guests) had no idea who to give the food to. Yet we'd ordered individually days before. Why didn't they have a seating plan and take food to the correct person, instead of wandering around with plates until someone accepted them? Two bottles of red wine were corked. There was no bread or butter. We sat down at 8.15pm. Dessert came at 10.45pm, two and a half hours later. By the time the main-course vegetables arrived, they were cold. The guests were wonderful. Sam and Eddie Hart should offer the hostess a large discount.

    For your private party go to the Ritz, London's most elegant hotel. Its William Kent House Rooms, used by the Queen and me (not necessarily together), are historic, the food and service exemplary. The Goring in Belgravia is great. Family-owned, very gracious, except for two David Linley chandeliers in the dining room. There's a lovely private room with garden. Avoid Quo Vadis.

    Michael's missives

    You and Barry McKay should honeymoon at Sandy Lane. You can enjoy the couple's massage, dance to The Winner Takes It All and visit the Cliff in disguise to marvel at the rudeness of the waiters.
    Janet Bell, London

    I was impressed by your illustrious academic achievements. With your penchant for expensive chattels and billionaire's lifestyle, the Cambridge careers department should have advised you to be a banker. Your £6m debt could then have been settled out of petty cash!
    Roger Kerry, Staffordshire

    Again you mention your £6m of debt. A short while ago you were sharing with us that you had £39m tucked away in a bank. Surely even you can't have eaten your way through all that!
    Malcolm Stathers, Surrey

    You were a decidedly odd colour in Monte Carlo. Was it an unfortunate accident with a pot of wood stain? And is a "historic" dessert one that's six months past its sell-by date?
    John McDonald, West Sussex

    I read you now feed tradesmen. I'm sure it's better than the fare I consume at my local greasy spoon. Next time you need an electrician please give me a call.
    John Lynch, Hertfordshire

    Being £92,200 short of your Sandy Lane budget, I cancelled the family holiday and bought a shotgun.
    Rob Clarey, Nottingham

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