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Hot stuff - but I've got cold feet about the kulfi

Published 26 April 2009
News Review
823rd article

Michael with Prahlad Hegde, left, and Arun Harnal at Bombay Brasserie (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

It's sad hotels and restaurants feel obliged to tart up, makeover, redesign. They invariably mess it up. The Dorchester Grill was one of the best dining rooms ever; now it's the worst. Claridge's was better before an odd Medusa-like chandelier loomed over the tea room. The restaurant was historic; now it's a slightly superior airport lounge. The Connaught has descended from class to tat.

For decades I've gone to the Bombay Brasserie in Kensington. That's had a redo. The bar area is better. What was a dowdy but respectable dining room now resembles a flash hotel lobby. Enormous, bowl-like chandeliers. Undistinguished smart furniture. Absurdly, it's dumped the pianist. Worst is the conservatory. This was exceptionally pleasant. A lot of plants, some in hanging baskets, a real delight. Now the plants have diminished. There's an open show kitchen in the middle, with chefs cooking. I don't want to observe staff working while I eat. I can see that at home. There's a nice raised private room at the side. I'll have my office party there. BB always does that superbly.

It's lost one of my favourite restaurant managers, Adi Modi. His number two, Arun Harnal, has taken over. "Knifed out Mr Modi, did you?" I asked cheerfully. Arun assured me Adi retired. Then why did he appear with blood coming from stab wounds in his back? Arun has the grand title "director of operations". I expected to see trolleys with sedated patients going by on the way to surgery.

On Saturday and Sunday the Bombay Brasserie always had sensational buffets. Now it doesn't have it on Saturday, thus the place was more or less empty. My chair was too low for the table. So I switched to the banquette. I don't like sitting on banquettes.

I've never had a bad meal at the BB. Lunch started with superb poppadoms made with lentils and some other bits and pieces, all excellent. Arun offered me a drink, but I have to cut down. My liver is one of many organs packing up. So I got fantastic fresh sugar-cane juice with a minty taste. Then a freebie of spiced water with tamarind poured onto a small wheat puff pastry filled with chopped potatoes. Marvellous. The delightful fried spinach had creamy sauce. Geraldine said it contained tomato and onion. Also chicken tikka, tandoori prawn, scallop and salad. Food was batting 100%. Then it dived with a horrific "palate cleanser" of tamarind sorbet. Dry-ice "smoke" spurted from the bowl like at a rock concert or pantomime. Smoke effect was good. Sorbet beyond belief awful.

My main course chicken pilau wasn't bad, but I should have ordered my favourite, chicken biryani. The pilau chicken was too mushy. The chef, Prahlad Hegde, has been there 18 years. I've been going much longer. Then catastrophe - Indian ice cream called kulfi. It tasted like terminally ill cold cornflakes. If you see the word "kulfi" on a menu, run screaming for the exit. For a while, on my advice, BB took Marine Ices. They're the best. Go back to them, fellas.

We finished with ginger and lime: "Our own blend of tea," explained Arun. "It's good for the digestion."

"Are you suggesting your food gives people indigestion?" I asked.

"It makes you feel lighter," said Arun.

He's certainly got the dialogue.

Good news: the Bombay Brasserie still lives. Bad news for it: I shall return.

  • Selina Scott - who used to be on telly - recently called me a gargoyle. I don't blame her, really. I referred in print to her and others like her (rather ungenerously, I admit) as "sad unemployed has-beens rising up like the witches in Macbeth". I asked, "Why can't they be happy with a cup of cocoa and some digestive biscuits?"

    The reason was my disbelief that Ms Scott could walk away with hundreds of thousands of pounds from the television channel Five because it interviewed her for a job, which she thought was hers, and then replaced her with someone younger. If we have laws dopey enough to permit the aged to cash in like that, who can blame them?

    But does dear Ms Scott not realise that, when in favour, she was chosen for her looks as much as, and probably more than, anything else? I don't recall in those halcyon days Selina saying, "This is so unfair. I will stand aside. You must employ the elderly." She flashed her legs, smiled her wan smile and pocketed the dosh.

    Show business tends to drop people as they get older. The spotlight moves on to other, younger players. No point in being bitter. If you've got real talent, like Judi Dench or Diana Rigg, you're employed for ever. If you're in the 23rd league, forget it.

    Jan Moir, a wonderful columnist, but not nearly as wonderful as me, described Selina as "a snobby goat-rearing recluse". On that subject I'm an expert. Selina produces marvellous goat's-wool socks. I once appeared on her website, naked except for white socks, advertising her wares. That probably decimated her customer base, so the poor old dear was left with nothing to do but sue TV companies. See, it's all my fault. It usually is.

    Michael's missives

    Lovely photo of Geraldine. If I pay your £6m overdraft for you, will you promise not to stand in front of the camera every week?
    Andrew Pearl, Leicestershire

    You wrote last week: "If that's an upgrade I'm an astronaut." I'm sure many of us would have dreamt of such a career for you. The thought of you being blasted into space would fill most restaurateurs with glee.
    Ian Hubbert, Suffolk

    According to the internet your name is cockney rhyming slang for dinner. This seems inappropriate as it would put most people off theirs.
    Steve Jarvis, Buckinghamshire

    Do you suppose there is ever any envy in the "missives" you receive? Perish the thought.
    Peter Grey, Cornwall

    You told us, "Me and Queenie bank at Coutts." I trust Her Majesty will forgive such impertinence on the grounds of your senility. Otherwise you may be reviewing food in the Tower of London. What sauce!
    Marianne Bartram, Torquay

    On booking for Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's I was reminded of the dress code. The room was full of half-sleeved men! It took half an hour to get a drink. We sent back the chicken bouillon because it was too salty to eat. The cheeseboard was tired round the edges. It all reminded me of a themed tourist restaurant in Disneyland.
    G Connolly, London

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