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The day Gordon Brown kissed me - twice

Published 17 May 2009
News Review
826th article



At the ceremony for Sharon Beshenivsky: her family with, back row, left, Jacqui Smith; centre, Gordon Brown; far right, Michael Winner

Gordon Brown kissed me. In fact we kissed each other twice. Then I ate a sausage roll. I'd gone from Battersea to Bradford (one-hour flight) on a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter from PremiAir, very posh with inlaid mahogany panelling. On the way I ate three boiled sweets, two toffees and one chocolate cream.

"Excuse me," I hear you say, "that is not a food review." "When did the prime minister last kiss you?" I respond haughtily.

"The problem is, Winner, you're deficient and moronic," you kindly suggest. I resemble that remark.

Let's talk about catering. Gord was with me to unveil a memorial for PC Sharon Beshenivsky, shot outside a travel agency. He asked her widower, Paul, his fiancée, Michelle, and their five children to a No 10 party. When Gord did my ceremony in Luton last year he asked the four-year-old daughter of slain officer Jonathan Henry and her mum and family. Kept his word. They all partied at Downing Street.

After the Bradford ceremony we went to the lovely old Alhambra theatre offering Cinderella on Ice. Not to see the show, stupid, but for a reception catered by Sodexo. Very robust open sandwiches - chicken, egg mayonnaise, ham - things on skewers, nice cakes.

The police are maximum eaters. Even the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, took her mind off political scandal with tea and a bun. You can study Gord, me, Jacqui, Paul Beshenivsky, fiancée Michelle (I'm paying for their wedding reception) and the family in our photo.

Best caterer at my 38 police ceremonies was definitely Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh of Admirable Crichton, who donated an incredible feast at a pub in Balham after we honoured PC Patrick Dunne. Damian Clarkson of Red Snapper Events did well at my National Police Memorial in the Mall. I remember the Queen's face when offered a cuppa tea. She clearly wanted it, but was obviously thinking, "If I take this while Michael Winner's introducing me to families of slain police officers and I have to shake hands, it'll be a bit tricksy." So she battled on unrefreshed, bless her. I don't often employ caterers at home.

But recently, between housekeepers, I gave a lunch for Alison Sharman, lovely lady and super-boss of ITV factual programmes, plus other TV bigwigs. I was recommended All in Hand. Unfortunately I picked the wrong hand. Not the male chef I was advised to use, but a lady who produced at best a moderate taste experience. Didn't matter. I'm such a sparkling host my guests never noticed.

Some of the best catering I've had was from Le Pain Quotidien. When I was in the London Clinic, Geraldine would bring back from their Marylebone High Street branch the freshest baguettes, fantastic croissants - almond and others - pains au chocolat and a great selection of soups.

I recently entered the place. It's deliberately rough and ready. Wooden pine tables, some you share with fellow eaters. We sat next to a charming lady lawyer having breakfast before going on to beat the hell out of some poor adversary. Among other fare I tucked into was a lovely granola parfait. There's a PanQuot near me in Kensington High Street. All the branches do full meals.

They're a good group. Drop in. To the magnificent Cipriani hotel, Venice, run by my friend Maurizio Saccani. "Whaddya mean 'friend'? You spent all last year murdering him," you say. So what? Maurizio's reprieved. He's improved the food in Cipriani's main restaurant, done away with the stupid dress code, turned the pool restaurant into an elegant lounge snack place. The small pool dining area by the lagoon remains historic for food and setting. The view of St Mark's from the Cip's waterside restaurant is breathtaking. The food is not. Service good. Bellinis perfect. Maurizio even replaced the bloodstained carpet in my suite and revitalised the frayed curtains Love Venice. Beautiful architecture, no cars, no traffic lights, no lunatic cyclists.

Just peaceful, lapping water. Did you know the six prongs on the bow of gondolas represent the six boroughs of Venice? If gondoliers wear black stripes it means they own the boat; if red stripes, they're employees. You don't see those lovely straw hats any more because they kept blowing into the canals. Why not give them elastic chin-straps? o Bizarre catering news from Paul Mulligan, boss of 247 Jet. I asked him, "Why were there no sandwiches on my flights to and from Venice when for 30 years I've always had them?" Paul replied, "A small tray of sandwiches - one-way for two people - from RAF Northolt costs £86 and at Venice or Nice airports *130." My flabber was gasted.

Dinah, my assistant, went to Marks & Spencer, where she got a Classic Selection Platter, 20 excellent sandwiches for £10.

Paul told me if they bought food, other than from airside caterers, and put it on the plane, they were in breach of health and safety regulations. He asked, "Do you want to add over £200 to your flight bill just for sandwiches?" No thanks, Paul. Health and safety graciously permit me to bring my own. So I will..



Michael's missives

I see you dined at St Alban in your pyjamas with the impeccably dressed 92-year-old Ernest Borgnine. Perhaps the staff thought he was your carer taking you out for a treat and that's why they put a toy piano on your table - to keep you amused!
Sue Appleton, Manchester

We thought only Liverpool lasses wore their pyjamas in public. We hope you won't copy another Merseyside fashion trend and visit restaurants with your hair in rollers.
Deb Atkinson, Merseyside

If Ernest Borgnine is 92, where do you display your telegram from Her Majesty?
Alex Graham, Ross-shire

You said you hadn't forgotten Sandy Lane's chef, Grant MacPherson. Nor have we. My husband and I were disappointed in MacPherson's direction of the buffet. It reminded us of cruise ship dining or, even worse, of our son's university eating hall. We did, however, love every other aspect of Sandy Lane.
Catherine McKenna, Bermuda

Dinner for six at Zuma in Knightsbridge cost a fortune. What a load of rubbish! We arrived at 8pm to be told they had no trace of our reservation but we could stay if we finished by 9.30. The waiters rushed through our order saying, "Hurry up and decide, we're short of time." No iced tap water, just overpriced food that could be bought in any decent supermarket.
Lisbeth Pearce, Teddington

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