Published 6 September 2009 News Review 842nd article
Michael and Madoff: two of a kind? Salute you, sir: Dinah, left, and Geraldine at Med Kitchen (Arnold Crust)
I realised how lucky I was in the lifestyle I lead and the food I usually eat when I went for lunch at Med Kitchen in Kensington. It was beyond belief awful. Another world, which, thankfully, I seldom enter.
It was my cook's day off. Geraldine wanted to go to Edera, which is north of my house. She said, "It's owned by an Italian family who do the cooking."
"I'll believe that when I see it," I responded.
Geraldine was in full flood. "Med Kitchen is a chain and the food all comes in a bag," she said.
"I'll look out for the bag," I promised.
"You won't see it. It's in the kitchen," Geraldine continued, adding, "Microwave. Have you heard of microwaving?" She moved her left arm in a gesture. "All these chain places are the same. They have an enormous kitchen in the cellar somewhere." I couldn't work out how she knew it was in the cellar. "And they send it out somewhere."
At this point the Rolls arrived at Med Kitchen. Geraldine, my assistant Dinah and I alighted. It's a nice-looking room. Very simple, large tin piping going everywhere.
"Excuse me, Geraldine," I said. "It's printed here on the menu, 'All of our dishes are freshly prepared on the premises with produce personally sourced by our chef, including our fresh fish, corn-fed chicken from normandy [sic] and our award-winning beef which is selected first by Donald Russell from cattle that are reared on traditional farms, then aged for 31 days to ensure maximum tenderness and flavour'." That failed to impress Geraldine. Didn't mean anything to me either.
I started with "today's home-made soup, lentil and cumin". Tasted of nothing at all. Or worse. They'd have been much better off buying it from Whole Foods Market up the road.
I followed with home-made salmon fishcake with tzatziki, rocket and fresh-cut fries. I was assured potatoes were cut up in the kitchen and fried. The fishcake was vile. Heavy, clammy, ghastly. Not on the same planet as those at Le Caprice and the Ivy. The chips would have been better bought in. They were white, anaemic and underdone. I left nearly everything.
The menu announced "home-made desserts freshly made by us".
"When was this banoffee pie made?" I asked the restaurant manager, Moustapha Khazari.
He replied, "I don't know. I'll have to ask the chef." He did. Then informed me it was made on Wednesday. As it was Friday, it was two days old and had sat in the deep freeze. I don't call that fresh. So I chose, from the blackboard, "summer berries with ice cream". Squashed-looking mini-berries appeared in a small cocktail glass topped with a splat of revolting catering cream that squirts from a plastic container.
"Why is there no ice cream?" I asked Moustapha.
"Genuine mistake," he said. Unbelievable. There was hardly anyone in the place. They could see me dictating my notes. They knew I was reviewing it. Yet they produced a dessert minus one ingredient of two. I ate a berry. It was revolting. So was the cold, textureless bread that started the meal.
Dinah said, "I'm not too sure," when asked about her sea bass. Geraldine described her poached salmon as "overcooked".
Moustapha said there would be no bill. "Yes there will," I responded. "I always pay." It came to £75.54.
I placed the ladies for our photo. They saluted to indicate they were ready for me to join them. I thought they looked much better without me. Wouldn't anyone?
The Wolseley started off with Tufa water, still offered at the Ivy, Caprice and Scott's. I complained to Jeremy King, the co-owner.
"There was a tasting in the kitchen," he explained. "We liked it."
"Everyone has an off day, Jeremy," I replied. Being a man of taste and skill he chucked it out. Now he offers Malvern water, which is terrific.
The Wolseley also started serving roast beef, yorkshire pudding and veg in ridiculous little bowls. Now the roast beef and yorkshire, second to none, come on proper plates. The roast potatoes are near perfection.
I sat with Tommy Steele and his lovely wife, Ann, plus roast beef. Tommy's a marvel. He still looks like Tommy Steele even though he's 72. I've been pronounced dead so often I say to people, "James Cagney starred in the film Each Dawn I Die. I'm doing the remake."
Coming up is my ITV series, Michael Winner's Dining Stars. Now, at La Reserve de Beaulieu on the Cote d'Azur, I await the TV crew. My make-up lady, Joan Hills, is a great pro. She's done major movies going back to Chariots of Fire. Definition of a tough job: making me look good. I'm relying on you, Joan. If you're in Abergavenny on September 18 visit the Borough theatre, where my joyous repartee kicks off the food festival. I'm in Henley on October 3, Canterbury October 19, Stamford in Lincolnshire October 25. Have gab, will travel.
Grade I* ancient monuments would surely attract generous maintenance grants. If you get the I* rating you claim to deserve, I reckon you'll have no problem getting English Heritage to fork out for a couple of shirts and a decent suit. Although it might insist they actually fit you.
Oliver Chastney, Norwich
Forget leaving your house to Kensington and Chelsea council. Leave it to the National Trust. It might take you as well.
John Airton, North Yorkshire
Loved last week's photo with umbrellas growing out of your heads. How clever of Geraldine to line you up so beautifully.
Natalie Straughen, Surrey
I hear there's a movie coming about Bernie Madoff. They'll need someone to play him. You have a similar bouffant hair style. No contest: it's you, to act and direct.
Edna Weiss, London
Did you recommend La Reserve de Beaulieu as a joke? Our holiday was ruined by Gerard, the hotel's xenophobic megalomaniac. He makes Basil Fawlty look a saint.
Barry McKay, Berkshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail email@example.com