Published 27 September 2009 News Review 845th article
Francisco Pedre, left, Peter Wood and Michael Winner outside Caraffini (Jim Sharkey)
My friend Peter Wood, boss of esure ("Calm down, dear, it's only an insurance company") is difficult. Correction: he's not difficult, he's very difficult. Second correction: he's not very difficult, he's stratospherically difficult. I approve of that. In my Who's Who entry under "hobbies" I list making table mats, washing silk shirts, eating and being difficult.
Peter writes outstandingly robust letters of complaint. I wish I'd kept the acidly biting letters of complaint I've written for over 60 years. They'd make an instant bestseller.
Peter is the best employer ever. All our deals for commercials - often for millions of pounds - have been consummated in a two-paragraph letter. He's the only person I know who pays faster than I do.
Never mind that Peter's fired me six times. Once to bring in a horrific computerised mouse, which spoke with a strange American accent at a speed that made anything said totally incomprehensible.
As we sat in Caraffini, a blast-from-the-past place in Chelsea, I mentioned the mouse. Peter laid his hand on my arm and said, "You were right."
Caraffini's restaurant manager is Francisco Pedre. He remembered me from Al Gallo d'Oro, an Italian restaurant near my house, once owned by a man called Renato. I often saw George Michael, before he came out, sitting with a boyfriend. The place slid from worse to terrible. Renato asked me to do a private critique on it for him. It was damning. I recommended he sell.
He said, "Do you know anybody who might buy?" I recommended it to my friend Claudio Pulze, owner of many restaurants. He tried to buy it, but Renato insisted on staying in charge. So the deal fell through.
A few months later I saw Al Gallo d'Oro was closed. Claudio had bought it. He turned it into Memories of China Kensington, which is absolutely terrible.
Renato went off with the money from the sale. Claudio acquired a new restaurant. Did either of them write me a thank you note? No. Did they send a bottle of wine to the unpaid agent? No.
The other day Claudio rang, after years of silence, asking me to go to one of his restaurants. He wanted a good review. I stayed at home.
"Er, aren't you dining with Peter Wood in Caraffini?" I hear you ask. "Why not tell us about it?" Okay. It's a pleasant, old-fashioned place. It's off the radar. No one I know goes there or talks about it. Except for Peter.
The food is early 1970s, which is the time it opened. That's fine for me. I had a faultless gazpacho, an enormous portion of cold poached salmon with potato salad - very good, but too much to finish. Dessert was cassata alla siciliana. You don't see that much today. They do a marvellous one at La Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence. The Caraffini version was fine, but lacked a band of pink ice cream. I like pink. Overall, a charming meal, well served by cheerful and professional staff.
It ended catastrophically. Peter told me there'd be no esure commercials in 2010.
He recently acquired 5,000 rubber figures of me which, when pressed, say "Calm down, dear." Peter tested one and it broke. He must have attacked it with an axe. Or got a dud. I was sent two and they were totally indestructible.
"A child might eat one of the parts. That would ruin esure's reputation, my reputation and your reputation," he warned.
I said, "If someone chokes on a bit of Michael Winner the uproar would be fantastic. I might even become famous.
Send 'em out, Peter, they're marvellous."
He's thinking about it. I may do some website ads for him in 2010. Hope so. I'm still £6m in debt. Every little bit helps. Those of you with memories (that excludes me) will recall I thought little of the Pinewood Studios Photographic Centre run ineptly by a woman misnamed Vicky Joy. After using them for 45 years, many under her marvellous predecessor, Lofty Rice, the printing became so poor I complained. Whereupon Vicky said, "Go away."
But it's Ms Non-Joy who's gone. Pinewood bosses, coming to their senses, closed their photographic centre. Ms Joy went I know not where. As long as she isn't in a photo-type job, the world could be safe. Using Parcelforce to send a package from London to Beaulieu, guaranteed to be delivered five days after posting, I waited and waited. Parcelforce said it delivered on time but no one was in. The package was addressed to my hotel. Finally arrived eight days after posting. Next time I'll try a pigeon.
Here's a joke sent by Londoner Doug Green: Mr Winner walked into the Ivy carrying a duck.
The maître d' asked, "What are you doing with the pig?" Mr Winner replied, "You complete idiot, it's a duck."
The maître d' said, "I was talking to the duck."
Last week you confessed to unashamedly lavishing enormous sums on conspicuous frippery while retaining a staggering level of debt. With talent of this order why aren't you in the Treasury?
Ian Lineker, Worcestershire
How useful the lift wasn't working at La Réserve. Thus you could notice your photo displayed on the stairway between the second and third floors. I was equally impressed with the price of fish and also given no choice of white wine. But my photograph is not on any wall.
Philip Davies, East Sussex
In your review of Cliveden you mentioned John Profumo. At least he knew how a gentleman should behave when caught out and wore sackcloth and ashes in perpetuity. Today's crop of parliamentary fornicators and fraudsters have no sense of shame, nor awareness of right and wrong. As you said: those were the days.
Barry Smith, Colomby, France
John Tham, whom you rounded on when he ran Cliveden, hasn't vanished. He owns the Sloane Square hotel and runs the inferior Chelsea Brasserie there.
Michael Jay, address withheld
What's libellous about Wikipedia saying, untruly, you wear a gastric band? Tell 'em you wear one on your head and recommend this to all. As you often refer to yourself as an ignorant pig perhaps you should sue yourself.
Roger Lewis, Herefordshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org