Published 15 November 2009 News Review 852nd article
Michael outside Planet Hollywood with Patricia Murray, Robert Earl and a Terminator (Orlando William Montagu)
The history of Planet Hollywood has moments of takeoff speckled with disaster. Branches opened. Branches closed. It went into Chapter 11 US bankruptcy protection. It came out. Now thriving, it has restaurants and a Planet Hollywood hotel in Las Vegas with 2,600 bedrooms.
"Full every night and movie stars hang out there," advised Robert Earl, Planet's ebullient boss. The London Planet Hollywood opened in May 1993. Then it was in Coventry Street; now it's in Haymarket. "A move of a quarter of a mile and a quarter of the rent," said Robert. "We had to contemporise the brand."
He's done well. It's a bright, canteen-like room. Gone are many of the movie memorabilia although it still has the Ursula Andress bikini from Dr No. Vast television screens on the walls show trailers.
I first met Robert in Barbados on the Sandy Lane beach before he'd opened Planet Hollywood. Then he owned the hamburger place Hard Rock Cafe. My then girlfriend, Jenny Seagrove, got a gold card entitling her to jump the Hard Rock queue. I went over to Robert and said, "Jenny doesn't eat meat and gets a gold card. I do and got nothing." Nothing blossomed into leather jackets, bathrobes, gold cards and other promotional gifts galore.
When Planet Hollywood came here I threw a party for one of its star partners, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"What'll he do when he stops being governor?" I asked. "Has he got money?"
"Don't worry about Arnold," said Robert. "He owns half of Santa Monica."
The menu offers "a dining experience like no other". "That's because you're dining with me," advised Robert, adding, "The new hot thing in restaurants is sliders. Have you seen them? They're called baby burgers."
Trish from Dublin was our superbly charming waitress. The food was amazingly good. If they opened near me I'd go a lot. I had blackened shrimp, baby burgers, barbecued chicken on pizza, tostadas with guacamole and sour cream, spare ribs (didn't like them), mixed fajitas, crispy lemon chicken, a sizzle plate with chicken and beef and tortillas to wrap them in. Some went on my jacket.
"Now we can use it as memorabilia," said Robert. "It's cleanable." The cleaning bill cost more than the meal. Robert told me the average spend was £18 per person including wine.
The desserts were sensational. Bananas foster cheesecake, bread pudding with white chocolate and whisky sauce and a home-made apple pie. Although I wouldn't call the Planet Hollywood kitchen a "home" location. Robert asked, "Do you want to take some away?"
"I've nearly exploded here," I replied. "What do I want to explode at home for?"
The place was full at lunchtime. "Office workers," said Robert helpfully. I didn't think they came from outer space.
The place mats showed Hollywood High, Class of 2009. You had fun (or not according to your attitude) identifying photos of today's major stars from their high school photos.
Our picture was taken by the Hon Orlando William Montagu, son of the 11th Earl of Sandwich. Robert's got a sandwich business with him, among many other catering enterprises. I'm glad they're not in London. I'd have to go. Then I truly would burst. That'd give you a laugh.
I've carried out a meticulous investigation into why Sparkle Direct is sending out my Winner's Dinners book, which you order on 0845 271 2135 from The Sunday Times BooksFirst bookshop. Sparkle Direct is a distribution outfit run entirely by fairies. They sit at tables in an underground tunnel sticking on my personal messages to you, wrapping the books and sending them forth. All the fairies wear little tiaras, their glittering wands leaning against the table, their wings gleaming behind them.
I noticed that if a fairy got up to go to the loo, she passed the other hard-at-work fairies, brushing against their wings, thus making a whooshy-whooshy sound as the wings flexed and returned to their natural position. If the fairy was at the end of the row nearest the loo, she didn't have to pass the other fairies. Hence no whooshing sound.
The operation is supervised by the Wizard of Wobble, who sits on a raised dais, noting in an enormous ledger, with a quill pen, exactly how many books are sent out. When you phone up to order, I bet you think you're speaking to a librarian-type person with gravitas reflecting the importance of The Sunday Times. You're not. You're speaking to a fairy. Only this column offers such valuable information. So stick with me. And buy the book.
My book launch was a triumph. Everyone was there. Sir Michael Caine, Anne Robinson, Joanna Lumley, the esteemed Sunday Times editor John Witherow, Chris Rea, Nigel Havers, Tom Conti, Steven Berkoff, the luminous Alison Sharman, head of factual programmes for ITV, who came with the chief executive, John Cresswell.
Nobody got drunk or stripped off. All behaved with propriety. You could say we had a thoroughly boring time.
In reviewing La Figa I'm surprised you didn't mention the meaning of the name. It is coarse Italian slang for vagina. I've never seen a restaurant with that name in Italy.
Matteo Galli, Cambridge
La Figa's clientele is made up almost entirely of Essex taxi drivers and plumbers who pop down the A13 for a good night out. I know. I live in the same street.
Stephanie Lehmann, London
You should have taken your friend Steven Berkoff's comments more seriously. La Figa has indeed gone off!
Piero Passet, London
The prototype of the talking wax dummy you intend to have in your house when it's open for the public on your death is already on show in Anish Kapoor's exhibition at the Royal Academy. It depicts a red wax lump moving slowly through the galleries, leaving a mess on the walls as it passes. But thankfully it's silent.
Edna Weiss, London
If I'm not important enough to come to your book launch, am I important enough to read your column? Or to live in the same country? Or to be on the same planet? Please advise.
Lillian Simpson, Cheshire
Your name is an anagram of "A Mr W, he nil nice". You could always change it by deed poll.
Steve Trebor, Buckinghamshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org