Published 22 November 2009 News Review 853rd article
Michael at the Winner's Dinners awards with two of the presenters, Joanna Lumley and Sir Michael Caine (John Rogers)
Some of you asked: "Who got the Winner's Dinners Awards?" I could say, "Shut up and buy the book", but being ever helpful I'll reveal some recipients.
Award for best restaurant in London went to the River Cafe. It was picked up by the co-owners, Lady Ruth Rogers and a sadly unwell Rose Gray. It offers, consistently, the best and tastiest food.
Charles Pullan, its restaurant manager, got best restaurant manager even though he once served every course to me not as I'd ordered. A point in his favour was that when a customer claimed (note I say claimed) to have been sick after eating their grilled salmon, Charles responded, "Did you touch a railing on the way here?" I've eaten at the River Cafe for decades. Never had so much as a hiccup.
Now I say to Charles, "I want it on record, I touched no railings on the way to you." The River Cafe waiting staff, far and away the best-looking, efficient and most cheerful bunch ever, got the best waiting award.
Best restaurant in the world went to Harry's Bar in Venice, recently decreed a national landmark by the Italian government. Arrigo Cipriani, doyen of restaurateurs, and karate black belt, came from Venice to collect it. His food is fantastic. To see his staff weave their way through closely packed tables in the bar area is like watching the Bolshoi Ballet at its most agile.
Best restaurant outside London was Sir Michael Parkinson's Royal Oak at Paley Street and the French Horn at Sonning-on-Thames. Both magical places.
Richard Caring took best restaurateur. He's the man from nowhere (the rag trade actually) who bought many of the greatest restaurants and hotels in the UK including the Ivy, Le Caprice, and J Sheekey. He created the wonderful new Scott's in Mayfair.
Best UK hotel went to the Ritz on Piccadilly, old school in the best sense of the word, and Best UK hotel group to Von Essen hotels owned by the energised, witty Andrew Davis.
The restaurant I go to most award was won by the Wolseley. Memorable food under its chef, Julian O'Neill, and the buzziest atmosphere in town. I recently sat next to super-chef Tom Aikens, nearby was multi-starred Hélène Darroze whose Connaught hotel restaurant looks awful but offers lovely grub.
The Wolseley's suave general manager, Robert Holland, shared best restaurant manager award. Owners Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, who could teach everyone a thing or two, came to get their award. I wish they'd put a piano and bar in their nearby St Alban eating house.
Daniele Roux from La Colombe d'Or flew in from the Cote d'Azur to accept her best hotel boss personality award. She can kill with a glance. Miraculously, I live.
From Barbados came John and Rain Chandler whose antique-filled colonial mansion, the Fisher Pond Great House, offers giant macaws and an 80-year-old lady pianist for entertainment.
Best hotel in Europe was the Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda, once home to Il Duce. The managing director, Markus Odermatt, came over to pick up the award. Major group of hospitality people, Unique, because they're all genuinely hospitable.
I didn't ask the duds to pick up their "worst" awards. So no Brian Ward to get worst food, service, attitude, everything award for the Cliff, Barbados. No one appeared from the Athenaeum on Piccadilly or the Marriott Grosvenor Square to admit to the worst meals.
The final award was to my prolific emailer Barry McKay. He started 2009 saying I was a useless has-been who knew nothing about food, service or anything. Somehow the mood of his emails changed and we became pen pals minus a pen. I now rely on him for at least one smile a day beaming from my laptop.
Lovely gathering. Great people. Excellent canapes from Belvedere chef Gary O'Sullivan. An event not to be repeated for four years. By then I could be a ghost.
I've just sent out 2,100 personally signed Christmas cards. "Bit early," you say. My appalling taste card promotes myself, my books, my television show. I want it on mantelpieces before it's obscured by cards with holly, snow, Santa Claus and other kitsch detritus.
I once thought only vulgar people put their photo on a Christmas card. Mine has six photos and one cartoon of me. This deserves the Guinness World Records award for the grossest display of self-indulgence ever.
My Christmas card list is a disaster. I reckon 20% are addressed to dead people who probably won't get them. Another 25% to people who have since left the address I have for them. Another 20% to people in jobs they no longer inhabit. Another 20% are to people named on my list, but I've no idea who they are. So at most 15% of my cards go to those I wish to receive them.
I'll have a huge clearout next year. I said that last year. And the year before. For now I'll post my vastly expensive Christmas card to any reader who sends their address. You can sell it via eBay. On a good day you might get 75p. Considerably less than it cost me to print, sign, envelope, stamp and post.
Your picture outside Planet Hollywood in a jacket cut for someone taller and more portly than yourself prompts me to suggest fortune smiled on you when you soiled it with sizzling chicken and beef. You can save yourself the cost of tailor's alteration by popping it into the washing machine on a long hot cycle. It will be clean and you'll have a jacket that fits. Then see if you can drop some on your trousers.
Tim Ditchfield, Hampshire
I threw some scruffy old clothes into the skip outside my house recently. I see from your photo that you helped yourself. Call in for a cuppa next time you're passing.
Marianne Bartram, Torquay
Rolf Soderlind's letter criticised Carluccio's in St Pancras for refusing to give him a lighter for his sambuca. Congratulations Carluccio's! Anything that discourages the sambuca bores has to be a good thing.
Scott Dickson, Edinburgh
The Sparkle fairies were very pleased with your kind words. The warehouse pixies were sad not to get a mention. They have red pixie shoes and bells on their green pixie hats so we know where they are all the time. They take great care packing your books.
Hannah (Wizard of Wobble) Tapping, director, Sparkle Direct Ltd, Cornwall
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email firstname.lastname@example.org