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Sorry, boss, but I think it's back to square one

Published 13 December 2009
News Review
856th article



Michael outside Kitchen W8 with Peter McKay and Jennifer Howard (Jim Sharkey)

At the end of shooting on The Nightcomers, Marlon Brando made a speech calling us ships that pass in the night. In his autobiography he wrote that my film was the only one he enjoyed making.

Marlon and I didn't pass; we stayed together for more than three decades. He was a great telephoner. A year before he died Marlon rang and said, "Y'know, Michael, I've decided nearly all my friends were good-time friends. I reckon I've only got five real friends in the world. I like to think you're one of them."

"If you've got five real friends, Marlon, you're doing very well," I responded.

A ship that passes me in the night is Peter McKay, who writes a witty column in a national newspaper. We first met in 1969. Years later we lunched at Assaggi. Marvellous food. Indescribably noisy. Our third lunch was a couple of weeks ago. Three meals in 40 years. Not major bonding.

I chose Kitchen W8, recently opened near my house. The boss, Philip Howard, has a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, the Square in Bruton Street, where he does great food and historic doughnuts. Philip also created the Ledbury in Notting Hill. I hated it. Overfussed, tasteless, pompous cooking.

When Philip rang to tell me about the arrival of Kitchen, I said, "I hope it's nice and simple." Philip assured me it would be. The doyenne of food critics, Fay Maschler, wrote in the Evening Standard it seemed very elaborate for a local restaurant.

I had an awful time with a rude receptionist when I phoned to make a booking. The general manager, Eric Handts, ignored us. The head waiter offered a table. We waited and waited. There were only two other diners. Eric walked by right to left, ignoring Peter and me.

I dictated into my tape recorder, "He knows we're here. He's a host - why isn't he hospitable? Why is no one taking an order? They do sell food, don't they?" Finally the head waiter took our order. Later Philip's wife introduced herself as "Jenny". She was pretty and charming.

The pumpkin and onion bread was cold, tasteless and dreary. My starter of foie gras mousse with raisin purée, fruit bread and parmesan was highly liquid, served in a steep-rimmed bowl with a fork. Very difficult to eat. Needed a spoon. Not great.

My main course was described as "whole dover sole with lemon and parsley butter". It wasn't. They do a fantastic whole dover sole at Scalini in Knightsbridge. There you get the side juicy bits, the roe, everything except head and tail. The Kitchen sole was trimmed, had no soft, generous texture. It was dry and shrivelled.

Eric at last appeared to serve Peter's main course. He continued to ignore me. Four more people came in. "A rush," I said to Peter.

"It's still not like Sardi's after an opening night," he observed. Sardi's is the New York "in" place packed to confusion after theatre events. The Kitchen is minimalist, unwelcoming and packed with empty tables.

My warm chocolate pudding with hazelnut praline and vanilla ice cream was good. I dictated, "Peter says the Christmas pudding was the best he's ever had."

"The best he's likely to get," corrected Peter. What's the difference? Lunch cost £113.90. Only alcohol: two glasses of pinot noir. Not cheap.

Outside the street was being dug up.

What street isn't? I deliberately left the cone in our photo for cone enthusiasts.



  • Here's a laugh. I just did Celebrity Mastermind for the BBC. No, that's not the laugh, there's another one. As recompense a cheque was to be sent to my charity, the Police Memorial Trust. We gave the address and all details in writing.

    To send a cheque to a named charity isn't difficult, is it? A trained gorilla could do that. But it's more than the twits producing Mastermind can manage. They sent the cheque to the wrong charity at a different address. I pay a licence fee for that idiocy.

    I was going to suggest the Mastermind team be transferred to Watch with Mother to "produce" Andy Pandy and the Flowerpot Men. But they'd obviously make a mess of that too.



  • Staying on the ridiculous, how about the American Express boss Raymond Joabar? He took over a year ago from Ramon Martin, a man so silly he stopped my credit when I was spending more than £350,000 a year and paid every Amex bill promptly for 43 years. I had him write to suppliers personally to apologise.

    In the past 12 months I've spent more than £280,000 with Amex. I wanted to redeem my reward points. Always a nightmare. I'd told Ramon Martin that, then Raymond Joabar. Joabar said he'd fix it. He didn't.

    If you like frustration go to the Amex website and try to locate the catalogue showing what you should be able to get. Then give up and throw yourself out of the basement window.



  • I've sent more than 600 of my vulgar Christmas cards to readers. First-class stamps. Some to Dubai, Australia, Thailand and other places where postage is so expensive I'm cancelling my Christmas turkey. Grieve for me.



    Michael's missives

    You said of the TV crew, "Incompetence like that drives me bananas." We'll soon be deprived of your sparkling wit and sartorial surprises as you'll be confined in a secure asylum. Are you not aware of the scourge sweeping the planet? Far worse than swine flu. It's called Gross Incompetence.
    Michael Phillips, Solihull

    You put down TV staff seeking a Rolls-Royce replacement with, "It's amazing you didn't suggest a 20-year-old Ford Corsair." If you find a 20-year-old Ford Corsair - buy it. It's worth a few bob. Ford stopped making them 39 years ago!
    Ross Barnett, Manchester

    You complained TV people booked you a gloomy room facing the car park at the hotel De Tuilerieen, Bruges. Our room was bright and overlooked the canal. I guess my name has more resonance than yours.
    Richard Harris, Middlesex

    I only get two Christmas cards: from my wife and from my bank manager who thinks I'll leave the country owing more money even than you. So please send a card. I can sell it on eBay. Or, better still, send it back to you after Christmas so you can use it again.
    Bob Donovan, Staffordshire

    You're not properly appreciated. The hospitality industry needs its balloon pricked. They're cooks and bed makers for heaven's sake. Not lords of the universe.
    Raymond Catchpole, Suffolk

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