Published 28 February 2010 News Review 867th article
Michael Caine receiving his dining stars, applauded by his wife, Shakira (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I am not a regular party giver. But I recently screened episode one of Michael Winner's Dining Stars in my cinema (hope you enjoyed it on TV) for a few important nobs. These included Archie Norman, chairman of ITV; Adam Crozier, currently chief executive of Royal Mail, soon to be CE of ITV; Michael and Shakira Caine; Andrew and Madeleine Lloyd Webber; David and Carina Frost; GP (that's genius playwright) Lucy Prebble, who wrote Enron; and Alison Sharman, head of ITV factual and daytime.
When giving a party, keep everything simple. Don't serve canapés that fall apart or drip onto your guests' clothing. I offered caviar or smoked salmon on brown, gluten-free toast and Dom Pérignon champagne. My brilliant cook, Lulu, knocked the food up. Nothing fazes her: she's dynamite. I brought in a terrific waiter, Jonathan, from the Admirable Crichton. That firm also provided 17 little gold chairs for my dining table, which normally seats 10.
It was self-service from the kitchen - superb beef or chicken stroganoff, brown or white rice, salad. Easy-peasy. Very good quality. Many guests went back for seconds. With dinner the white wine was a 2002 Puligny-Montrachet; red was a 1982 Château Lynch-Bages. Plenty of iced water with lemon in jugs.
For dessert: cheesecake from the Wolseley, vanilla ice cream from Marine Ices, which comes in little packets so you can drop them out a portion at a time. They look a bit like meringues. It's the best ice cream in London if not the world. Plus a selection of fruit salads. Afterwards, liqueurs and coffee.
Geraldine was the perfect hostess; Dinah and Ruby, masterful helpers. At the end of the meal I rose to say, "I've not had such a distinguished group in the house since the bailiffs came.
"Now ... Michael Caine. I've known you for 47 years. I've dined with you many times. You are a great host but I have to consider the full dining experience ..." and so on as I do in my TV show. Finally - "Michael Caine, you will go home tonight [pause] with [bigger pause, then triumphantly] three Michael Winner dining stars." Much applause.
I screamed, "Dinah!" and she entered with the stars. Michael was thrilled. He'd been saying to his wife, Shakira, that if his cooking was judged it would get three stars. He's put the award on his shelf at home next to his Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globe awards. If I could find cooking anywhere in the country as good as Michael does it, and I mean does it, not just supervise, I'd be in heaven compared with some of the strange places I have visited.
In this Friday's show I go to the Highlands of Scotland and to Essex. I just love Essex. Cheerful, bright people, great repartee.
Natalie, my Essex girl PA, is dieting. I asked, "Have you read my diet book?" She replied, "I ate it."
For lunch I dropped in to T & J Kelly Pie & Mash in Loughton. It offered pie, mash and liquor. The liquor isn't alcoholic; it's a green sauce made with corn flour and parsley. A sign said, "Gravy now available".
Dinah pointed out the pastry was burnt on top and gooey and unfinished at the bottom. She said the potatoes had no taste. We left nearly everything. Even some eels.
There was meant to be apple pie for dessert but the owner, Bob Kelly, hadn't made any that day. So Dinah went and bought cakes and buns from a nearby shop. They were terrible beyond belief.
Clammy, tasteless muck. Not a great dining experience.
The price of mini-fame is that occasionally you come across a really atrocious journalist. Such as Jenny Johnston of the Daily Mail. She greatly upset Dinah by making her look as if she were put upon and exploited when we've been friends for 30 years, 27 of which she's worked for me.
Amid the careless reporting was that in my cinema were photos of me and Muhammad Ali (never met him), that Dinah lived in my house (she doesn't) and that I nearly married Jane Seymour. I've never met Jane Seymour. It's comforting to know such lousy journalism still exists. Makes me look good.
By contrast, a great writer is Charlie Brooker, who reviewed Dining Stars in The Guardian. He used a very rude word about me many times, but his piece was so funny that when I read it to Geraldine we had to stop again and again because we were crying with laughter.
It was overall a good review in which he said, "Winner himself plays to the cameras with more knowing skill than anyone in his own films. It's fascinating. In the end I simply admitted defeat and started laughing at and with him."
I hope you do the same with Friday's episode. A TV executive called it "the funniest hour of television I've ever seen". Did he miss Fawlty Towers and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, I wonder?
Joke from the Ritz doorman, Michael O'Dowdall: I called a pal; he said, "I can't stop, I'm driving a Toyota."
Poor Dinah May, spending all those hours washing your hair, brushing it, combing it, styling it and the old buffer leaves home without it.
John Finegan, Ireland
Congratulations to Joan, your make-up lady. Only a genius could ensure the old prune photographs like Blake Carrington, and a damn good effort with Dinah as Krystle.
Graham Thomas, Highfields, Australia
Your TV show will help me polish my Winner accent. When my wife can't sleep I read her your column in your voice. That does the trick.
Stuart Richardson, Barnet
Your tea-making at the Whitsand Bay hotel sounds disastrous. It's important to douse the tea bag with water at 100C, not cool it with milk. "May they ever die of thirst, those who put the milk in first."
Pete Wills, Hampshire
You wrote that Alison Sharman had lunch at the Setai, Miami, with her two delightful daughters and a husband. How many husbands does she have? Or was the man someone else's husband? How did she choose him? Your article leaves too many unanswered questions.
Is the public aware of the longevity of your fame? My dear old mum never stopped talking about you. Even in her dotage she kept repeating, "Who the hell is Michael Winner?"
Jerome Carroll, Paralimni, Cyprus
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email firstname.lastname@example.org