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An honorary guest for every occasion

Published 7 March 2010
News Review
868th article

Michael at the 18th birthday party of Rachel Keating at Bella Italia in Solihull (Dinah May)

In Solihull - which may be part of Birmingham - the locals told me, when I asked what I should do, to go shopping. I hate shops, except small ones. I'm not even mad about those. The last time I went to a supermarket I was so incensed there were people in front of me in the queue for the till I left my trolley and walked out.

In Solihull, seen on Michael Winner's Dining Stars this Friday, I entered a shopping mall and blew up a teddy bear. Not with a nuclear weapon - on a machine. You speak into a little recording device, stick it in the bear and then blow it up with a foot pump. I'd recorded a romantic message to Geraldine inserted in a panda. The bear came out with hysterical calls for Dinah.

At one o'clock we ended up in Bella Italia, Unit 52, Touchwood Court, Mill Lane, Solihull, West Midlands B91 3GS. Put that in your sat nav if you're planning to go for New Year's Eve.

It's quite a jolly place, a poor imitation of a 1950s MGM movie Italian restaurant. Next to us was an 18th birthday party for Rachel Keating, complete with balloons. I posed with them for the record - "What record?" I hear you ask.

Our waiter was Matthew Stein, a fey gentleman, not without charm. Dean Martin sang, sang and sang as we waited for Matthew to bring some garlic bread. It was six small baguettes with a lot of cheese on top. Dreadful. I couldn't eat more than a nibble.

Joan, my make-up lady, said, "It needs more garlic."

Dinah said, "Mmm", trying to extract gooey cheese from her teeth. They quite liked it.

I'd ordered "linguine pasta with chicken, mushroom and red onions". After a long wait, Matthew promised the main course "in three minutes". Nothing came.

I said to Matthew, "You told me 15 minutes ago the food would be here in three minutes."

"You need a new watch," responded Matthew.

"I don't need a new watch, I need some food," I said. "Go and throttle the chef, Matthew. Pick him up and shake him."

"Don't walk out, Michael," pleaded Dinah. She's seen me throw a tantrum or 10.

Matthew at last came with the food.

"See this watch which you maligned, Matthew?" I said. "This is a serious, white gold Patek Philippe."

"I believe you," he said dismissively.

My pasta wasn't bad. Dinah's tuna salad got her approval and Joan liked her risotto with roasted hot peppers.

For dessert Matthew recommended the "cioccolato napoletano: smooth and creamy milk and white chocolate mousse, layered upon a dark chocolate truffle base served with cream". It was quite good.

Happy Birthday played through the speakers, thus dumping my hero Dean Martin for a few seconds. Matthew came in with a cake. We got up and went back to grabbing people on the streets for robust conversation. As parodied by Harry Hill in his TV Burp programme last Saturday.

  • For the MWDS filmed in Blairgowrie, I stayed at the Ballathie House hotel in Perth. My room had a great view of the Tay and two fields, one with sheep, the other with bales of hay.

    My lunchtime club sandwich was atrocious. I understood why the Reserve de Beaulieu, my regular August spot on the French Riviera, charges £50 for a club sandwich which is great, when this one, whatever it cost, wasn't worth eating. Dinah had local fresh salmon and seafood salad and declared it very good. My strawberry pavlova was okay. The shortbread biscuits were excellent; the bread roll, dire.

    Breakfast came speedily but without a cup, saucer, or spoon. Luckily they were already in the room, with the instant coffee and kettle, so I didn't have a fit.

  • I recently lunched at Bibendum on the Fulham Road, a superb restaurant. The food is simple; the room, in the old Michelin building, one of the best in London. Comfortable, with marvellous acoustics. The senior sous-chef, Tam Storrar, was on. Couldn't tell the difference from the normal chef, Matthew Harris. The restaurant manager, Karim Miftah, is excellent.

    Another of my favourite restaurants, the River Cafe, lost Rose Gray, its co-owner and chef. She died of cancer last week. Rose was a great, simple cook - a real lady. Her last public appearance was at my Winner's Dinners awards. I'll miss her.

  • Last week I was the subject of Piers Morgan's Life Stories for ITV1. When Piers was editor of the Daily Mirror OJ Simpson came to London, just after his first trial. Piers got a photo of OJ and me in my Rolls. The headline was: "The most despised man in Britain with his friend OJ Simpson". Very funny.

  • A joke: Mrs Cohen is caught shoplifting. The judge intones, "You stole a packet of 12 asparagus sticks, so I sentence you to 12 days in jail."

    Her husband, Hymie, says, "Excuse me, m'lud, she also stole two packs of peas."

    Michael's missives

    Congratulations on your new TV programme. The idea was from 1990, the jokes from 1970 and the old tart on screen was prehistoric. It was most enjoyable.
    Matthew Atkinson, London

    My wife wanted to watch Embarrassing Bodies but I said we could get the best of both worlds with your programme. She wasn't disappointed.
    Peter Grundy, Newcastle upon Tyne

    ITV announced that the following programme featured one of Britain's most celebrated restaurant critics. Imagine my surprise when you hoved into view.
    Nick Abbott, by email

    In your photo with the great Michael Caine there appear to be bars at the windows of your house. Are they to keep the burglars out or the lunatics in?
    Phil Webb, Essex

    At last - an objective, honest, no-holds-barred analysis by Michael of where to experience historic food, well prepared, well served and with wonderful ambience. I'm convinced. May I book a table for four next Saturday, 8pm, at Chez Winner? I'll be bringing the Pope, Nelson Mandela and Tiger Woods. Michael Caine couldn't make it. Food poisoning, I think.
    Tim Burton, Berkshire

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