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Finally, I come face to face with a big fan

Published 21 March 2010
News Review
870th article



Adam Kenwright with Geraldine and Michael on the Everglades in Florida

My knowledge of alligators stems largely from a visit to Gator Park, Florida. It involved a trip round the Everglades in a contraption that looked like a school project gone wrong. Tacky vinyl seats, an enormous fan at the back, and our guide, named Tra, real name Arthur. Art spelt backwards is Tra. Geddit? A Russian girl, Elina, showed us to this oddity and gave me, Geraldine and my friend Adam Kenwright, some bottled water. To keep us going, I surmised, if we got lost, until help arrived. "Are you coming with us?" I asked Elina.

"No," she replied, "especially not with this guy." She pointed to Tra.

"Is he dangerous?" I asked. "You'll see," replied Elina. She wasn't kidding. We floated placidly along a waterway bordered by exotic bushes and trees. Alligators bathed by the banks; white egrets with long necks and enormous tail feathers perched and flew. There were lily pads. Large iguanas - pets abandoned by their owners - lounged on branches. It was idyllic. Then Tra said, "Hold on."

Why's he saying that, I wondered. We were doing only 3mph. Suddenly we lurched forward at 60mph. The rig skidded and slid round over the grass.

Tra was showing off big time. I clung onto the seat in front as we sideswiped and twirled and roared off again. Health and safety would not have allowed this in England.

I waved my hand for Tra to slow down. He said to Adam, "What does he want?" "He wants you to go faster," said Adam. He calls that a sense of humour. It was like the James Bond Everglades chase, which featured in Live and Let Die.

Eventually we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Tra turned from lunatic roadrunner to professor. Indicating the surrounding nature he said, "They call it river grass because the Everglades is a slow-moving river." He put his hand in the water and brought out some mud. He thought we needed to see mud. "The Everglades are 55 miles by 120 miles long," Tra continued. "There's a million and a half crocodiles in the 'Glades; further south there are alligators. If you take the bottom of the grass" - Tra grabbed some - "you can peel it and eat it. Each blade of grass is called a glade. You can also let it dry, grind it and get flour."

"Is it gluten-free?" asked Geraldine. "What we're sitting in is called an airboat," added Tra. "What would you like to do now?" Before I could answer he'd roared off again. I hung on for dear life. I could see the headlines: "Winner drowned in 1ft of Everglades mud". I fooled 'em, though. I lived.

In Miami, a trip to dinner with Michael and Shakira Caine was hindered by the fact that our lady taxi driver appeared to be on another planet. I don't know what substance she was on, but she drove at breakneck speed, then realised she had no idea where she was going. She spoke to her controller in no known language, so now two people were messing up.

Finally, Adam demanded she pull into a hotel driveway for the doormen to tell us where the restaurant was. She still passed it twice. It was one of Michael Caine's favourite Italian places, Il Gabbiano.

My starter was snails and mushrooms; then porcini ravioli with a fantastic sauce; then what they called a chocolate soufflé but wasn't. It was a chocolate cake, soft in the middle. All excellent. My only advice is: go by bus.

I had lunch at the Fontainebleau hotel. I stayed there in the 1970s on movie reconnaissance trips en route from Los Angeles to the Caribbean. My friend Terry O'Neill's most famous photo - Sinatra, his stand-in and bodyguards - was taken on the boardwalk by the Fontainebleau.

Now they've spent millions on the place. The food was dire. The tuna was horrible; they didn't have chopped liver, instead they produced some inferior foie gras; my spaghetti bolognese was mildly indifferent. The vanilla milk-shake wasn't as good as the Wolseley's but not bad. The cheesecake lacked finesse.

At Jerry's Famous Deli on Collins Avenue the portions were gargantuan. My portion of chopped liver (at least it had some) was enough for six families, crude but okay; the pickled cucumbers severe and salty; the potato pancakes (called latkes) too greasy and not as crisp as they should have been. The grapefruit was fantastic; the watermelon without pips had no taste at all. No point in removing pips if the result is that bland.

At Mr Chow in the oh-so-fashionable W hotel on South Beach the food was marvellous, ambience very buzzy, but too noisy. Piped music made it worse. The owner, Michael Chow, wore a bright yellow suit. I mentioned that his sister, the actress Tsai Chin, had been in a film of mine. He said they didn't get on. Sounds like my family.

I remain greatly impressed with the Ivy, Le Caprice and the Ivy Club. All their staff are marvellous, except Jose Torres at the Caprice and Kieron Terry at the Ivy Club. They should go for retraining.

"Tell us more," I hear you say. Won't.

So there.



Michael's missives

You state you're leaving your house to the nation. I'm in the process of changing my name to Teresa Hermione Emily Nation. Please bear this in mind when updating your will.
Anne Flynn, Alicante, Spain

If you're leaving your home and paintings to the nation and you're £6m-plus in debt, what is the love of your life going to get when you go to the great McDonald's in the sky?
Paul Bloomberg, California, USA

Love your column, love the readers' letters. Dining Stars is appalling beyond belief. As the sun sets in the west, I'm off to watch another of your programmes: they're compelling.
Jill Jackling, Buckinghamshire

So, one of the joys of making MWDS was being out meeting people, eh? Do you not have people on the streets in Holland Park, or are you banned from leaving your house in case you upset people on your street?
Nick Jones, Provence, France

I'm amazed you hold your table knife as you would a pen. I have to insist that good manners go hand in hand with good food.
Stuart Bromley, Hertfordshire

I've just returned from Barbados. At my hotel I was told they'd named a large turtle after you. When I inquired why, they said it only rarely surfaces for air, and when it does it gobbles loudly and complains.
Ashley Fox, Maidenhead

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



Your chance to dine with Michael Times+ members are invited to an exclusive "Winner's Dinner" at the Belvedere, Holland Park, London W8 on May 11, 2010. Join Michael Winner and The Sunday Times's editor, John Witherow, for a champagne reception and a three-course dinner chosen by Mr Winner. To book, please go to timesplus.co.uk