Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

Arriving in style to find a hidden gem

Published 11 April 2010
News Review
873rd article

Michael outside the Falcon Inn with Sally Facer, left, and Dee Chambers (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

They say there's no such thing as a free lunch. I don't take 'em so I wouldn't know. But there's no such thing as a free car ride. I decided to do a Jeremy Clarkson and test a car. Not drive it. Not find out if it takes half a second to get from 0 to 163mph and similar weird information. Just sit in it. So a Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed - £140,000 on the road - took me to Oundle for my one-man show.

You might think if you were getting a car to write about, the Bentley PR department that provided it would send details of what car it was and some specifications. I got those later only after asking twice. You might think the PR department would give you the name and mobile phone number of its driver. It did. Both wrong. It was said the idiot of the family went into the church. Now the idiot of the family goes into PR. After all, David Cameron was once PR for Michael Green's TV company, Carlton Communications.

The Bentley turned up a bit late. The driver explained traffic was heavy. What do people expect when they drive on roads? No traffic? I'm never late because I allow for traffic being greater than normal. As proud owner of a 1975 Bentley I have to admit the 2010 version is sleeker, has fantastic roadholding and is very comfortable and rakish in the appealing way the old Bentleys used to be.

The seats were off-white leather; a lot of the rest was black carbon fibre or black leather. It's the perfect car for a very rich young man. Not for a childish retard who's £9m in debt. If you win the lottery, get a Flying Spur Speed. Call Jeremy Clarkson to tell you about the technical side.

We drove to the Falcon Inn, Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire. Log fire burning. On the blackboard: "Fresh orange juice".

I asked Sally Facer, the owner, "Was that squeezed here this morning?"

She replied, "No, it was squeezed up the road yesterday."

"That's not fresh, Sally," I said. "Fresh is squeezed when the customer orders it." Oranges were found in the kitchen. Things brightened.

The friendly manager, Dee Chambers, led us to an atrium extension. Faced with dreaded Hildon water, I chose Fotheringhay tap. Far superior.

It's a very elegant pub. The bread was exemplary, hot, just out of the oven. I've never eaten better. My rabbit rillette was truly historic. Soft, tasty, fresh, great texture, marvellous chutney. My grilled plaice was thick, juicy, hot. No nicer fish could you possibly want.

The pressed chocolate cake with burnt caramel ice cream was appalling. I switched to the panettone bread and butter pudding with seville orange marmalade and ice cream. That was great.

This place is a find. Fotheringhay is a lovely village, birthplace of King Richard III and where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded after being locked up for 12 years in Fotheringhay castle. Historic, you see, in more senses than one.

  • Every bit as important as the food are the restaurant staff who supposedly look after you. Hospitality, that much misused word, is sometimes present, frequently not. At the Falcon Inn the good cheer and professionalism of the ladies Facer and Chambers was exemplary. They dealt with everything from reservation to service with immense charm.

    More than I can say for Jose Torres, assistant restaurant manager at Le Caprice. When I phoned to book a specific table he told me it wasn't available and the restaurant was fully booked. So I reserved elsewhere. Then he rang back to say the restaurant wasn't fully booked and I could have the table I wanted.

    I was already committed to the River Cafe. Best staff in town. Vashti Armit, a perfect manager; my waitress, Melanie Rizzo, smiley and highly efficient. Not like Kieron Terry at the Ivy Club - I find him pompous and unhelpful. Pity, because in general the Caprice and Ivy staff are superb. I greatly like both places.

  • I hope you're coming to the Belvedere in Holland Park to dine with me on May 11. It's a marvellous room in what was part of a Jacobean mansion. If you turn up Melbury Road to get there you'll see my house floodlit with 168 exterior bulbs. Great to deter burglars. Then you'll be greeted by me, my adorable fiancee Geraldine (I'm trying to persuade her to do a tap dance for you) and the editor of The Sunday Times, John Witherow.

    The room is decorated with millions of pounds' worth of artwork by Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, part of the owner's private collection. Parking is adjacent and free. The surrounding park is the best in London. I shall be imparting words of wit and wisdom (briefly, so as not to upset the chef, Gary O'Sullivan) before dinner.

    Over coffee I'll perform a potted version of my one-man show and take questions, however saucy. The whole caboodle, pre-dinner champagne and canap├ęs, a signed copy of my Winner's Dinners book, a three-course meal chosen by me with wines to match, is £150 a head. Call 0844 412 2953 to book. I greatly look forward to meeting you.

    Michael's missives

    Given your state as photographed outside Amberley Castle, I conclude you were with your rescuers, who'd just fished you out of the moat.
    Marianne Bartram, Devon

    Better than an anti-ageing cream, as you proved last week, is to stand well away from the camera.
    Don Roberts, Cheshire

    I realise at your age it must be difficult to remember where you go, but the last time I went to Pere Bise (which was appalling) it was on Lake Annecy, not Lake Geneva.
    Steven Peters, London

    You missed nothing by not staying at the Auberge du Pere Bise. The arrogance of Madame Bise is legendary. At 5.30am staff breakfast was served in the car park outside our suite. Madame said there were no other rooms, but a young American couple had checked out after entering the restaurant at 7.30 and quitting at midnight without dessert.
    Norman Freedman, Middlesex

    My fondest wish is to be a food critic. At a local restaurant I declined a table for two and selected one that seated four. During the meal I loudly dictated disparaging comments into my tape recorder. When the staff were less than attentive I waved my napkin. Finally I summoned the owner and chef to ask if my young girlfriend could photograph us together. They told me to f*** off. What am I doing wrong?
    Ben Hodgkiss, Worcestershire

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