Published 29 August 2010 News Review 893rd article
Michael outside Côte with Alex Scrimgeour and Louise Hill (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I'm the world expert on Kensington High Street. I should have chosen it as my Mastermind subject. I moved into a flat in my present residence (later turning the house into one unit) in 1946. Ken High was a few yards to the south.
My first published article, on September 8, 1950, was about the child star John Howard Davis (Oliver in David Lean's Oliver Twist), who lived nearby. I was 14 years old. My peak writing period.
I also wrote about Trevor Bowen. "Who's that?" you ask. He was boss of Barkers, the High Street's biggest shop. The war delayed the building of its second tower. It turned into Biba. Now, like all the big High Street stores, it's broken into iddly-piddly little units. A national newspaper has offices where once ladies' lingerie ruled. Its employees often go to Côte, just south of the High Street.
My lovely receptionist Ruby adored its Soho branch. I thought, "A Winner receptionist and a gaggle of hacks, whada they know?" I was wrong.
Côte is fantastic. It's cheap and cheerful from Richard Caring, the man who also owns many of the classiest restaurants and hotels in the world. Old-timers in the hospitality industry scoffed when he arrived from the schmatta trade. Today they're riven by jealousy.
I was outside with the chef, Alex Scrimgeour, and the charming manager, Louise Hill. I asked Alex, "Do you work here?" "The answer to that is yes and no," he replied.
I asked again, "Do you work here?" Alex said, "I'm the executive chef." "Do you work in this branch?" I persisted.
"Sometimes," said Alex. Eventually he let on (deep secret, should only be known by MI5) that he worked at the group's head office.
Once inside, I asked Alex, "What should I eat?" "We're known for our steaks," he responded.
"Which one should I have? I asked. "Rib eye, sirloin, fillet, all of those," Alex declared.
I dictated into my tape, "He can't give a precise answer, this man. He's got a problem." I continued patiently, "Of the three, Alex, suggest one." He chose the rib eye.
Alex was executive chef at the Wolseley after Chris Galvin. I thought he improved the food.
The grub at Côte is amazing and remarkably inexpensive. From Monday to Friday, noon to 7pm, it does a two-course meal for £9.95, three courses for £11.90. It's now my staff's favourite. The food is tasty, fresh, beautifully prepared. Although when my assistant Dinah went, two of the three set menu starters were off. As Oscar Wilde said, "To lose one starter may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness."
The room is spacious, tables generously spaced. Service slow for my main course, otherwise exemplary. I started with fantastic goat's cheese tartine. Followed by steak and very good chips. Geraldine thought my béarnaise sauce incredible. "It's just like a French bistro," she said. Pity about the piped, boom-boom beat music. If it's trying to be French, why not Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf? My dessert was crème caramel; Geraldine's, chocolate mousse. Both superb. For the grand finale, Alex changed his title. "I'm food and beverage director for Côte Holdings," he announced. Information ain't his speciality. Luckily, food is.
I hate phone calls from people trying to sell something. Most are just a recording, "Hi there ..." My friend Robert Mitchum said in an interview, "I don't see why any bum with two cents should be allowed to intrude on my life." He and my pal Victor Mature were the best interviewees ever. They're gone. My acquaintance Hugh Grant is alive and good. Sadly, he's stopped being interviewed.
I also hate packaging. It's all plastic or processed rubbish which defies tearing, knifing, hydrogen bombs, killer dogs. I tried to open a carton of organic goat's cheese. Ended up hitting it with a hammer, attacking it with a chisel, throwing it against the wall. Geraldine came in, and with a flick of her wrist it was open. Whadaya mean, "Why are you eating organic goat's cheese?" For dinner, to keep weight down, I eat practically nothing. Two glasses of tomato juice is a big meal. Strange, when I write a column called Winner's Dinners.
Moishe is in the desert standing behind trestle tables, selling ties. A Taliban staggers up and says, "You Jewish bastard, I should shoot you. But I need water."
Moishe says, "Water I don't do. I do ties, silk, wool. Here's a nice one - blue with white spots."
The Taliban says, "Gimme water, you pig."
Moishe says, "You want water, go over that sand dune there. Turn left. Walk a mile, take a right, go over two more sand dunes. There you'll find a restaurant. It does water."
The Taliban lurches off, returns two hours later, parched, tongue cracked, in a terrible state. "I'll have the blue one with white spots," he says. "I should slit your throat. I get to the restaurant and your f****** brother says he won't let me in without a tie."
In the photos you have your arms around other people. Is this for support or to prevent them from escape? Derek da Costa, Antibes, France While Bloom's was a time warp it was much better than Reubens in Baker Street, which is dull and overpriced. Bloom's had the world's rudest waiters. One of my party ordered a drink, saying, "Make sure the glass is clean, please." When he returned the waiter asked, "Who wanted the clean glass?" Those guys made the place great.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire
Screaming kids are no problem. Thinking my wife's hearing was failing I asked my doctor's advice. "Stand far away from the kitchen and call out, 'What's for dinner?' " he suggested. I started from the hall. No response. Tried from the sitting room. Still no response. No response when I tried from the kitchen door, so I went in, tapped my wife on the shoulder and asked again. "Are you deaf? I've told you three times," she said.
Tim Burton, Wokingham
When we were delayed by a motorway accident, Cheltenham's Le Champignon Sauvage told us last orders were 1.15pm. It seemed we'd arrive five minutes late, so we offered to select from the menu over the phone and leave credit card details. This was dismissed with the curt advice that the restaurant adhered to a fixed time for last orders. I wonder if it would have been as tough on you?
Des King, Warwickshire
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