This week Michael visits Dean Street Townhouse, a restaurant and hotel with fantastic comfort food and where the millionaires come in disguise . . .
Published 10 October 2010 News Review 899th article
Outside the Dean Street Townhouse, L to R: owner Richard Caring, restaurant manager Sebastian Fogg, Michael Winner and chef Steve Tonkin. (Ed Victor)
The omnipotent Richard Caring was seated in what seemed to be the bar area of his Dean Street Townhouse, a restaurant and hotel. I thought, "We'll have a drink there and then go into the restaurant for lunch."
The restaurant faced us behind a low divide. We never moved. Apparently these few tables by the window are the best. So I had a twice-baked smoked haddock soufflé, which was among the greatest dishes ever. Followed by mince with potatoes and creamed spinach.
Richard regarded it disdainfully and said, "It looks like school dinners."
"Not my school," I responded. "It was vegetarian and they served us grass from the cricket pitch. Don't try that, Richard. You'll get sued for a fortune. Grass is totally inedible for humans. Does nasty things. Look what happened to me."
The appeal of the Dean Street Townhouse is that it serves excellent comfort food. Nick Jones of the Soho House group, now bought by Richard (what isn't?), runs this particular operation. He passed by our table looking like a derelict who'd been selling The Big Issue. That's what multi-millionaires look like today.
Richard long ago exceeded mere millions. I'd say he's into billions. He looks the part. Elegant, well coiffed, beautifully turned out. The opposite of me.
For dessert I ordered fig tart with honey ice cream. "It's very nice," said the waiter.
"As if he'd say it's a load of crap," I dictated into my recorder.
Sebastian Fogg is the restaurant manager. Used to be at the Ivy (another Caring acquisition), then he jumped ship to the Monkey Club in New York. Now he's here. "He's more than a restaurant manager - he's been with us a while," said Richard. "He's exactly our image."
"This man doesn't shave, he's got an open-necked shirt and a jacket that doesn't fit, he hasn't combed his hair for seven years and his boss says, 'That's our image'," I said with incredulity.
"It's the Soho House image," explained Richard.
Sebastian is good at the job. It was nice to see someone worse dressed than me.
Richard said, "Would you like to meet the chef?"
"Why not?" I replied. He was called for. "Has he got a white hat?" I asked Richard.
"Yes," was the reply.
"Do you think he'll wear the white hat when he comes out?" I asked.
"Absolutely," said Richard.
The chef, Steve Tonkin, did not wear a white hat. He didn't even have his name embroidered on his tunic. I congratulated him on the grub. Then we went to have our photo taken.
On the way out we passed my literary agent, the doyen of them all, Ed Victor.
"Ed, can you take a photo?" I asked.
"My father owned a photo shop," replied Ed indignantly.
"My father owned a tailor's shop. I can't make suits. I asked if you could take a photo," I said.
"Will I get a credit?" asked Ed.
"If the photo comes out, yes," I replied. "If not you'll get a bollocking." The photo came out. Thanks, Ed.
As for the rest of you, stand by and see how many iconic restaurants Richard Caring buys in the next 12 months. He gave me a clue. Even I was impressed.
The first person to write about my judging food was the columnist Roderick Mann. In the Seventies I used to rate people's meals at their homes. Lost a few friends doing that.
Roddy, a former battle of Britain pilot, came from an extinct breed of show business writers who actually knew their subjects. He was engaged to Kim Novak; his best friend was Cary Grant.
I lunched with Roddy at the Wolseley when he visited from Los Angeles. Cary Grant left Roddy all his clothes. Since Grant nicked everything he wore in any film, it was a valuable collection. Imagine the auction price for the Cary Grant suit from Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest with the crop-spraying plane behind him as Cary ran along a country road. I asked Roddy why he didn't flog them. He seemed frightened of Grant's widow, Barbara, whom Cary met when she was PR at London's Royal Lancaster hotel.
Roddy interviewed me many times. As with far bigger stars, each article was witty and informative without being unkind. None left like that.
A Los Angeles story: Clark Gable, when king of the movies, asked to see the small-time agent Abe "Abby" Greschler. He's real - I knew him. At breakfast in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills hotel, Gable said: "I'm thinking of changing my representation. I'm considering your agency, Mr Greschler."
Abby couldn't believe his luck. The biggest star in Hollywood might be his. "We can achieve things for you, sir. I have ideas," he responded.
Gable looked at him piercingly.
"There's just one thing, Mr Greschler," he continued. "Are you Jewish?"
"Not necessarily," Abby replied.
Jeremy King, Wolseley co-owner and restaurateur supreme, points out they did not open the Wolseley serving Tufa as I told you. It was the late St Alban that started with a water I hated - Portuguese Carvalhelhos, which could generously be described as grim. I moaned. The restaurant changed to Malvern, which I drink at home. What better reference could anything have?
A view of an empty car park seems a bit steep for a £2,000-a-night suite at La Reserve de Beaulieu. Then I noticed a distant vehicle, possibly an old Rolls having the trip meter put back a few miles in order to earn several thousand quid from a terminally innocent old millionaire now heavily in debt.
Ken King, London
May I please have a signed photo. We'll put it above the fireplace to keep the grandchildren away from the fire!
Charles Gordos, Wolverhampton
My birthday is also on October 30. We've booked the City Cafe, Birmingham. Why not join us? My elderly parents need someone to entertain them.
Mike Peachey, Solihull
Your visit to the Waltham Abbey Marriott intrigued me. You have your own hairdresser, yet no toothbrush. I'm assuming your hair and teeth are all yours.
Ian Mead, Barnsley
I saw this notice in a hospital car park: "Beware, thieves operate here!" "Who'd want to be operated on by a thief? roared my husband.
Hilda Garfield, Hertfordshire
At John Campbell's restaurant in Coworth Park I was served a teeny-weeny portion of pilchard with colourful smears. Perhaps there's a world shortage of pilchard? We only got the "p". It would not have looked out of place all on one fork.
Barry McKay, Berkshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email email@example.com