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The best way to Europe? It all points to Eurostar

Our columnist does not usually do train journeys, but he will in the future. But only on the Eurostar

Published 31 October 2010
News Review
902nd article

A bird? A plane? What are Michael and Boris gesturing towards? Answers, please . . . (Dwayne Senior)

Clive Conway, who organised some of my one-man shows around the country, said he had a nice Jaguar car and driver. I replied, "I don't do Jaguars."

"There's a very good motorway to Wales," he said.

"I don't do motorways," I responded.

"The train service is excellent," offered Clive.

"I don't do trains," I told him. So why was I on the Eurostar to Brussels? My beloved fiancee, Geraldine, adores Eurostar. She uses it to visit her family in Paris. Her future daughter-in-law, Ayako Ueno, was in Voyageur Immobile in a Brussels theatre. A marvellous mime, magic, dance and music event. Amazing staging. Ayako led a terrific Spanish dance where the cast had brown paper stuck to their feet so they rustled.

Eurostar is amazing. In two hours and five minutes you're in Brussels. The staff are charming, cheerful and efficient. Its elegant St Pancras first-class lounge offers free drinks, snacks, fruit and what have you. The train has comfy seats with leather headrests and a table.

Eurostar's PR, Lesley Retallack, explained that naked flames were not allowed (health and safety) so food was airline style. Meaning reheated. Guaranteed death for good meals. The menu offered organic couscous salad (hate couscous). I had "award-winning Lingfield pork sausages with Kent apple chutney, winter vegetables pave and steamed winter greens". Less said, the better. The dessert, bramley apple tart, was . . . oh, forget it. The bread, prepared by "Sally Clarke's bakery", might have been okay when fresh but had become hard and tasteless. Why not heat before serving?

I enjoyed the trip both ways. Coming back, the security at Brussels was absurd. I had to put my coat, jacket and gold Patek Philippe watch through the x-ray machine. Even airport security never asked for jacket and watch. You showed passports once, then again at the "UK border control - Home Office" booth, where there was a long queue. Why inconvenience me while 6m bizarre people come to the UK daily who are up to no good? That's a crass, non-PC remark. Too bad. I will do trains in future. But only Eurostar.

  • The French make bad-taste jokes about the Belgians just as we did (do?) about the Irish, and Americans about the Poles. I found the Belgians delightfully courteous.

    Geraldine chose a restaurant she'd been to when working at a theatre in Brussels. When we got to La Manufacture Geraldine protested, "This is not the restaurant I meant."

    "We only came because of you," I responded.

    It looked very Victorian. We settled at a shiny-topped table. I asked for champagne and orange juice, got only orange juice, became overexcited and set the menu on fire with a low-burning candle.

    The first courses took for ever. I asked the waitress, "Where is the food?"

    She replied, "Nothing is prepared before: it's prepared in the time - it's better for you," and she smiled a nice smile.

    Geraldine had tuna carpaccio, Ayako had gazpacho and I had pate. It was all cold, only had to be carried from kitchen to table. But it was good. I followed with sole meuniere with crisply fried parsley, veggies and magnificent chips. We all liked our main course. For dessert: mandarin, lychee and strawberry sorbet and something called violet ice cream. It was a no-effort place. You didn't have to work at it, as you do in many restaurants.

    The next day we lunched at the Belga Queen. Another very old room with a lovely stained-glass ceiling, comfortable chairs and tables. I had "oven-roasted cuckoo from Malines on gingerbread with pear syrup on top, home-made chips and a mixed salad with cider vinaigrette". Never eaten cuckoo before. And I still haven't - it was a light chicken. Splendid. The staff peeled my starter of langoustine and shrimps.

    The dessert menu included "biscuit miserable", translated underneath as "miserable biscuit". I didn't dare try that. I was not put on earth to console biscuits. I had "Brussels waffles, whipped cream, home-made vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce". "Very typical," said the waiter. Great waffle, possibly even better than Gary served at the Beverly Hills Hotel coffee shop in the 1970s.

    You won't hear bad-taste jokes about the Belgians from me. I'll reserve my tasteless remarks for everything else.

  • Readers ask: "Why a photo of you and Boris when you've written about the Eurostar and Brussels? Are you showing off that you meet famous people?" Possibly.

    Actually, the photos on Eurostar didn't come out well. We didn't take any at the restaurants. Three hundred pounds to the first reader to say precisely why Boris and I are pointing and at what. Funny entries accepted.

    Currently, I'm sending out the place cards for my 70th and 75th birthdays, signed by Geraldine and me. They feature an unbelievably handsome photo of me in 1957.

    I look so good I could turn gay just to have me. Geraldine looked lovely then. She still does. And/or a signed photo of MW. What more could anyone want?

    Michael's missives

    You wearing a white shirt and tie last week is revealing. If you added a shawl and grew your hair a bit, you could direct yourself in the title role of a new television series of Miss Marple.
    David Warboys, Nerja, Spain

    Reading your column over breakfast my two-year-old son, Elliott, lifted his spoon and deposited a dollop of porridge on your head. Impeccable discernment for one so young.
    Phil Rawlings, Surrey

    I'd like a signed photo, please. As a university lecturer who sometimes finds his students lack attention, a photo of you as they enter my lecture room may shock them into wakefulness and make them appreciate that there are worse fates in life than my lectures.
    Martin Ford Williams, Newport

    Your photo has pride of place above our dining table. I could just about handle my wife's comments on my cooking, but two critics staring over each plateful is unnerving. When my five-year-old daughter starts on me, your picture is coming down.
    Stuart Richardson, Hertfordshire

    At the Savoy's new River Room restaurant there were no tablecloths, £28 per glass for pink champagne and after the main course we still felt hungry. It seems to have gone back to small nouvelle cuisine portions and decorated plates. The bill for two was more than £200. We'll not be returning. I eagerly await your assessment.
    Laurence Prince, London

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