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Great burger – but I’d like some hospitality

When I rang Bar Boulud, seeking the restaurant manager, a haughty French voice asked, 'What do you want to talk to him about?'
Published 7 November 2010
News Review
903rd article

Michael at Bar Boulud with, from left, Stephen Macintosh, the chef Dean Yasharian and Terry O'Neill (Arno Leibscher)

I arrived at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Knightsbridge, at 12.50pm. "Good morning," I said to the doorman. "It's not morning, it's afternoon," he responded. That's how not to greet a customer.

I went through to the new "in" place, Bar Boulud. I'd heard its receptionists were rude. The wife of a famous movie star rang to book at 8pm. A snooty French voice intoned, "You can only come at 6pm."

You may ask: "Why should a big star be treated differently?" Because restaurants can always jiggle bookings. Example: Hymie goes to the theatre, says, "I want two tickets." The manager responds, "We're sold out." Hymie says, "So if the Queen came, you wouldn't let her in?" The manager says, "If Her Majesty arrives we'll find a place for her." Hymie says, "I got news for you: the Queen's not coming. I'll have her tickets."

When I rang Bar Boulud, seeking the restaurant manager, a haughty French voice asked, "What do you want to talk to him about?" As if I were unworthy to speak to someone that important.

I should have said, "I want to talk to him about going to Siberia on a yak." She had no idea who I was. She hadn't known the movie star. Receptionists nowadays come from countries where the population recognise only their mothers.

Eventually I got the maitre d', Paulo de Tarso, who'd served me before. He's professional and charming. I lunched with Terry O'Neill, now super-rich from selling prints of his great photos.

The place is a swish cafe, no tablecloths - "Saves a fortune on laundry," said Michael Caine later - comfy chairs, two rooms, one with a bar, one with a kitchen view. The pictures on the wall looked like ink smudges. Terry was sitting.

"I don't do small tables," I announced to the now attentive staff. They moved us.

The general manager, protected by this bevy of horrific foreigners, was Stephen Macintosh. He's good.

"Your jacket looks great," observed Terry as we studied the menu.

"Made for me 23 years ago," I explained. "Looks like you bought it yesterday," said Terry. I could see why he was so successful with the ladies.

Managers came in droves, offering their mobile numbers on printed cards. "With all these people coming over, I'm exhausted already," said Terry. "Don't they know what they're doing giving you those cards? They're signing their own death warrants."

The bread was first rate; so was my bouillabaisse. Not up to the standard of Tétou in Golfe-Juan, but very good.

We'd heard Boulud's burgers were sensational. My "today's special", a DB burger made of sirloin pate, short rib and foie gras, was too fancy. I nicked a bit of Terry's New York burger with cheese. That was excellent.

We rated hamburgers. Terry put Le Caprice first, Bar Boulud a shade under, then the Ivy and the Wolseley. I put the Ivy first, then Bar Boulud, then Le Caprice, then the Wolseley, which would do better if it cooked its hamburgers as ordered.

My dessert was a superb flourless chocolate sponge, hot chocolate sauce, mint ice cream and chocolate sorbet. The macaroons were fantastic. Bar Boulud deserves its new-found London fame.

I returned with Michael and Shakira Caine and the Lloyd Webbers. The owner, the chef Daniel Boulud, was there from New York. Michael Caine said, "If I opened another restaurant it would be like this." I even discovered Bar Boulud has its own street entrance. Specially put there so I can avoid the rude hotel doorman.

  • This from Trevor Richardson in Wirral: Hymie is sitting on a bench; looks terrible - dishevelled, sloppy, depressed.

    The rabbi says, "Hymie, pull yourself together. I'm going away for three weeks. Go out and meet people, get a hobby - a hobby would be good."

    The rabbi returns. Hymie's a changed man: bright, smart, happy - totally different demeanour. The rabbi says, "You look great, Hymie."

    Hymie responds, "I owe it to you, rabbi. I did as you said: I got myself a hobby."

    The rabbi asks, "What hobby?"

    Hymie replies, "Bees. I keep bees. I'm a beekeeper."

    The rabbi exclaims, "But you've only got a one-room apartment - where do you keep bees?" Hymie produces a matchbox from his pocket. "I keep them in this box," he explains.

    The rabbi says, "You can't keep bees in a box like that. They'll die."

    Hymie says, "Sure they die. Screw 'em."

  • Laurence Prince, who wrote last week about his miserable experience in the River Room restaurant of the poshed-up Savoy hotel, adds: "They didn't even give us petits fours with the coffee." Unbelievable, to quote my new book's title.

    Having spent billions and taken years to restore and redecorate the Savoy, the staff can't even afford to give guests petits fours in the hotel's most famous dining room. What is the world coming to?

  • I'm now on Twitter as Mr Michael Winner. My friend Sir M Caine got 14,000 followers on his first day. I've been on six weeks and have 2½ followers. It's humiliating. Save me.

    Michael's missives

    Regarding last week's photo of you and Boris pointing: you're dancing the tango as an elegiac fandango to the departure of your youth.
    Brigid Brogan, Co Tyrone, Ireland

    You're rehearsing moves for the synchronised swimming display at the 2012 Olympics.
    Neil Stevens, Hertfordshire

    Boris: "On the third day, we'll put the Olympic village over there."
    Nigel Howarth, Cheshire

    Winner: "I prefer the brunette, Boris. She has far better legs."
    Simon Taylor, Rotherham

    Boris: "Look, Michael, that's how far out you'll have to move when you lose your housing benefit."
    Mark Grocutt, Birmingham

    After the relaunch of Take That, Michael and Boris rehearse for their Beach Boys tribute gig.
    Richard Bovington, West Yorkshire

    Boris: "When I put my left arm out, you're supposed to put your right arm in."
    Cheryl Tomlinson-Jones, Lancashire

    Hot news last week: I must be the only bloke in the world who didn't know you had a gold Patek Philippe watch.
    Fred Beckett, Cheltenham

    When I travelled on Eurostar a lady came out of the cloakroom leaving her Borders Agency swipe card on her lanyard hanging on the door. My husband sulked terribly when I wouldn't allow him to photograph me with it before I returned it.
    Jackie Cooper, Staffordshire

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