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Want the food critic’s view? Me too

When Matthew Norman was writing the Guardian diary he slagged me off for years. I don’t quite know how, but we became friends

Published 27 February 2011
News Review
919th article



Michael and Geraldine at Racine with Henry Harris, the chef-owner

Matthew Norman is a real food critic, as opposed to me. When he was writing the Guardian diary he slagged me off for years. I don't quite know how, but we became friends. For lunch I suggested Racine, in Brompton Road. The chef-owner is Henry Harris, whose brother Matthew chefs at Bibendum, nearby.

Mr Norman turned up growing a beard. "You look more like a rabbi every time I see you," I announced. I was eating a freebie starter of sliced Basque pig. I started to tell Matthew about it.

"It'll be some acorn-fed pig — usual rubbish they talk about pigs," said Matthew. "They only do it to upset us." The set menu until 7.30pm is £17.75 for three courses. They add a "voluntary" £1 for the homeless. I'll soon be homeless. I should have collected a quid from each diner.

Instead I started with a cup of parsnip soup and herring in a sweet mustard dressing, rye bread toast. The food was great.

Matthew observed, "When I first came here I thought it was a bit first-class waiting room at Rome airport. But actually it's very cosy."

"They haven't done anything to it since," I said. "I've got old and my standards have dropped," replied Matthew.

He said of his chicken, "This bird breaks every rule of English restaurants by tasting of chicken. Other than the fact that it's over-salted, it's excellent. It's crispy and delicious." So that's how a real food critic reacts, I thought.

My mullet had some sort of potato and leeks with it. "Tastes of ... I don't know what it is, the sauce or whatever, it's wonderful," I dictated. That's how an ignoramus reviews food. "The minute you finish a plate they come and take it away. Very good service. Don't you agree, dear?" I asked Matthew.

"I do," he replied. "It might be because two national food critics are here."

For dessert I chose oeufs à la neige. Matthew selected a mixture of sorbets, saying, "They all taste the same — they inject them with some carcinogenic chemical and be done with it." When his multicoloured sorbets arrived, Matthew described them as "spectacular".

Discussing my £9m debt, Matthew suggested, "You may have to end up as a rent boy. I'll start the bidding at £5."

That's what friends are for.

PS Matthew Norman took our photo.

His first set showed the ceiling with three heads intruding at the bottom. Next try had the group cut on left or right. It didn't matter because the restaurant manager, who was featured, left Racine shortly thereafter. So I returned on the way to my appearance at the BFI Southbank last Wednesday for another photo. This time by an ST professional. I added Geraldine because Mr Harris and I lacked glamour. To put it mildly.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, master of the Queen's music, is composing a symphony to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee and will score some music for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. All piddle-diddle to me. Sir Peter's real achievement is that he walked out of the Olive Grove restaurant in Canterbury because he couldn't bear dining to an accompaniment of "idiotic pop".

A couple of days later he was due to meet Roger Wright, the controller of BBC Radio 3, but couldn't stand the piped music in the BBC reception area. "It was a form of torture, like being interrogated in Guantanamo Bay. If the BBC had been let loose on Al-Qaeda they might have had more success than the Americans," he complained. "I was on the verge of walking out when Roger arrived."

Sir Peter also walked out of Waterstone's because he objected to the piped music, opposes "moronic melodies" on mobile phones and refuses to hold for call centres if music is played. There's a campaign group, Pipedown, to fight the "insidious menace" of piped music. Sir Peter says, "I urge more people to demand that piped music is turned off. This is a protest movement that wants peace to be given a chance." I'll get my friend Andrew Lloyd Webber to join. He hates piped music as much as I do.



  • Lunch at the Ivy. Room splendidly run by the general manager, Nicolas Jarnot. Food great: fishcakes, griddled foie gras, best hamburger ever. But the treacle sponge pudding had black treacle. Ghastly beyond belief. Golden syrup is in all recipes (Delia, BBC etc) I could find. Geraldine was given black treacle as medicine when a child. It tastes like medicine.



  • From Jacqui Pepper of Hertford: Hymie says to his mother, "I've met a girl." "Oy vey," sighs Mama. So Hymie brings home three beautiful girls and asks his mother to guess which girl he's fallen in love with. "The one in the middle," she says. "How did you know, Mummy?" asks Hymie. "I didn't like her," says Mummy.



  • A joke from the Irishman Fergal Lee, red-headed Wolseley restaurant manager: Danny looks in Dermot's fridge, sees an empty bottle of milk. He asks, "Why do you keep an empty bottle of milk in the fridge, Dermot?" Dermot replies, "That's in case someone wants black coffee."



    Michael's missives

    Your trip to Canouan is proof positive you're not one of us, but a vampire. In the photo of you and Geraldine there is only one shadow. So one of you must be from the "other world". I believe it's you, as that would excuse your awful dress sense — you don't have a reflection in the mirror.
    Geoff Tabor, Hampshire

    You said, "I've been to heaven. It's called Canouan." If you look like that when sampling the delights of heaven, I hate to think what you look like when you're miserable.
    Wyndham Northam, Norfolk

    In the photo it looks as if Geraldine's explaining to the local police how she found a tramp wandering dirty and dishevelled along the beach.
    Eric Brown, Devon

    I went to Canouan five years ago. There was only one other couple on the huge beach, a silver-haired man with a pretty lady next to him. Are you sure you haven't been before?
    Ed Atkinson, Abu Dhabi

    You say you may have to spend Christmas in Southend. We did. Seven children and a dog in a small council flat. Tiny oven, large turkey, three saucepans with two lids and a TV at full blast for 10 hours. Lunch was joyful. You and Geraldine would love it. Happy to swap with Canouan this year if you want.
    Geoff Embleton, Surrey

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST, or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk