A trip to Ristorante Semplice in Mayfair was a disappointment. Trattoria Semplice just down the road might have been a better bet
Published 4 April 2011 News Review 924th article
Michael at Ristorante Semplice with Henry Wyndham, left, and Nicholas Soames
I don't know which of my two favourite lunch companions, Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby's Europe, or Nicholas Soames, the most ebullient and excellent member of parliament, chose Ristorante Semplice.
It's in a Mayfair cul-de-sac that no one in their right mind would go to. Facing me, a place labelled Semplice. This was Trattoria Semplice, poor relation of the real thing a few doors away. Its man told me it was the "cheap end". It did classic dishes - lasagne, fried calamari, spaghetti bolognese, braised beef with mashed potatoes. All stuff I like. Instead of eating there, I exited for Ristorante Semplice.
One of my hosts had chosen it because he said a national paper described it as a perfect romantic spot for Valentine's Day. What romance had to do with our lunch I know not. The place was about as romantic as a dole office in Plaistow. Tacky gold wallpaper, lurid lighting, functional to the point of tedium.
The charming manager and co-owner, Giovanni Baldino, showed me a table close to another for seven people. They'll arrive and be noisy, I thought. So I chose one facing the cash desk and the door. Space was limited. Life is not always easy. I sat at my chosen spot and heard everything said by four people next to me. So I switched back to the first table.
Henry came in, followed later by Nicholas, who'd also gone to Trattoria Semplice. Henry described the menu as "very posh". We all had artichoke soup with langoustine in it. I thought there were four prawns floating in the soup.
I asked Nicholas, "Is a langoustine the same as a prawn?" He said, "No." "What's the difference?" I queried. He said, "I don't know."
The soup was pleasant whether with langoustine, prawns, cuttlefish, sharks or human remains.
To follow I had barley and semolina spaghetti with burrata (a soft creamy cheese from Puglia), salmon roe and red onion. It was tepid and uninteresting.
My dessert was three apple fritters.
Nicholas took one of them. I said he could, but they were so good I wish I hadn't.
I've no more to tell you about Ristorante Semplice so here's a true story about Sotheby's. In 1949, Sotheby's auctioned two watercolours of street scenes by Adolf Hitler. My friend Henry Thynne, then Marquess of Bath, father of the present louche one, collected Hitler and Churchill memorabilia.
The auctioneer announced: "Two paintings by Adolf Hitler. The bidding starts at 300 guineas."
A Jewish dealer stood up and shouted, "It is a disgrace that Sotheby's deals in Hitler paintings. How dare you publicise Hitler? I bid 300 guineas. I will burn the pictures here on the floor of the sale room."
A shocked silence was broken by the Marquess of Bath, saying in quiet English tones, "320 guineas." He got the pictures.
Onto my twitter site, @MrMichaelWinner, comes "Saif Gadaffi". I asked, "Are you a relation of Mr Gadaffi of Libya?" Reply: "He's my father and make me say bad things on TV. I good man and like to move to UK. Can you make flight for me on your jet? I have much money."
I tweeted I couldn't take money and asked him to prove he was Colonel Gadaffi's son. He tweeted: "I have very large zibbi, favourite colour blue, favourite trouser brown jumbo cords. OK?" I replied, "This is not conclusive proof. Could you get a sworn statement from dad?" Twitter is for nutters. Perfect for me.
PS: During the recent riots a tweet came: Newsflash: £20,000 of damage at Fortnum & Mason - stray brick knocked over a jar of organic olives.
Weinberg is driving his convertible Ferrari down a Mayfair street. At the traffic lights, a Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible draws up next to him. Weinberg calls out, "Steinberg, it's me, Weinberg. We were at school together. For 50 years we've not seen each other."
Steinberg replies, "What a coincidence, let's celebrate, go to the Ritz, have a slap-up lunch."
At that moment a beaten-up Skoda stops alongside them. Steinberg says in amazement, "Look, it's Hymie Cohen. He was in our class, too." He calls out, "Hey, Hymie. It's Weinberg and Steinberg. Your old schoolmates. Remember us?" Hymie says, "Wonderful to see you." "Hymie," says Weinberg. "We're going to the Ritz for lunch. You come with us."
Hymie responds, "You fellows are obviously doing very well. I'm not doing so good. I can't afford the Ritz."
"Never mind, come," says Steinberg. "Don't eat."
I was rather churlish (most unlike me) in my recent detailing of events concerning my Dimplex fan heaters. In fact Stuart Mackenzie, the super-boss, made great efforts to resolve my problems, sending round an engineer with great speed. He even replaced one of my heaters free of charge in spite of it being out of warranty.
Stuart also points out that all Dimplex heaters perform to a standard specified in the company's literature. I accept that. I think Stuart caught me on a grumpy day. These increase as senility creeps up. He did well. I'm sorry I didn't acknowledge that.
You criticise Mr Del Hoyo for no full-length mirror in your Beverly Hills hotel suite. Rather he should be congratulated for his sensitivity in removing the mirror, thus sparing you the distress of seeing your dishevelled appearance. Another explanation might be that he was aware you have no reflection and cast no shadow.
Stuart Ross, Hesdin, France
How is it you manage to look better turned out relaxing on a sun lounger than you do dining out in those fancy restaurants? I note the place is deserted. I guess your presence sent everyone scurrying indoors.
Heather Tanner, Suffolk
You're morphing into a German. First you and the lovely Geraldine are seen bagging your sun loungers before anyone else is up and then you admit to living off hotdogs. Guten tag, Herr Crust!
Unsigned letter from Preston
At an empty Sam's Brasserie in Chiswick we were shown to a corner table. An officious manager bore down saying, "You can't sit there; it's reserved for a regular customer." His arrogant manner embarrassed us and the girl who'd seated us. We left. Sam rang the next day with an apology that turned out to be a defence of his manager.
John Patterson, London
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