After a not over-the-top Twitter exchange, Michael goes for dinner at Bibendum restaurant with Victoria Coren and her brother Giles
Published 10 April 2011 News Review 925th article
Michael and Geraldine with Victoria and Giles Coren at Bibendum
They say it's an ill wind that blows no good. The ill wind was, unsurprisingly, me. It started when my Twitter page recommended I follow Victoria Coren. I had no idea who she was. On checking her entry I saw she had many more followers than me.
I informed my Twitter group and asked, "Who is she?" Answers poured in, many referring to her, apparently, ample bosom. A ribald but, in my view, not over-the-top Twitter exchange followed. Miss Coren was appalled. She phoned my house at 10.25pm and asked Geraldine if a 14-year-old derelict had hacked into my Twitter site. Fact was, a 14-year-old derelict ran it. Me.
I was not amused by this late-night call as it woke both me and Geraldine, trying to recover from jet lag after a flight from the Caribbean. This went into my Twitter mix. I also mentioned that Victoria's father, the brilliant Alan, was strange and that her brother Giles, the restaurant critic of The Times, had stabbed me in the back.
The temperature rose dramatically - even though Giles conceded, when I wrote to him explaining, that both remarks were not without foundation. Then Victoria devoted her Observer column to a fearsome attack on me. The politest thing she said was that I was a dirty old man. Even a deranged derelict could see things were getting out of hand.
Peace is always better than war. So I invited Victoria and Giles to lunch, which they graciously accepted. We all reported, on our best behaviour (an effort for me), to Bibendum, a Chelsea restaurant I've always liked. The event was a delight. Victoria Coren is beautiful and witty. Her brother, energised and charming. Geraldine thought they were great, too.
I suppose I should mention food, even though Giles, speaking on my episode of Piers Morgan's Life Stories, remarked that I was the only food critic who knew nothing about food.
As I've said that many times, it hurt me not at all.
Victoria ordered chicken liver and quail's eggs to start, and then kidneys.
Giles explained that middle white brawn is pig's-head meat, adding, "It's very gloopy and cartilagey." I didn't know what it was, let alone the rest. We both ordered it as a starter. Much as I admire the chef, Matthew Harris, I thought it tasteless and the eggs on top too hard-boiled.
"We've got a very sophisticated meal," assured Giles.
"But mine is nicer," said Victoria. "I always choose a daring thing," said Giles.
"There's a difference between daring and reckless," I observed.
Victoria tried her kidneys, then swapped them with her brother's fish.
"They look too like kidneys," she said. "I wanted them to trick me into thinking they didn't come from an animal." Bit nuts, this girl. I approve of that.
Geraldine was in overdrive. She passed me her empty plate and took the remainder of my kidneys.
Giles loved them, described the kidneys as bouncy and praised the mustard sauce and the bacon. "What's that lumpy thing over there?" he asked, pointing to my veggie plate.
"It's a potato, dear," I explained. "It's his first time in a restaurant," said Victoria. Then, reading the dessert menu, she asked me what a bavarois was.
"Have you got a wrong number?" I said. "Your brother opposite is a food genius. Ask him."
"It's a sort of meringuey nougat," said Giles. When it arrived it wasn't that at all. Just a mousse.
Giles had ordered spotted dick. "At least I know what that is," he said.
The menu promised chocolate sauce with the bavarois. There was only a decorative smear. "I'll get you chocolate sauce," I said gallantly to Victoria. A quick wave here, a barked order there and the restaurant manager, Karim Miftah, brought a jug of chocolate sauce.
Giles said he'd intended to have his hair cut for our photo but his barber was running late. Victoria produced a mirror and lipstick. I remained au naturel.
Giles said, "Let's do this again." Victoria wisely cautioned, "Wait until we see Michael's column."
PS Victoria hosts a BBC4 quiz show with difficult questions. That counts me out. She's also a top-class poker player. She's made $2m in total on that (no tax paid on gambling winnings) and bought two flats in Belsize Park. Lives in one; rents the other.
"She's a slum landlord," commented Giles. Nice girl, too. I'll ask them both to my house for dinner. Will they accept?
From a reader, Michael Bull: Hymie is taking an afternoon nap. His wife, Rebecca, comes in from her bridge lunch.
Hymie opens one eye and asks, "How was it, dear?" Becky replies, "Do you want the good news or the bad news?" Hymie says, "In my state of health, what's the good news?" "The airbags on the new Rolls-Royce work perfectly," says Becky.
Here's one from Jaci Tuite via Twitter: Hymie and a friend walk into a bar. You'd have thought his friend would have seen it and ducked.
How can you hold your own with a waiter or restaurant manager if you don't know the difference between a prawn and a langoustine? Excuse the necessary technical language but a prawn is a pink thing about an inch long whereas a langoustine is a pink thing about three inches long. Or is that something else entirely? Now I'm confused.
Darrell Desbrow, Kirkcudbrightshire
You obviously have a new PR company. Pictured lunching with Nicholas Soames made you look slim.
Michael Knight, Surrey
The picture at Ristorante Semplice shows both you and Henry Wyndham with your hands firmly clasped in prayer. Were your prayers answered with yet another free meal?
Jerome Carroll, Cyprus
I strongly disagree with readers who think you dress untidily. In the photo by the Beverly Hills hotel pool, Geraldine's top matched your trousers, and your shoes went with her hat. Even your shirt blended in with the sun loungers. Cute.
Elizabeth Palmieri, Kinross
Recently we lunched at the Wolseley, partly because of your recommendation. You were there with Geraldine. We were disappointed. The roast beef was tough and fatty and lacked flavour. The enormous yorkshire pudding tasted like cardboard. The rhubarb croustade was awful; the noise level far too high. We won't go there again, even to see you!
Sue Kaye, London
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email firstname.lastname@example.org