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A dash of vanilla and I’m a young man again

I know of no other coffee shop remotely like the Fountain Room at the Beverly Hills hotel - it's a true gem

Published 17 April 2011
News Review
926th article

Michael at the Fountain Coffee Room with the chef Jose Manilo and the waitress Ruth Cortez (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

There is a little part of the Beverly Hills hotel that is for ever historic. It's a small, narrow room at the bottom of stairs that lead to a corridor and the pool. There's a long bar, curved at both ends. Stools are screwed to the floor. You can just squeeze by between diners and the wall.

Unassuming, reminiscent of the bars in ice cream parlours I frequented when I first visited the USA in 1953. It's called the Fountain Coffee Room. When I was making movies in Los Angeles for 25 years, I'd go there for breakfast. Soberly and quietly filling the seats were movie folk, all reading the "trades" - Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter - before they went to work.

A friend told me she was there a couple of months ago and saw Leonardo DiCaprio in the Fountain Room every breakfast time. I doubt it. I saw only tourists and a commander from the City of London police I met when I was guest of honour at one of the force's dinners. But the excellence of the Fountain food and service remain.

The main man there used to be Gary. He handed out the best waffles in the world. He was quietly and superbly efficient. The great thing about the Fountain Room is that everything is totally fresh. Order orange juice and they put oranges into a juicer and hand it over within seconds. If you want a waffle it's with you as soon as it's out of the machine. Bacon, eggs, hash brown potatoes, pancakes all come from the griddle direct to your plate. That's how food should be eaten.

The bar is now run by a pink-dressed waitress, Ruth Cortez. The chef is Benito Juarez, who's been there eight years. Julio, the chef who was with Gary in the old days, is still working but had done something to his foot so was on medical leave. The chef on the day of our photo was Jose Manilo.

The first thing I ordered was a waffle. To my surprise my taste buds realised it was not the same as on my previous visit, 20 years earlier. A thorough investigation took place. Ruth checked and assured me they still used Carbon's waffle mix, an original recipe from 1937. "It seemed to have less vanilla flavour than before," I explained. "We add the vanilla here," said Ruth. "I don't think you're adding enough," I said. So they put in more vanilla and the waffle returned to top of the league. Geraldine had corned beef hash, poached eggs, hash brown potatoes, all done in front of her.

This is a great little corner of the hotel. I know of no other coffee shop remotely like it. Every movie star in the firmament has eaten there. It's open early morning until early evening. A true gem.

PS You can get Carbon's waffle flour in Britain. If you make waffles, this is far and away the best mix to use.

It was strange returning to LA and not working on a movie. The first film I made there was The Mechanic, in 1971. In England a standby painter would lay out 40 cans of paint with brushes and stand waiting to be asked to paint something. First day in LA we had to paint the end of the wooden camera track the same colour as the pavement. I called out, "Standby painter." A prop man said, "We don't have a standby painter, sir; you want something painted, do it yourself." He threw me an aerosol can. I said, "Fine," and started spraying the track. The prop man took over.

On another film, back in England, I said, "We're not having a standby painter. The props can spray paint." My production manager asked, "What will the unions say when they don't see a standby painter on the unit list?" Unions were very stroppy then. I said, "At the top of the unit list it will say, 'Producer, director and standby painter: Michael Winner'." It did. Thus we saved £10,000 on unit costs on The Big Sleep.

  • I had a great set lunch at Le Caprice, all-in price: £29.53. That's available lunchtime and early and late evening, except Saturday lunch, when there's a new brunch menu. I recommend it.

  • Hymie is driving along a country road, sees a sign: "1 mile to Abe's Cafe & Talking Dog." Hymie goes in, says to Abe, "Where's the talking dog?" Abe replies, "At the back."

    Hymie goes round. Lying there is an old dog. "Are you the talking dog?" Hymie asks. The dog says, "Sure I am." Hymie is stunned. "You can really talk," he says. "How did you learn?"

    The dog says, "I used to work for the Metropolitan police. They taught me to talk. Criminals spoke in front of me. They thought I was just a dog. I did so well I was seconded to the CIA. They taught me Russian and sent me to Moscow; then I learnt Chinese and went to Beijing. I got tired of being a spy so I joined the British embassy in Paris, later in Rome. But now I have a family, I've retired."

    Hymie goes back to Abe. "That's incredible," he says: "your dog can really talk. Would you sell him?" "Sure," says Abe. "How much?" asks Hymie. "Ten pounds," replies Abe. "Only £10 for a talking dog?" exclaims Hymie. "Aw, the dog's full of crap," says Abe. "He never did any of the things he told you about."

    Michael's missives

    At last, proof that the food critics of The Times and The Sunday Times know nothing about food. At least Mr Winner admits he doesn't know what a bavarois is, while Giles Coren pretends to know and gets it wrong. A bavarois is the French name for a Bavarian cream dessert.It's never been near a meringue or nougat, Giles. Michael can advise in future that it's an aerated cream custard.
    Graham Hindle, Leeds

    Is Michael Winner the same as a food critic? No. What's the difference? How much time have I got?
    Tim Burton, Wokingham

    In the photo of you at Bibendum, waiting for the chairs to be brought, I noticed what a lovely, well-matched couple Geraldine and Giles are. You and Victoria also seem to be a handsome pair. Go for it, old fella. Variety is the spice of life!
    Howard Bentley, Preston

    Here's a limerick for you, Michael.
    A restaurant critic called Winner
    Told me where to go for my dinner
    Two courses so good
    Plus a historic pud
    I'm fat with a wallet much slimmer.

    Jacqueline Longley, Wiltshire

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