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Catering for a classier bunch of ladies who lunch

Our columnist visited a restaurant on the increasingly common Kensington High Street and reflects on the prime minister's Michael Winner impression

Published 1 May 2011
News Review
928th article

Geraldine at Aubaine with Christian Emereau, left, and Jean Baptiste (Arnold Crust)

I'm the world expert on Kensington High Street, having lived close by since 1946. It's gone from genteel old school to rowdy, brassy and common. Like me. Premises regularly open, fail and close. I saw a big, empty space in a new building on the eastern end of the street and thought, "They'll never let that." Within days it was a restaurant called Aubaine, always full.

Geraldine and I passed a counter on the way in, from which I nicked a croissant. They come from a central bakery every morning. Pretty good; so was all the bread.

Geraldine advised that the imitation French 18th-century chairs were covered in toile de jute.

"Would you care to tell me what my trousers are?" I asked.

"Crap," said Geraldine. "They're meant to be Egyptian cotton but they're crap." It's nice to dine with an expert.

The floor was tiled, with wood laid in the middle; there were stainless steel pipes, globe lights, shelves with drink bottles displayed, flowers on the tables. Attractive room, light and airy. "The only thing is, it's noisy," observed Geraldine. What restaurant isn't these days? Aubaine is for ladies who lunch. Some looked quite classy, as if they'd fallen on hard times but were making the best of it. Like me.

Geraldine ordered Ugie oak-smoked salmon. Then sea bass. My monster portion of salt and chilli squid, lime aioli was sensational. Fried whatever, good batter, great taste.

I'd ordered tagliatelle with ceps and truffles. The waiter returned to say, "We don't have truffles." So I plummeted downmarket (an easy journey) and switched to corn-fed chicken pot au feu. I bet nobody actually checked if this chicken was fed on corn, human remains, dead cats or foie gras. It took a long time to come. Perhaps they were stuffing corn down it. I got two large slices, veggies underneath and a broth. Broth tasty, vegetables good, chicken dry - I left most of it. Geraldine was impressed with her sea bass.

The restaurant had horrible, wispy, float-away paper napkins. I hate paper napkins; these were the worst.

The waiter came round with a platter of cakes. I chose many in order to perform my function as taster for the world. Coffee arrived long before the dessert. Geraldine, who doesn't eat gluten, got a gluten-free chocolate cake. She pulled a face, pouted her lips and rolled her head from side to side. I took that as meaning she didn't like it. The carrot cake was awful, didn't taste like cake; the millefeuille was good; the choux pastry on the chocolate eclair was heavy, the whole thing too lumpy. Geraldine said, "Excellent coffee."

I liked the people running the room: the general manager, Christian Emereau, and the supervisor, Jean Baptiste. Lot of French spoken. Geraldine liked that. She worked in Paris for 30 years.

It's not an expensive place: very much for shoppers and doppers. My bill came to £104.06, including service charge. That's because I ate all those extras just to keep you informed. Or possibly because I'm a greedy pig. Either way I decided to give you a break. I grabbed the camera and stayed out of the photo. Just took it. Loverly, innit? Terry O'Neill, eat your heart out.

  • Michael Winner impressions are legion. Brando did a particularly good one; so did Bob Mitchum. Professionals from Rory Bremner up, down and sideways get close to my voice. On a scale of 1 to 10, David Cameron is a 5. But he is prime minister and "Calm down, dear" played a distinguished venue: the House of Commons.

    Totally absurd was the response from an overexcited Labour front bench, conducted by its deputy leader, Harriet Harman. To hear their contrived outrage you'd think our Dave had put down every woman in the land. "Calm down, dear" has been part of our national language since I wrote and performed it on a TV ad 10 years ago. It makes people smile.

    With all the important political issues that they should be spending time on, for the Labour party glums to overexercise themselves about Dave's remark is just silly.

  • Mrs Cohen gets a new flat. She phones her friend Becky and says, "Becky, you have got to see this apartment - balconies, views over the park. Listen, you go to Regent's Park Tube. When you come out, Becky, take a left.

    "A few yards down on your right you'll see Farley Court. Ring the doorbell with your right elbow. Push the door open with your left elbow. Then you're in a lobby. On your left is a list of apartments - push No 12 with your left elbow. You'll hear a buzz. Push the glass doors with your right elbow. In the hall facing you is the lift - press the Call button with your right elbow. When you enter the lift, push Floor 3 with your left elbow.

    "When the lift stops, push the door open with your right elbow. Ahead of you is my flat - No 12. Push the bell with your left elbow. I'll come and greet you."

    Becky says, "What's all this with the elbows? Left elbow, right elbow - what are you talking about?" "Well," says Mrs Cohen, "you're not coming empty-handed, Becky, are you?"

    Michael's missives

    Little wonder the smiles on the faces of the kilted Scotsmen displaying their catch in last week's photo looked a tad forced. It's not every day they reel in a grizzled old walrus.
    Alex Graham, Alness, Highland

    If Angus's shirt came from Oxfam on a bad day, the day you bought your outfit must have been a disastrous one.
    Dave Landed, Preston

    Dwarfed again! This time by Angus the lofty bagpiper. Alan Ladd always stood on a box when being photographed. If you'd worn a kilt it could have hidden both your legs and the box.
    Julian Cope, Suffolk

    Presumably on your recent trip to Scotland you flew to save yourself from having to set foot in the north of England. Thank you, Mr Winner. We have been spared.
    Bob Marshall, Carlisle

    During your sojourn up Loch Linnhe you passed by our house at Ardgour near the Corran Narrows. We were having a glass of Cairn O'Mohr gooseberry wine, hand-dived scallops, locally caught langoustines and a majestic raspberry trifle. We enjoyed all this while watching a trawler heading towards Fort William after a hard day at sea with the most incongruous catch I've ever seen: a couple of bewildered southern tourists. Was this you and your fiancee?
    George and Jo Young, Ardgour

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