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My LA story - more horror than thriller

On the whole, restaurants in Los Angeles were appalling with people leaving with doggy bags. However, Ricky’s spicy chilli was sensational

Published 8 May 2011
News Review
929th article

Michael with Geraldine at the Ivy in Los Angeles (Richard Kline)

There's another Ivy restaurant, which is nothing to do with the London version. It's in Los Angeles on North Robertson Boulevard, a faceless street that divides Beverly Hills from West Hollywood.

I booked and did a number so Jaime Burajas, the manager, knew how unbelievably important I was. "I'll keep a table for you on the patio," he promised.

When I got there with Geraldine and my Hollywood cinematographer, Richard Kline, there was no table free on the patio. We were shown into a pleasant, farmhouse-like interior - blue plates on the walls, very twee - and told to wait.

"I don't do waiting," I said.

"It's going to take 10 to 15 minutes to get rid of those people on the patio," Jaime explained.

"Get six waiters to stand by the table and shame them into leaving," I instructed.

"I'll be one of them," said Jaime.

"Take a machinegun," I advised.

I'd just ordered a mint julep when Jaime returned.

"They've gone," he announced. "I told them they had 30 seconds before the restaurant caught fire."

It was very crowded and very buzzy. Definitely an "in" place. Fantastic menu ranging from three scones with jam and butter to, oh, everything.

"It's very nice sitting in the sun," I observed. "But I think they've forgotten the fact that we came here to eat."

"I don't think they want to serve you," said a pleasant woman next to me.

"I've been to places where no one will serve me. I'm used to that," I said.

At last, a waiter. I ordered crab cakes (as recommended by Shakira Caine) with white rice over steamed spinach and chips. For a starter I got Ricky's spicy chilli. This was sensational. Why restaurants in England don't do chilli con carne more, I will never know. A great, great dish.

My mint julep was full of vodka.

"Would you like a mint julep with vodka?" I asked the woman next to me.

She said, "It's meant to be bourbon," adding, for no reason I could work out, "It quacks like a duck." It was bourbon, but why should I know? The main course came like lightning.

I've never seen so much on a plate. Five large crab cakes, salad and chips. Enough for six people. The waiter asked, "Would you like to take any of it away?" Los Angeles is full of people leaving restaurants with doggy bags. Must have more fat dogs than anywhere else.

I'd ordered home-made pumpkin pie a la mode, which was a mistake - I'd forgotten that I hate pumpkin pie. Silly me. So I just had the ice cream.

On the whole, Los Angeles restaurants were appalling. Worst was Cecconi's, so good here in London.

We were placed under an electric heater. "I'll be well done in half an hour," I protested. "Nobody ordered well done, dear. Turn the heat off - it's like being under the grill."

We waited for ever for our order to be taken. Chris Kim was the acting restaurant manger. Dreadful service. I'd requested ice on the table and lemon slices. The ice melted in seconds when I'd asked the waiters to keep an eye on it. No lemon slices came at all.

I had a black truffle "pregiato" pizza.

Okay, nothing more. Dessert was the most terrible apple crumble and almond gelato. It was underdone apples with great, tough, heavy, floury lumps. Geraldine's salmon was very dry. Horrid place.

The Grill on the Alley on Dayton Way, Beverly Hills, was gloomy - high booths, dark wood, like a gentlemen's club gone wrong. Only men seemed to be there in the evening. My fillet steak was large but totally tasteless.

Bouchon on North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, was more or less empty but for me and the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. Food: moderate.

I said to the man at the desk on leaving, "It's not very busy, is it?" He replied, "This is the week people do their tax returns. They're all with their accountants." Oddest reason I ever heard for no customers.

Dreadful beyond belief was e.baldi on North Canon Drive. Full of major executives and stars. Food: horrific. Dreary meatballs; the driest sole ever. A famous agent seated next to me kept pointing out far better Italian restaurants, including one on the opposite corner.

The Academy award-winning songwriter Leslie Bricusse, whom I was at Cambridge with, took us to Il Piccolino back on North Robertson Boulevard. Pretty good. Every table had a B-list celebrity at it.

Leslie also took us to Shutters on the Beach, a charming hotel in Santa Monica. Lovely old-style place, looking out onto beach and sea. Wonderful menu. Marvellous breads: pistachio, cranberry, nut and wheat, one with redcurrants. Crab cake starter was brilliant. Then steak, frites, rocket and parmesan, fried marinated tomatoes. This was a very good lunch indeed. That made a change.

  • Here are two jokes, the first from Don Tallis of Leicester: Hymie gets a new job as an announcer on Radio 4. He says, "Good morning, this is Radio 4 on 94.6 megahertz. To you, 90 megahertz."

  • From Jerome Carroll in Cyprus: Hymie wins £20m on the lottery. His wife, Becky, asks, "What shall we do about the begging letters?" Hymie says, "Keep sending them out."

    Michael's missives

    Two weeks ago, standing with the Scotsmen, you were dressed as a scruffy 17-year-old. In last week's photo you looked a lot better. You weren't in it.
    David Chubb, Cheshire

    You rent an old trawler to cruise the Western Isles in winter. No wonder the lovely Geraldine jumped ship. Finally you're rescued by two burly Scots who obviously thought you were their granny. You should have chartered Hebridean Princess, a luxurious cruiser that the Queen has used a couple of times. Mind you, she went in August.
    Howard Bentley, Preston

    I was glad to see the prime minister using your script at long last. Can you claim royalties?
    Adam Osborn, Malaga, Spain

    Following you on Twitter and noticing your appalling use of English there and your "txt" speak I am of the firm opinion that your column is ghostwritten. Probably by the much smarter Geraldine.
    Catherine McGlynn, Donegal, Ireland

    Only three of four starters arrived at Le Pont de la Tour by Tower Bridge in London. My chicken was lukewarm with freezing cold tomatoes. We waited in vain for a birthday plate ordered for my daughter-in-law's birthday. I was told it had been sent to the wrong table! We've been back a few times. It used to be a nice restaurant. Now it's mediocre at best. A great setting, though!
    Beri Goldberg, Edgware, north London

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