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'Legendary' duck falls as flat as a pancake

Normally duck is cut up into reasonable pieces but not at Min-Minnie. It had non-succulent, dry duck. Totally awful, ridiculous

Published 12 June 2011
News Review
934th article

Michael at Min Jiang restaurant with Nicholas Capstick-Dale (Dinah May)

Never trust a restaurant with a view. It thinks that's enough. The top floor of the Royal Garden hotel, Kensington, overlooks Hyde Park, Kensington Palace - where Princesses Diana and Margaret used to live (not together unless there's more scandal to come out) - and the distant spire of the Hilton hotel on Park Lane.

If you want the "legendary Beijing duck" at its Min Jiang restaurant you have to order in advance. What's that about? Go to Chinatown, or any Chinese restaurant, say "duck" and you get it.

No need to forewarn anybody.

My guest on this minuscule adventure was Nicholas Capstick-Dale. A "nice young man", as mothers might say. When Nick was married to Lord Rayne's daughter he frequented the Sandy Lane hotel. I was selling a portfolio of property. A "mixed bag", they called it in the trade. Meaning some great, some rubbish. I'd been offered £18m, a lot of money in 1988. Now not worth getting out of bed for.

Nick and I were walking on the beach. He was 25 and working his way up (or down) as a property dealer. "I'll get you more than that," he said.

"Good," I responded. He got me £21m. The deal boosted Nick into the big time. Today he's doing a lot of the King's Cross development and much more.

We turned up at a fairly empty restaurant. He looked smart; I looked strange. I ordered prawn crackers. The restaurant didn't do prawn crackers. "Too posh," I observed.

Then we got dumplings. "We're two people and the waiter's brought sets of three dumplings," I said. "What are we supposed to do - cut one dumpling in half?" They were not great.

Up came prawn rolls with asparagus, baked barbecued pork in puff pastry, sweet radish, spicy . . . the usual clobber.

The Beijing duck may have been legendary, but it was small. After being exhibited, it was removed, and we got a minute amount of crisp skin served in a tiny bowl. "I just had that in Bangkok," said Nick. "This is as good."

Normally the duck is cut up into reasonable pieces. You put them in a pancake, adding a plum or hoisin sauce and some spring onion and other raw veggies. Not at Min-Minnie. It had depleted and extremely tough, stringy pancakes in little bowls. It added some non-succulent, dry duck. Totally awful, ridiculous - the worst duck of any kind I've ever experienced.

"The duck should look like it was going to fall off the bone - this one didn't," commented Nick. Then the staff brought some rice, assuring us the rest of the duck was mixed in. Could have fooled me.

The bill showed £36.18 for half a duck, including Vat and service. Worst money ever spent.

We got sweet and sour chicken when I'd asked for sweet and sour pork - not very good. The excellent desserts didn't save the day: cinnamon cheesecake, snowflake jasmine tiramisu, chocolate coated lychee with ginger parfait. Man cannot live on dessert alone.

Overall: pathetic. What's the point of phoning in advance to book a disaster?

  • On Tuesday, November 8 at 7.30pm in the beautifully restored Wilton's Music Hall, Graces Alley, London E1, I perform my one-man show, presented by Times+. The show started in 1967 at the National Film Theatre and has grown and immatured with movie star and other stories, plus audience participation.

    I've played at the American Film Institute in Washington and Los Angeles, and earlier this year at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles. I've performed it at Oxford, Cambridge, many other universities, at the King's Head theatre in Islington, London, and venues up and down the land.

    In The Guardian, John Patterson said, "Michael Winner shows us how a real raconteur grabs his audience. He has us in the palm of his hand." In the Sunday Express, Sandro Monetti wrote, "Being in Winner's company is a great pleasure. He has few rivals as a storyteller."

    Tickets are £7.50 for Times+ members, £10 for non-members. Why tell you so early? Because booking opens today. Phone 0871 620 4027. The theatre seats only 280 people.

    Burt Lancaster came to see it; so did Michael Crawford, Oliver Reed, Francis Ford Coppola, Ava Gardner, Hymie Pockle and Joseph Schlemiel. Get with the group.

  • Hymie is having coffee with his friend Jacob. Jacob says, "Hymie, do you remember Moishe Pippick?" Hymie answers, "Sure, I know Moishe well."

    Jacob asks, "And Abe Schwanz?" Hymie says, "Abe, lovely man, known him for years."

    Jacob says, "Vell, a terrible thing happened. Moishe came home last night and found his wife in bed with Abe Schwanz. He took a gun and shot Abe dead, then turned the gun on himself."

    "That's awful," said Hymie. "Mind you, could have been worse."

    "How could it have been worse?" asks Jacob.

    Hymie replies, "If it had happened the night before, I'd be dead now."

    Michael's missives

    I've divined the secret of your bizarre Isle of Mull outfit. You decided to wear a check shirt and a kilt, but the local climate proved chilly for your elderly constitution so you borrowed a leather jacket from a passing motorcyclist. Congratulations. You are Oxfam's model of the year.
    Ray Dean, Sheffield

    In Mull, were you auditioning for the part of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof? You certainly dressed for it. Maybe Geraldine didn't accompany you, so you had to dress yourself.
    Derek Long, Cornwall

    On your visit to Tobermory you should have visited the fish and chip van on the jetty. We enjoyed delicious fresh scallops cooked in the fluffiest batter with chips. And the ladies who did the cooking were jolly and friendly.
    Jane and Rennison Hall, by email

    I'd long suspected you were one sausage short of a full choucroute. When the Wolseley locate your missing sausage I can suggest what they do with it.
    Nick Peeling, Worcestershire

    "I'm so ugly in a photo," protested Raisa of Nate 'n Al in Beverly Hills. Next to your visage she looked positively Miss Worldish.
    Brian Ahern, Dublin

    At Dinner in the Mandarin Oriental rowdies at the next table upset a saucepan of gravy over the waiter, splashing me too. Luckily I was wearing black!
    Sue Bodinetz, 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