This week Michael crosses the Atlantic and treats John Landis to a great dining experience with Wolfgang Puck - in more ways than one
Published 21 August 2011 News Review 944th article
Michael with, left, a Cut employee, holding a selection of steaks, and, centre, Wolfgang Puck (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
The film director John Landis and his wife were taking us to dinner. As he drove down Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, I asked where we were going. John said, "The Grill on the Alley." I showed disappointment. Been there, got the T-shirt. John asked, "You don't like it?"
"Well ... er ..." I started.
"We're near Wolfgang Puck but we'll never get in," John said.
"Try," I suggested. So John rang Wolfgang Puck's Cut restaurant in the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
"There's an hour's wait," he reported. I shouted, "Tell them I'm the most famous food critic in the world."
In Wolfgang's Sidebar lounge, adjacent to Cut in the hotel, Uzma, a snooty lady at reception (who'd probably answered the phone), said, "There's still a 50-minute wait; I'll take your drink order." She then returned to her desk.
I elevated myself to my full 7ft 3in, walked over and said, "Excuse me, I'm here because the American Cinematheque is giving me a three-day tribute for my movies. But my column in the London Sunday Times is the most read hotel and restaurant column in the world. I don't do waiting. Is Mr Puck here?"
Uzma answered, "Yes."
I said, "Then I suggest you tell him I'm here."
She said, "The room is full."
"There's always a way," I advised.
I must have spoken with great authority because Uzma disappeared into the restaurant and three minutes later came back to announce, "Mr Winner, please follow me." We were taken to the best table in the room.
Wolfgang Puck, who's extremely famous in America, joined us. He mixes fine restaurants such as Cut with a supermarket range. I spotted one of his cheaper outlets at Los Angeles airport.
Wolfgang advised us his favourite steak was from Snake River Farms, Idaho, "where Evel Knievel jumped over the river," he explained. I asked how many people he had working at Cut. Wolfgang replied, "I don't count. It's too expensive to think about them."
I said, "Do you count the bills?" Apparently he doesn't count money either. That's why he's so cheerful.
It's quite a noisy room. They had rock music playing, which made it worse. Wolfgang turned the music down. He decided we should have a selection of steaks - one from Snake River Farms; a New York cut; a Nebraska dry, aged 35 days; and a pure Wagyu beef from New Zealand. Vegetables came with them, plus a phenomenal sauce béarnaise and Wolfgang's own steak sauce.
From the large dessert selection I chose a banana cream pie, which was beyond belief great. Wolfgang's mother was a cook in Austria. He went from there to France, then to America. He's upbeat and cheerful. The meal was one of the finest I've ever eaten. All the steaks were historic.
Wolfgang is coming our way. On September 1 he opens his first European restaurant at 45 Park Lane, a new boutique hotel owned by the Dorchester Collection. If he does as well in London he'll be top of everyone's list. I'll make an early reservation on the assumption, having won the battle once, I won't be asked to wait.
Happy ending: when John Landis asked for the bill, nothing happened. I knew why: Wolfgang intended to give me a free meal. That I never accept. The waiter returned and said, "Dinner is on Mr Puck." We'd had wine, champagne, the best steaks, lots of side orders. It must have been very costly in a place famous for being expensive.
John Landis was delighted. "I must go out with you more often, Michael," he said, beaming.
When a student at Cambridge, I was interviewed by The Observer in the offices of Varsity, the undergraduate newspaper I edited. I'd just brought out an Oxford edition - "At 2p the cheapest education Oxford students will ever get" - which greatly excited the national press.
The Observer wrote: "The editor's desk is chaotic. As he reaches for something, items fall off. As he retrieves them, more things land on the floor." I often think of that. My desk is still as they described. I curse loudly as papers fall off.
My Varsity staff included Michael Frayn; the academy award winners Leslie Bricusse and Frederic Raphael; and a man who, had he lived (he was killed on a journalistic assignment in Israel), would have been major beyond belief - Nicholas Tomalin. Guest writers ranged from Enid Blyton to Spike Milligan. Great times.
Gremlins confused my information for you last week. The Chichester Cinema one-man show today is nothing to do with Times+. It's £10, including wine. I'm on at 6.30pm. At Wilton's Music Hall, London E1, on November 8 and 17, it's the same show for Times+. Tickets £7.50 for members, £10 for others. Book on www2.seetickets.com/thesundaytimes. I promise you'll laugh a lot.
From Richard Clatworthy in East Yorkshire: Hymie comes home early one afternoon to find his wife, Becky, lying naked on their bed.
"Why are you naked?" asks Hymie.
"Because I haven't got a thing to wear," replies Becky.
"Nonsense!" cries Hymie, throwing open the wardrobe door. "You've got this white dress here and this blue one - oh, hello Izzie - and this green one."
You were far too kind to Gilbert Scott last week. We found the food indifferent and the service appalling. No maître d' to greet us or show us to our table, waiters refusing to respond to requests for service. Particularly shocking was that all these defects were mentioned in early reviews, but not rectified. The Booking Office bar and restaurant is far better.
Jules Lubbock, London
Does Geraldine know about your marriage? And if so what will you tranquillise her with on the day?
Cheryl Tomlinson-Jones, Lancaster
The first thing I did after hearing the good news was to check my calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1. Second was to see if I had a clean suit in the wardrobe.
John Finegan, Bailieborough, Ireland
Wedding in September? Impeccable timing. You'll be eligible for paternity leave next summer during the Olympics.
Don Roberts, Cheshire
Congratulations. A lovely surprise!I've got my best moth-eaten, crumpled suit ready along with stained shirt, frayed tie and socks with big holes. Coming from France I'll have a string of onions and garlic round my neck. I'll be camped out in front of the Chelsea register office complete with ghetto blaster and a vuvuzela. Actually, I'm pleased as punch for you both.
Nick Jones, La Drome, France
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