Michael has a horrid time booking at Pollen Street Social, and eating there, too. His wedding to Geraldine should lighten his mood
Published 18 September 2011 News Review 948th article
Time to step up, Michael: Geraldine poses with her husband-to-be (Dinah May)
It's Shakira Caine's fault. We planned to visit the Pollen Street Social in Mayfair. Shakira said, "You book." Enter three hours of hell. I phoned at 11.15am. All the restaurant numbers were on answerphone or didn't answer. In spite of its website saying, "Our reservations lines are open 9am to 6pm", no response.
I tried Sauce Communications, listed on the website as the restaurant's PR company. It was on answerphone. In desperation I sent Natalie Dunbar of Sauce, named as the person to call, an email asking for help. A return email said she was on holiday.
I decided to pay a courier to take a letter to Jason Atherton, the owner-chef of Pollen Street. Eventually I got an email from someone else at Sauce referring me to Sarah Hutchins at Pollen Street. She was on answerphone. But she called back at 2.30pm. The whole thing had taken three hours.
To confuse matters further the map on the Pollen Street website showing the location is unclear. It presents a blob in an area just off Hanover Square. I won't go into the tedium of one-way streets and endlessly going round the block to try and find the place.
It's a minimalist room. We were given a table by the window. It was so cold, the staff gave Geraldine a cashmere scarf; so noisy that, sitting next to Michael Caine, who has a very clear voice, I had difficulty hearing him. As for Shakira and Geraldine, who sat opposite, little chance.
Michael observed, "The reason it's noisy is because it's full of happy people."
I said, "Could we possibly bring in sad people who don't make as much noise?"
I started with "light cured" Shetland salmon, avocado, frozen almond and garlic radishes. The menu was clever-clever; the salmon, a blob of what looked like a slab of meat. It was hard and chewy. Geraldine took mine, having enjoyed hers. "Yours was much tougher than mine," she admitted.
The bread was poor. Not warm; clammy. For my main course I had roasted cod with sea vegetables, creamed potatoes and lemon peel. The cod was indifferent. Lacked moisture. Considerably less tasty than the fried cod I had had for lunch at home.
Shakira described the same dish as delicious. She said, "You're only complaining because you're having an off day. Most of your days are off days."
I asked, "Can you recall a day that was not an off day?"
"Maybe once a month," replied Shakira.
The only good thing about my main course was the mashed potatoes. The sea vegetables looked horrid. I didn't try them. Geraldine liked her food. So did Michael and Shakira. I'm used to being in the minority.
For dessert the staff gave us two tiramisus in the centre of the table. They were like a very sickly ice-cream. There were little cups into which the waiter poured a mixture of coffee and chocolate. It tasted like coffee and chocolate. So what?
The most entertaining thing was that the waiters crumbed down after the first course and the main course, meaning they took crumbs from the table twice. That's rare.
I found the ambience and the dinner horrific. I'm glad for Jason that it's doing well, because he's a nice person. He was once employed at Michael Caine's Canteen restaurant in Chelsea. Then he worked for Gordon Ramsay at Maze, which I wasn't crazy about. Then he went to the Maze Grill, where all he had to do was slap a steak on a grill. A trained gorilla could do that.
Jason obviously has the key to success because his place is packed. He won't give a damn what I say. Nor should he.
Went down to the French Horn at Sonning in Berkshire. This is 1950s food at its best. Immaculate service. Run by the Emmanuel family. Carole worked behind the bar at Wheelers, founded by her father, in Old Compton Street when I first met her. Lucian Freud, so dapper in later years, came in wearing a pullover full of holes.
Now Carole and her husband Ronnie help out their children Elaine and Michael in busy times. This is a family business and you can see it. There are marvellous lawns and flowerbeds leading down to the Thames.
I had fantastic scampi. I normally have the roast duck, which turns on a spit above an open log fire as you enter. Geraldine had that. I chose sole à la banane, which at Wheelers was called sole capri. It's served with banana and chutney. To finish: the best bread-and-butter pudding ever. Go there.
Our photo was taken in my garden, not a restaurant. As we're getting married tomorrow I thought a picture of Geraldine and me might be apt.
Gloomy chefs are two a penny. My marriage took nearly 76 years to come to fruition. About the same time I'd guess some of the food I'm served has been in storage.
From a reader, Joyce Marriott: Hymie's grandson comes home from school and says proudly, "Grandpa, I've got a part in my school play."
Hymie asks, "What part is it?" The boy replies, "I'm playing a Jewish husband."
Hymie responds, "Go back and tell teacher you want a speaking part."
I was impressed with your knowledge of the first world war last week. Were you there?
Steve West, Cardiff
We, too, went to Le Cristal in Armentieres. Local folk were eating alfresco. The waitress ignored us for 45 minutes. We were then informed that if we wished to eat, service was indoors only. The Chain Saw Massacre owner has a husband of equally sour disposition. "Ghastly" sums it up perfectly.
Richard Stagg, Winchester
Armentieres sounds a disaster surpassed only by the nearby town of Pithiviers. The man behind the bar in the town square's main cafe glowered at us and made unpleasant remarks about the English to the locals ... not realising, until I spoke, that we understood French. We left for the only other place that seemed to be open, a snack bar with flies crawling all over the uncovered ham baguettes and assorted cheeses. All in all, an upsetting experience!
Ann Keith, Cambridge
At the Bron Rhiw hotel in Criccieth, north Wales, (£74 a night for a double room) I asked what time the staff served dinner. Answer: "We don't." I missed breakfast our second morning as I had to leave early. It was served between 8am and 9am - 8am being the time you ordered and 9am the time you got it. So: for dinner, cold pasta from the local Tesco; the missed breakfast, courtesy of the Little Chef, Leominster. Neither worthy of a review in your esteemed column.
Geoff Tabor, Hampshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email email@example.com