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Come on, chaps, play the fame game - I'm hungry

Published 22 January 2012
News Review
965th article



Michael with Laura Montana at Richard Caring's new restaurant, 34 (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Your first impression of a restaurant comes when you phone to make a reservation. I believe every receptionist in London comes from Outer Silesia. The only person they know is their mother in Outer Silesia.

When that superb restaurant Scott's opened, a well-known actor phoned, gave his name and said: "I'd like to make a reservation for next Thursday."

The receptionist said: "How do you spell that name?"

The same famous actor went to the reception at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in the Mandarin Oriental and said: "I'd like a table for six next Monday."

When he gave his name the receptionist asked, "How do you spell it?" then said: "There's a three-month waiting list. I'll put you on it." I arrived and got the restaurant manager, and the booking for Monday was made.

"Why should famous people be treated differently from us?" you ask. Because you're civilians; no one cares about you. Live with it. If Buckingham Palace rang, the Outer Silesian receptionist would say: "How do you spell Kwinn? What is this Lizbot Kwinn of?"

A similar thing happened to me. I'd been to the opening of Richard Caring's fine new steakhouse restaurant 34 in Mayfair. The general manager, Laura Montana, gave me her card with a landline she suggested I call if I wanted to make a reservation.

Later I called the number. For three hours no one answered. I phoned the restaurant and was greeted by a recorded message: "If you want to commit suicide, press 1. If you want lady's lingerie, press 2. If you want to kill everyone associated with this restaurant, press 3." And so on.

I pressed the appropriate button. After a long wait a receptionist answered.

"Is Laura Montana there?" I asked.

"I can't see her," replied the receptionist.

"That's not what I asked," I said with grim patience. "I asked if she was there." I then held on for ever while ghastly music played. If I want a concert, I'll go to the Albert Hall.

Finally Laura came on the line.

I asked: "You're a very experienced and excellent restaurant manager. Why do you give me a card with a phone number for reservations which no one answers?"

"You're better off to call the main reservations line," said Laura.

"When I see you I'll tell you why I'm not," I responded. On the day of my visit I wanted to change the table I'd requested.

I rang, eventually got through and asked for Laura.

"She's not in today," said the receptionist. Thirty minutes later Laura rang me.

"You're not on today, are you?" I said.

"Yes," she replied.

"Then why was I told you weren't?" I asked.

"It was a mistake," said Laura. As for 34: the room is beautifully designed, the food extremely good, the menu varied, not just steaks. I loved it. It's another big hit for Caring. Go, if you can make a reservation.

All food critics are stupid but some food critics are more stupid than others. Count me out of that: I'm not a food critic. I've got 967 columns written over 19 years to prove it. I make this observation having read a Financial Times review of Chris Corbin and Jeremy King's new restaurant, the Delaunay in Aldwych. The paper's usually competent critic, Nicholas Lander, is entitled to his view that the whole place is not much good, even though I disagree.

What's unfair is that he attacks Corbin and King for serving caviar, "which", he writes, "should not be on any conscientious restaurateur's menu today. They are the product of the wild sturgeon currently monitored by Cites, the international trade treaty on endangered species." He goes on: "Most ... restaurateurs who care about such matters have switched to farmed caviar." Lander thus accuses Corbin and King of a criminal offence.

Naughty Nicholas. How does he know Corbin and King are selling caviar from wild sturgeon? Of course they're not. It's a criminal offence to import or sell caviar without a Cites certificate. The Corbin-King caviar is farmed, as is all caviar on sale in London restaurants. The Delaunay's is farmed in Bulgaria and Italy.

I eat lots of caviar. The managing director of my supplier, WG White, grand name Ian Le Vesconte, confirmed to me no restaurant supplier offers wild caviar. It's farmed with increasing success in France, Italy, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and other places. At first farmed caviar was ghastly. Over the years it has vastly improved in taste and quality.

The restaurant mark-up on caviar is massive. My wholesaler charges £220 for 100 grams of beluga. Harrods quoted me £750 for 100g. To buy 100g at the Delaunay would set you back £470 plus 12.5% service — that's £528.75. Expensive, innit?



  • From the Ritz doorman Michael O'Dowdall: The Jewish religion and the Mormon religion have combined forces. Their headquarters are in Salt Beef City.



    Michael's missives

    There can be only two explanations for Geraldine looking so happy on her own in Switzerland. She had either just left you at the Dignitas clinic or had pushed you off the balcony. Which was it?
    Ian McDougle, Buckinghamshire

    You say Geraldine gave you a drinking straw with a Santa Claus on it for Christmas. I'd be worried if I were you. It will be a bedpan next year and I daren't think what it will do when you use it.
    Kathleen Buttigieg, Malta

    £34,963 for 12 nights at the Gstaad Palace hotel! As my father would have said, you must have more money than sense. Next year stay with me in Wolverhampton and have change out of £5,000.
    Charles Gordos, Wolverhampton

    I hope there was someone decent enough to throw you a few pence as you sat on a bench on Gstaad's main street eating a ketchup-covered hot dog.
    Joe Carroll, Co Louth, Ireland

    You recently wrote that Geraldine had a tape measure. What a sensible lady. She can now make sure you measure up to her expectations, calibrate your new svelte waistline and lengthen your overdraft. What she'll not be able to do is tape up your mouth to stop you name-dropping!
    Philip Weisberger, London

    You have many virtues but humility is definitely not one of them.
    Oliver Cassidy, Co Down

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