Published 29 January 2012 News Review 966th article
Terry O'Neill and Michael outside the deli with Sinead Dixon (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Last week I told you how I visited, with difficulty, Richard Caring's newest oh-so-chic restaurant, 34 in South Audley Street, Mayfair. A few yards away as the crow flies - never understood that; what's a crow got to do with it? - is another Caring place, the Mount Street Deli.
It's tiny. Three itsy-bitsy tables, the most uncomfortable wooden stools ever and shelves where customers sit eating. It's close to historic. I went for lunch with my friend the photographer supreme, Terry O’Neill. He goes almost every day.
There’s a large counter for takeaway food with cakes, pies, fish salad, herb-roasted salmon, ham - you name it, chances are they have it.
I persuaded the management not to put anyone else on my minuscule table. It had four stools. With four diners, there'd be no room for the food, breathing or life as it is known on planet Earth.
The manager, an extremely charming lady, Sinead Dixon, is also waitress and entertainer and, if asked, will cut your hair as you eat and blow-dry it to boot. (Another phrase I fail to comprehend. What’s a boot got to do with anything?)
From the hot options, I chose - well, it was the only hot starter, so it chose me - carrot and sweet potato soup. As great a soup as I've ever sipped, slurped and spilt on my shirt.
Before that I tried one of the freshly baked sausage rolls: tough and uninteresting. Should have been made with puff pastry. The warm brown bread was great. Big slab of butter in a bowl, not ghastly, unwrap-it-yourself muck.
My main course was beef and mushroom hotpot with English potatoes. The hotpot totally memorable, tasty, perfect. The sliced potatoes on top overdone, tough, inedible.
Terry said the ice cream was very good. It came in little containers like you get in the theatre. It was dreadful. Change to Marine Ices or Haagen-Dazs, dears.
My dessert took me to cloud nine. (Never understood that. What’s so great about cloud nine? Why is it better than clouds 1, 23 or 1,762?) It was apple and prune crumble from the chef, Mary Lewis. The best crumble I’ve ever eaten. Never mind yer Gordon Ramsay or Heston Blumin-nutty-but-nice; this was beyond belief.
Terry had a gargantuan ciabatta roll with chicken, cos lettuce and tomato. Enough for three people. He also ate his sausage roll, half of mine and an ice cream. At odds with his telling me he always had a light lunch.
"This is a little place but a treasure-trove," he correctly observed. But then in the 50 years I’ve known him Terry has never said anything stupid. Except when he revealed he was thinking of buying a house in Barbados.
PS: Returned with Geraldine and Terry because my camera focus collapsed. Had to retake the photo. Ate a second superb lunch.
The shirt I'm wearing is a patchwork of 11 pyjama bottoms. My shirtmaker made it. Most expensive garment ever.
My quest for the perfect strawberry started when I had incredible ones from Belgium at La Genova. I found the supplier was Barry Thakrar, a fruit and veg wholesaler. Sadly Barry sent me strawberries so hard you needed a chainsaw to cut them, and potatoes to my assistant Dinah she had to throw away.
I tried some Israeli strawberries from the posh supermarket Partridges. Pretty good. Then I was recommended Reynolds Catering Supplies. Tony Reynolds, the managing director, sent me a treatise on strawberries brilliant enough for a starred first at Cambridge.
He said: "Spanish candonga are the best on the market today. Other options are Moroccan or Egyptian, both of which have a cardboard flavour. For the next few weeks Spanish will remain best, French gariguette will be available from the end of February and then, arguably even better than English, the French mara des bois will be available from mid-April.
"The best raspberries now are Mexican maravilla. The next good raspberry, Portuguese tulamine, will arrive mid-April."
Tony brought to my house a big display of strawberries and raspberries. The Israeli strawberries tasted better than the Spanish, but as they warmed up a rethink led me to choose the Spanish. Wholesale prices for me: Spanish £9.50 for a 1kg punnet, Israeli £5.80, Moroccan £5.10. Tony now supplies my fruit, veg, cheese, mice, aerosol and elephants. His family started the business in 1945 in Hackney. It’s one of the top restaurant and hotel suppliers.
NB: All soft fruit should be consumed at room temperature. If you have any in the fridge, take it out two hours before eating.
Hymie decided to bond with his son, so he took him to the local pub. He bought two pints of real ale. His son didn’t like the taste. Hymie drank both. He then bought two pints of Guinness. Same result. Finally he bought two large scotches. His son hated it, so Hymie had to drink both.
By now Hymie had had enough, so he put his son back in the pram and took him home.
From her expression in last week's photo we know that Laura Montana bitterly regrets ever having given you her card. She knows she’s been well and truly Winnered. Your delicious assassin’s half-smile tells us so, too.
Paul Clarke, Berkshire
You say concerning the famous getting restaurant tables: "You're civilians." Surely actors that you keep company with are one step away from wretched prostitutes, according to ancient tradition. They’re hardly Brahmin poets.
Sandeep Jaitley, Surrey
You dismiss your readers as mere "civilians". That implies they're civil. Wish you could rise to that, Michael.
Lillian Simpson, Cheshire
Poor maitre d' Franco in the Gstaad Palace hotel, who "bounced around like a holiday camp host" trying to please you. Maybe he thought that’s where you take your economy breaks.
Richard Olley, Hampshire
Rather than complaining about the price of caviar in restaurants, why not do something useful by highlighting the ridiculous mark-up on soft drinks?
Nic Peeling, Worcestershire
I enjoy your article and the letters but my husband has become a crossword addict, so News Review disappears for a week, by which time it's lost its initial charm. Can you move to the Sport section? He never reads that!
Jenni Woolf, Derbyshire