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Forgiveness is so sweet I skip the revenge course

Published 11 March 2012
News Review
972nd article

Michael at the Arts Club with Tanya Rose, left, ans Sarah Mason (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

There are moments in life, not always a delight, that are unforgettable. One of mine concerned Arjun Waney, owner of Zuma (liked the food, too noisy), Roka in Charlotte Street (liked everything but the location) and the London version of La Petite Maison (hated everything, though I’m told it’s improved).

I'd meet Arjun, occasionally, in the south of France. One evening I walked into the courtyard garden of La Reserve de Beaulieu to wait for a friend before dinner. Arjun asked Geraldine and me to join him and his wife for champagne and caviar. We sat down. Arjun nattered away about the Indian philosophy of not having evil thoughts about anything or anyone, because they reflect on you.

Suddenly, like a man possessed, he turned on me. "You piece of shit," he said. "You are shit. You think anyone cares about what you write? They don’t."

He continued in this manic vein, also insulting an actress Geraldine and I had been with at La Petite Maison. Then, as if the evil force had left him, he was all charm again. When my friend Adam Kenwright, the theatre big shot, arrived Arjun invited us all to dine with him. I declined. I've seen Arjun a few times since and made a joke of his behaviour.

Now he and Gary Landesberg have reopened the Arts Club in Dover Street, Mayfair, after they took it over and then closed it for refurbishment. To show I am nobly free of malice and any desire for revenge, I hereby declare it one of the greatest restaurants in London.

The Arts Club was founded in 1863 by, among others, Charles Dickens and Lord Leighton. Churchill, Rodin and Whistler used to hang out there. Originally based in Hanover Square, it moved to a listed building in Dover Street. Sir Peter Blake is the president. Members include Gwyneth Paltrow, Grayson Perry and Ronnie Wood.

It is a membership club, and I lunched there with Tanya Rose, who owns Mason Rose, a splendid PR thingy for hotels, and her business partner Sarah Mason, who runs their travel division, Mason Rose Private.

"That's not an escort agency," advised Tanya.

"Probably make a few quid more if it was," I suggested.

The beautiful dining room is run by Nigel Stowe, who jumped ship from the Ivy Club. Our table looked out onto an attractive rear garden. After very good bread - always an important sign of quality I had "chef's eggs with truffle market price". This was scrambled eggs with black truffles. Scrambled eggs are difficult. I do them brilliantly. The late Ava Gardner told me the only person who cooked scrambled eggs as I did was Frank. In case you missed the enormity of the compliment, she was talking about Sinatra. The Arts Club eggs were as perfect as mine: not too hard, not too runny.

My main course was langoustines, which I asked them to shell. I was not put on Earth to shell strange things from the water. I’d have preferred it if these had been fully shelled. The chef, obviously affected by the artistic heritage of the place, left the heads on. I don’t want fishy eyes staring at me. They were the best: juicy, apparently fresh, great texture.

Tanya had a superb steak; the chips were tip-top. I finished with a very difficult dessert: rum baba. This is normally too solid. This one was perfect. Tanya’s sorbet was also unbeatable. I dictated: "This is a very serious addition to the London restaurant scene." If I dictated that, it must be true.

  • PS: Took Michael and Shakira Caine a few days later. They also thought it was marvellous.

  • I went recently to Koffmann's Knightsbridge, a restaurant at the Berkeley hotel. Pierre Koffmann had three Michelin stars at La Tante Claire in Chelsea. He retired, returning to open this restaurant nearly two years ago.

    The ridiculous Michelin organisation has not even granted him one star. I know of no better cooking anywhere. Pierre is a master, still working almost every day in the kitchen. My fish soup with rouille was the only good fish soup I’ve had in London, up to the standard of Tetou in Golfe-Juan on the Riviera, the best fish restaurant in the world.

    Another marvellous, underheralded chef is John Williams at the Ritz. Just before Christmas - you remember that: it's when an energy-saving old cross-dresser draped in red wafts around dragged by four reindeer - I went there for lunch. It was immaculate English cooking at its best. No plate decoration, just amazing, simple food.

    John is the only man in London I know who produces a favourite of mine, pommes soufflees - little bags of fried potato. John has no Michelin star either. Yet I look at some of the pathetic, overfussed, mini-portioned restaurants where the chef has two Michelin stars, let alone one, and think: "The world has gone mad." But you knew that anyway.

  • Becky is sitting on a park bench waiting for Hymie to return from the deli. A strange man walks over and says: "Hello. Would you like my company?"

    "I don't know," says Becky. "What do you manufacture?"

    Michael's missives

    As a food critic, you should know better than to compare apples with pears. You gave us the cost of your Phantom V in "old" money and its sale price in "new", thereby kidding us you'd made an amazing profit. Whereas your Rolls turned into a mere classic, you've managed to become a vintage nutter!
    Ian Hearn, Leicestershire

    Regarding the recent Michelin star correspondence: I think a new rating system is long overdue. What about a Michaelin star?
    Ian Doran, Shropshire

    "At last," I thought, seeing last week's smart, well-fitting jacket and shirt, "you've forked out on a stylist." Pity you didn’t pay the extra few quid for advice on the nether regions. I suppose those grey, saggy "tracky" bottoms will come in useful when you end up walking the streets trying to find a restaurant brave enough to let you in!
    Ann Dyer, Exeter

    At the Natural History museum we queued for 25 minutes for the cafe. The soup was dire, tasteless, watery and of doubtful origin. Ben, my grandson, said his spaghetti "smells better than it tastes". A supervisor explained: "No salt is added to the soup to protect people's blood pressure." Mine was through the roof. Offers of a complimentary drink or dessert were declined. I wanted a refund but didn't get one. The food around me looked equally inedible. Why are people so slow to voice their opinions?
    Margaret Noble, Surrey

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