Michael at Cassis with, from left, Alex Pakenham, Polly Lavelle and David and Harry Wynne-Morgan JULIAN WHATLEY
A man I was never close to and hadn't heard from for eight years phoned. "How are you, Michael?" he asked. This was followed by a load of guff as if I was his best friend.
Finally I said: "What do you want, Claudio?" "Nothing," he replied. "Just checking in."
"Nonsense. What do you want?"
"Well, I have this Italian restaurant in St James's." It was a pitch in the hope of getting a good review. I didn't go.
Same thing happened the other day. The caller was David Wynne-Morgan — nice person, knew him decades ago when he was on the Daily Express.
"We must have lunch, catch up on old times," he suggested. It surprised me not when he later recommended three restaurants all owned by Marc, a company where David is marketing director. I chose Cassis in Brompton Road. "If I don't like it, I'll murder it," I thought.
The room is pleasant, with jolly Warhol-type pictures, tables set apart. I was offered one in the middle. I don't like being exposed, so I picked a booth opposite the bar. Mistake. Whenever anyone came in, a freezing blast of air nearly killed me. We moved a few booths away from the door.
The place is run by David's son, Harry, 31, a handsome, charming young man. The sort any mother would like her daughter to marry. Except for a Jewish mother. She'd say: "Why should you marry a goy? A nice Jewish boy isn't good enough for you?"
Harry ran his own bar in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for four years. One day a local mafioso came in and said: "You will sell our drugs." Harry politely (because he's British to the core) said: "No, but I won't sell anyone else's either."
Then a tougher, rougher mafia group took over and made him the same offer.
Harry declined. A member of the previous mafia group was in the bar: the new lot took him outside, where they shot him in both legs. They came back in and said to Harry: "You're next."
Not unwisely he got out, thus ending up in Brompton Road. Duller maybe. Safer for sure.
The Cassis menu was ordinary. With it was a smaller menu headed "Matt Roberts" — a posh health club next door. From that I had a "Lean and Mean smoothie: whey protein powder, banana, mango, skimmed milk, raspberries and strawberries. The perfect post-workout drink. It helps you recover from the workout whilst not giving you a sugar spike." My workout had consisted of sitting in the back of my long-wheelbase Bentley Brooklands Mulliner special edition and being driven to the restaurant.
There was white asparagus on the Matt Roberts menu. I asked to see some. It can be skimpy and tough. This looked okay.
"How many do you serve on the plate, Harry?" I asked.
"Three," he replied.
"I don't believe it," I said. "I'll have six, with hollandaise sauce." They were fine.
I followed with an excellent San Marzano tomato and basil linguine with parmesan.
For dessert Cassis offered a variety of soufflés. They'd made a passion fruit one in case I wanted it. The problem was, having been made a bit earlier, it was settling, not as fluffy and textured as it should have been.
Harry proudly announced they had a new pastry chef. He displayed a fantastic-looking chocolate tart and a vanilla fruit tart. I had a bit of that. Historic.
Then we were joined by two very lovely, classy young ladies.
"This is real hospitality," I thought. "Will they be giftwrapped?" The blonde one was Polly Lavelle, head of media for the Marc group, the other Alex Pakenham, marketing director of another Marc enterprise, Morton's club in Berkeley Square.
We could have chatted longer but I said: "Stand there, dears, for our photo." They cheer it up, don't they?
Sorry, can't murder Cassis. It was rather good.
I often have marvellous takeaway chicken soup with kneidlach (dumplings), kreplach (meat ravioli) and vermicelli from Reubens delicatessen on Baker Street. That was closed. So the chauffeur tried Harry Morgan in St John's Wood. The soup was murky, tasted awful, the matzo balls were inedible, the kreplach like rubber. I took a tiny bit, threw the rest away.
Oh dear. Harry Morgan used to be pretty good.
I spoke recently at the Lady Taverners' 25th anniversary lunch at the Royal Garden hotel. Lovely people. Sitting next to me was the president, Angela Rippon. She told me this joke:
Abe meets Hymie and says: "You don't look so good. What happened?"
"Vell," says Hymie, "Becky and I come across this fairy. She says, 'Anything you want, tell me, you'll get it.'
"Becky says, 'I'd like to go on a world cruise.' Flick of the wand, Becky's holding two £20,000 tickets for a world cruise.
"Then she says to me, 'Hymie, what about you?'
"I whispered, 'Madame Fairy, I'd like a wife 30 years younger than me.' Whoosh goes the wand. Suddenly I'm 80 years old. No vonder I don't look so good."
The photo at Coworth Park where you stand three yards behind Geraldine is a good start. Next week please increase your distance to 100 yards.
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
You say at Coworth Park you had a four-poster bed with black iron poles. Did management guess you'd been having exotic pole-dancing lessons?
Dennis Pallis, Kent
Married life must be suiting you.You look almost handsome in recent photos — or is it Hymie putting in a long-awaited appearance?
Roger Hayman-Start, Surrey
At a Montreal restaurant, irate customer to manager: "Please would you remove the gratuity from this bill?" Manager: "What, you served yourselves?
"Michael Rose, London
Forget the starving in Africa; send leftovers to those waiting for service at Marco Pierre White's Birmingham steakhouse. It took 3 1/2 hours to get a three-course meal. Four out of five steaks were well overdone. Take a coffin in case you die of old age waiting to be served.
Paul Graham, Birmingham
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