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Paradise closed? Who told them I was coming?

Published 24 June 2012
News Review
987th article



Michael and Geraldine outside Imperial in Golders Green (Sean Naghibi)

I'm no expert on Golders Green but I have a soft spot for it. Why, I can’t imagine. Nobody I know has ever lived there. If I’ve driven through more than a dozen times, I’d be surprised.

I like the comfortable houses: not flashy like in Hampstead, not Dallas-style gross like the monstrosities in the nearby Bishops Avenue or Winnington Road.

Thus seduced by my imagined aura of a halcyon Golders Green, I decided we’d drop in somewhere for Saturday lunch.

Boy, did I have a wrong number. Saturday is the Jewish holy day, Shabbat. I had no idea there were so many frummers (deeply religious Jews) in the area. Shops, restaurants, nearly everything was shut. Even the Carmelli bakery, where I once bought a great bagel, was shuttered.

Geraldine observed: “I was thinking it would be like St John’s Wood High Street, which is super. This is a mouldy street.”

This view was echoed by an old Jewish woman sitting outside Imperial, one of the few places open.

“This street used to be the Bond Street of northwest London but it’s changed. Charity shops, a lot of tat. It’s gone downhill. My childhood has disappeared,” she announced sadly.

We went into Imperial regardless. It’s a pleasant, wooden-floored cafe.

The brochure said: “We proudly serve Union hand-roasted coffee. Their Revolution Blend is a powerful yet velvety mix of Latin, African and Indonesian arabica beans.

“Our milk is heated to around 65 degrees, as we feel this enhances the milk and espresso. This releases the natural sugars in the milk. We do not boil the milk, which obliterates the subtle flavours.” Bet you didn’t know that.

I asked the extremely charming Iranian manager, Sean Naghibi, if this could be described as a Jewish restaurant.

“The owner is Jewish but it’s not kosher,” explained Sean. “His wife’s Italian. She makes our jam.”

Outside the window Archie’s Supermarket was closed.

Geraldine said: “He’s obviously Jewish. His real name is Aaron.”

The food at Imperial was remarkably good. I started with superb hummus, followed by chilli con carne, which Sean told me had been made on the premises. It sat on a plate of yellow rice. Very nice, too.

Geraldine had the house salad: chicken strips, green beans and soya beans with mint vinaigrette, mayo-free coleslaw, apple and cucumber, toasted cashews and thyme and coriander dressing, sprinkled with feta cheese.

She reported: “I’ve rarely had such a tasty salad, ever.”

My dessert was a scone (heavy), home-made allotment jam (historic) and Union coffee, which was fantastic. Geraldine had hers black and liked it so much that she asked for another.

When we came out, a London Borough of Barnet parking ticket was affixed to the Bentley. Obviously the parking attendant was not a frummer.

PS: Nearby is a cafe-bakery called the Old Tree, which is run by oriental people. I bought a butter bread roll (cloying) and some almond biscuits (excellent). Overall a strange experience. Nothing wrong with that.



  • My marvellous friend the late Sir John Gielgud described me in his waspish published letters as “a mad nut ... a foul-mouthed director with a certain charm ... very respectful to me ... a restless maniac mixture of George Cukor, Harpo Marx and Lionel Bart”.

    He had a great turn of phrase, did Johnny. My house is scattered with embossed gifts from him.

    We were filming The Wicked Lady — “a great nonsense”, Johnny called it. One of our locations was a stately home a few miles north of Golders Green. Gielgud, Alan Bates, Denholm Elliott and I would have a bought-in lunch in one of the rooms.

    Johnny invariably started the proceedings by saying: “Who shall we bitch today?”

    Once, he and I were lunching alone. I sent the driver to Bloom’s in Golders Green high street, a kosher restaurant that was staffed by the rudest waiters ever. Among the food brought back was boiled gefilte fish, a cold fish ball. Not everyone’s cup of poisson. “Try this, Johnny,” I said.

    Gielgud took a bite. His face was a picture of controlled contempt.

    “You don’t like it, then?” I asked.

    That’s the only time I saw Gielgud lost for words.



  • Hymie dies. Becky, heartbroken, goes to a medium, who puts her in touch with her beloved husband.

    "Are you happy, Hymie?" Becky asks.

    "Very happy," responds Hymie.

    "What do you do all day?" asks Becky.

    "I have salad for breakfast," explains Hymie. "Then I have sex all morning, a salad lunch, then sex all afternoon. For dinner I have salad, then it’s sex all night."

    "But Hymie," says Becky, "I thought heaven was a holy place."

    "Who said anything about heaven?" asks Hymie. "I'm a rabbit on the heath."



    Michael's missives

    The illustrious building behind Geraldine in last week’s picture is Duart Castle, the 800-year-old ancestral pile of the clan Maclean. A thousand Macleans from all over the world have come to Mull for a week to pay homage to their chief, Sir Lachlan. Think of the fun you’re missing!
    Dave, Jo and Catriona, Isle of Mull

    Good to see Geraldine with a decent castle in the background, instead of the usual crumbling ruin.
    Richard Bingham, Midlothian

    Geraldine looks even more attractive close up. I thought: what the hell is she doing with an old curmudgeon like you?
    Douglas Jones, Manchester

    Stop grumbling about food not "talking to you". What did you expect the crab dumpling to say at the Bright Courtyard - "Thank you for having me boiled to an early death"?
    Nick Jones, La Drome, France

    Geraldine looking so serene,
    Michael nowhere to be seen.
    If he’s imprisoned in the castle yonder,
    Will absence make her heart grow fonder?
    But knowing Winner, he'll be back
    As our grumpy roving restaurant hack,
    And next time we see Geraldine,
    She may not look quite so serene.

    Joe Cushnan, Nottinghamshire