Defending us against the Goths - to the last syllabub
Published 15 July 2012 News Review 990th article
Geraldine and Michael at the Goring with David Morgan-Hewitt and Stuart Geddes (Julian Whatley)
There are only two great hotels left in London. The others have been carved up, altered, cheapened, appallingly redecorated. The two are the Ritz in Piccadilly, still elegant and not messed about, and the Goring in Belgravia, famous for being where Kate Middleton spent her last night before going forth to marry.
The Goring is as near perfect as a hotel can be. Edwardian, not "improved" by Vandals, Visigoths and other barbarians. There's only one touch of horror: David Linley, in a rare mood of insanity, has created two spindly branches with tiny lights attached that look like Christmas decorations from Argos. They're in the dining room, an elegant Edwardian room, and completely out of keeping.
For my starter I had potted Lytham shrimps (£7.75 extra) from the £38-plus-12.5%-for-service set menu. My main course was a superb twice-baked goat’s cheese souffle with pea shoots and asparagus sauce.
Chewton Glen in Hampshire used to do this brilliantly. That stopped when a couple of tasteless property developers bought the place, redecorated it with considerable vulgarity and lost the chef, the general manager and me. The same dreaded couple recently bought the rights to run the National Trust-owned Cliveden.
At the Goring my dessert was a first-rate gooseberry syllabub. The restaurant manager, Stuart Geddes, gave me a list of where all their produce came from. The baby carrots I’d had as a side order and the gooseberry syllabub were not on it.
"Came from Asda, did they?" I said cheerfully to the managing director, David Morgan-Hewitt. He inquired, and reported that the carrots came from Watts Farms in Kent.
If you want a real treat, get thee to the Goring. It's life as it used to be. Only better.
On my previous visit to the Goring I sat next to the redoubtable Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody.
Gwyneth sent me a classic letter in 1988. The News of the World had published a double-page spread, which I'd read over Earl Grey tea with Jenny Seagrove in my kitchen at 11pm. I'd bought the paper outside the Odeon Kensington.
These were the headlines: "Michael Winner whipped EastEnders girl and used her as sex slave . . . Jenny's movie mogul said No Sex, No Part . . . He called me his black bitch . . . With tits like that I can make you a star." And at the bottom of the page, from a girl I’d never met: "Get your clothes off, he said." All untrue. Very unsettling to read at 11pm. It put me off my chocolate digestive biscuit.
What happened was: a TV extra with the wondrous name of Sandy Grizzle used to come round occasionally, years earlier, for a "do". I'd serve her dinner as she watched Dallas. Then she'd go to Stringfellows and carry on with the largesse.
I later found she did the same with Peter Cook and a few other celebs. On the Monday we commenced proceedings for defamation, which the News of the World speedily settled with a donation to my charity, the Police Memorial Trust. Shortly thereafter the editor left. The previous week she'd run another made-up story about Arnold Schwarzenegger having a shrine to Hitler in his living room.
I wrote an extremely pompous article for The Independent about the abuse of press freedom and sent it to 300 of the most important people in the land. None of them gave a damn about what happened to me. They wrote detailing what they believed the evil press had done to them.
Alan Ayckbourn wrote: "Personally I think all EastEnders should be whipped regularly."
Dunwoody wrote on House of Commons paper:
I quite agree with you about lack of self-control in the press. When the Labour party wins the next election I intend to bring in legislation to deal with this matter.
Shadow home secretary."
Underneath this she added by hand: "If you are doing these wonderful things, why don't you ask your friends round?"
I remember when sweets were displayed in large glass jars behind the counter. They were all manufactured with some pride. The taste was memorable. I recently acquired a £1 plastic bag of Haribo Starmix - sort of jelly babies, from "the happy world of Haribo". According to the pack, the main ingredient was glucose syrup.
I would like to inform the happy world of Haribo that these were the most revolting things I've ever eaten. Tasteless rubber. No decent texture, one colour as indefinably awful as the next. I chucked them into the bin.
Becky says to Hymie: "Look, I haven't worn this for 24 years and it still fits me."
Hymie responds: "It's a bloody scarf!"
I suggest you have another talk with Jimmy Lahoud of L'Escargot. He started as a washer-up and finished owning 35 restaurants. You have turned a fortune into a £6m debt. Mr Lahoud may have some advice that will prevent you having to become a washer-up.
Tim Burton, Berkshire
I'm not fooled: in last week's photo I noticed Geraldine with her hand behind her back operating the wax dummy positioned between her and the ornate Mr Lahoud.
Paul Lyons, Portsmouth
Following your piece on Jimmy Lahoud's bling, I considered how we might jazz you up a bit. Then it came to me: a ring through your nose. Very apt, as you usually charge through restaurants like a bull in a china shop.
Patrick Tracey, Carlisle
Don't fret about your weight loss critics, because you'll always be big in Bailieborough.
John Finegan, Bailieborough, Co Cavan
I thought you looked unusually elegant in the photo outside L'Escargot. You also looked extremely miserable. Geraldine looked particularly lovely. Only a true curmudgeon could look unhappy with a wife like that.
Bill Hopper, Northumbria