Published 19 August 2012 News Review 995th article
Michael and Geraldine at Langan’s Bistro with the manager, 'Rocky' Panovic (Julian Whatley)
Ever since I was infected five years ago with Vibrio vulnificus, a germ that can kill people within 48 hours, I've been in and out of hospitals, clinics, asylums, zoos, delicatessens and branches of Ann Summers. Name the hospital, I've been there: London Clinic, Princess Grace, King Edward VII's, Harley Street Clinic, Lister, Charing Cross and, most recently, the Cromwell, where the food was rather good.
Each time I'm rushed into intensive care, not expected to live through the night. A week later I'm released and they say: "He's done it again: he's indestructible."
They're now building hospitals just for me. When asked, my liver specialist gave me 18 months to two years before various ailments killed me off. So did a second specialist. A third gave me until 2015, but I forgot to ask whether he meant the beginning or the end of that year. I'm now going to William Hill to see if it'll give me better odds.
All the liver specialists said my liver was in great shape.
"Then what's gonna kill me?" I asked.
"Your heart," was the answer.
My heart doctor, the formidably beautiful Laura Corr, was more optimistic. "I've known people with your heart condition last 15 years," she said.
So you pays yer money and you takes yer choice. Que sera, sera, as Doris Day would say.
When I was in these clinics, mostly in or near Harley Street, Geraldine, sometimes with my assistant Dinah, would go out and forage for food in local restaurants. All except one (Getti, in Marylebone High Street) were most helpful. The best was Langan's Bistro in Devonshire Street. Geraldine assured the manager, "Rocky" (real name Radovan Panovic), that she'd bring me in one day. Five years later I made it.
It's a nice, old-fashioned room, very comfortable, with paintings on the wall by David Hockney, Patrick Procktor and other distinguished artists. Procktor's drawing of the founder, Peter Langan, heads the menu.
Langan, an alcoholic, opened the bistro in 1965 and then, in 1976, launched Langan's Brasserie with Michael Caine. Wearing a white suit, he would sit with celebrity customers at the brasserie whether they wanted him to or not and frequently fell drunk onto the floor, so waiters had to walk round where he lay.
In October 1988, aged 47, Langan had a blazing row with his wife - literally blazing, because it is said he set the house on fire. He was badly burnt in the flames and died seven weeks later without regaining consciousness.
In 1999 a third partner who'd joined Caine and Langan, Richard Shepherd, bought Caine's share of the Langan's restaurants. Langan's Bistro had a regular clientele.
I started with carrot and coriander soup and then progressed to the dish of the day, a very spicy, but excellent, Thai green chicken curry. Geraldine had duck liver pate and mackerel. Apparently when I was in hospital the sight and taste of Mrs Langan's Chocolate Pudding would do more for me than antibiotic drips, blood transfusions, endless operations and other medical attention. I had it for lunch. It is one of London’s great desserts. The chef, Sandra Bairral, had made a special lemon sorbet for me. I had that too.
This was not a meal that merited Michelin stars or other meaningless approval. It was simply very good. It had helped to keep me alive and did so again. What more could anyone ask for?
Fantastic response about old-fashioned sweets as opposed to modern muck. Douglas Adler, of Essex, suggested a shop called Bambi in Frinton-on-Sea.
"Our favourites are lemon sherbets and butter brazils. Let me send you some," he kindly offered.
Others gave websites for specialist old sweets. Out of the blue came a few bags of such sweets from a supplier, Hope and Greenwood, accompanied by a commendation from Tom Parker Bowles naming it "Britain's best sweet shop".
Far be it from me to argue with Tom, a nice person and a serious food expert, but he's talking drivel. If Hope and Greenwood is Britain's best sweet shop, then McDonald's is Britain's finest restaurant. The sweets it sent me were basically tasteless, poor texture, utterly meaningless.
I'll continue the search.
From Ann Hudson, of London: Becky and Hymie are going through problems and have been committed to a psychiatric institution. After three months Hymie falls into the swimming pool. Becky jumps in, at great risk to her life, and somehow or other gets Hymie onto dry land.
The head of the institution sees Becky afterwards and says: "It's quite clear from the action you took that you are no longer in need of psychiatric help. The good news is that you can go home. The bad news is that Hymie committed suicide this morning. He hanged himself from a beam in his room."
Becky says: "Hymie didn't hang himself. I strung him up to dry out. Can I go home now, please?"
My wife and I sat near you at the French Horn in Sonning last Sunday. It's heart-warming to observe that you now appear to be only Forty Shades of Grey. Shame about the jacket, though. Did Geraldine get it from Renta Tent?
Peter Greeson, Berkshire
You told us Geraldine lent "our glasses" to a man at Mari Vanna who couldn't read the menu. It's sad you have a £6m overdraft and can't afford a pair of your own. Go for buy one, get one free.
Dennis Pallis, Kent
For 50 years I've stayed in Venice at the Excelsior, but it's been slipping. I'm back next weekend and will report on it and the Cipriani. It could be that, like the city, the hotels in Venice are sliding into the sea.
Ken King, London
At Trattoria alla Madonna, near the Rialto in Venice, we were stuck in the middle of the room and had to fight to get stemmed glasses for our wine (they brought tumblers!). Had we been Italian, or notorious (sorry, famous) like you, we might have been given a better table and better service.
Anne Davis, Wiltshire
At the risk of being ostracised in polite society, I thought you wore a very smart blazer in last week's photo. Who paid for it?
Lillian Donaldson, Cheshire