Published 16 September 2012 News Review 999th article
Michael and Geraldine outside what used to be his grandfather’s tailor’s shop (Julian Whatley)
My grandfather’s naturalisation papers were personally signed by Winston Churchill on May 28, 1910, when he was home secretary. Grandad had lived in England for some 10 years already.
He was described as a “trimming and hosiery merchant”. It stated: “Davis Winner presented to me a memorial praying for a certificate of naturalisation and alleging that he is a subject of Russia, having been born at Gorod Divinsk in the province of Westepski on 15 October, 1874.”
His London address was 167-169 Portobello Road, Notting Hill Gate. There Grandad ran a tailoring business, which later expanded to become one of 12 shops. An old poster for it announces: “We are widely known for our usefulness to the public in supplying tailors, dressmakers, furriers with trimmings and linings of every description. We make buttons of all shapes and sizes. We specialise in boys’, youths’ and men’s ready-to-wear clothing.”
Until some seven years ago there stretched across the pavement where the shop had been a beautiful Edwardian mosaic in white, grey and black saying “Winner’s”. I intended to buy it and lay it on my entrance pathway. By the time I got round to it, the council had cemented it over.
Nearby in Blenheim Crescent is a restaurant called E & O, which opened in 2001. Then it was very “in” with the nouveau Notting Hill set. Elisabeth Murdoch took me there to lunch.
Time has long since passed it by. When Geraldine and I went, I found it lifeless and bland, although Geraldine liked it. Few of the courses were particularly dreadful, but none of them spoke to me.
I tried dim sum of edamame, spare ribs and four squares of pork with the most ghastly crackling ever on top. It didn’t crackle; it was gooey, like toffee, and attached itself relentlessly to my teeth (yes, I still have teeth).
Then came what I find utterly outrageous: some blackened cod, which wasn’t that good and cost, including service charge, £40.50 a portion. This served in a ramshackle old building with a clientele that look like backpackers. How can they afford £40.50 for a bit of cod?
A couple of miles away in a chic building in Berkeley Street, Mayfair, is Novikov, run by a Russian tycoon for his fellow oligarchs and other zillionaires. The food is sensational. The black cod there costs less than E & O’s: including service charge, it’s £39.38. At E & O we ordered two portions of black cod and got only one. It took 20 minutes for the other to appear.
The idea of fusion food — the waitress, Ayesha, said that it was a combination of food from different parts of south Asia — is considerably less fresh than it used to be. It has been presented by many places many times.
E & O has fallen behind the game. If you’re charging these exorbitant prices, it had better be superb: E & O isn’t. The mango panna cotta was heavy, and was saved from total mediocrity only by the addition of a lime granita. The River Café’s panna cotta is exemplary — light, tasty, not like anything at E & O. Everything there is tired. I stayed awake.
Four weeks ago I told you all my three liver consultants gave me 1½-2 years to live. Did this produce an outpouring of shock and sympathy? Er . . . no.
On the morning of August 19 my friend Leslie Bricusse, the Academy Award- winning lyricist, rang and said: “How are you?”
“Have you read my column today, Leslie?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then you know how I am. I’m dead,” I responded. “And only one person - you - rings me up. No one gives a damn.”
Shakira Caine called later. “Michael says you reviewed Langan’s Bistro,” she said.
“What did he have to say about my imminent death? I wrote about that,” I asked.
“He didn’t mention it,” said Shakira.
So that’s it. If I can’t get any attention by announcing I’m on the way out, what does a girl have to do to get noticed?
I’ve developed an overriding love affair with the San Pellegrino aranciata (orangeade to you) and limonata (lemonade to you) fizzy drinks. This is equivalent to Sir Walter Raleigh discovering banana plants, or whatever it was he brought back for Queen Liz I.
If you like that sort of childish nonsense, then I recommend these drinks to you unreservedly. And I’m not even paid to say this. Nor did I get a freebie or a discount. Which, being pure as the driven slush, I would not have accepted anyway.
Hymie and Becky are sitting in the garden at the Green Park hotel, Bournemouth. Becky's friend Rachel comes over.
"How old is little Hymie, your grandson?" asks Rachel.
"He's 18 months old,” says Becky.
"That's wonderful," Sarah responds. "Can he walk yet?"
"Thank God he doesn't have to," says Hymie.
An Arab walks into a bar and says to the barman: "A drink for everybody except the Jew at the end of the bar."
The barman does as requested, and the Jewish man at the end of the bar smiles.
The Arab, puzzled, says 10 minutes later: "Another drink for everybody except the Jew at the end of the bar."
The barman serves a second drink to everyone except the Jewish man, who smiles and thanks the Arab.
By now totally baffled, the Arab says to the barman: "I don't understand it. I’ve bought everyone except him two drinks. Why is he so happy?"
"Oh, that's Hymie," says the barman. "He's the landlord."
When you were employed on your first documentary, I was an able seaman on HMS Victorious doing my national service and was detailed to be your "dogsbody". I remember the event well. My job entailed carrying equipment, helping you move from one part of the ship to another and, I think, even making tea for you. The film, called Floating Fortress, is shown from time to time on Sky TV.
Paul Adams, Somerset
Geraldine looks joyously happy in your recent photos. Could it be because she has finally induced you to dress as befits the escort of such a lovely lady? The triumph of graciousness over incorrigibility.
Dennis Pallis, Kent
It was a bit off that you said last week that the still water at the Amaranto restaurant tasted a touch like your uncle Harry, who passed on 10 years ago. Even worse taste was to feature him in the accompanying photo.
Colin Drury, Vale of Glamorgan
We’ve become accustomed to being called "you guys", but to be addressed as "sweetheart" while being shown to our table by a young waiter at the Cottons hotel in Knutsford reached new heights of familiarity.
Joan McAllister, Gloucestershire