Published 7 October 2012 News Review 1,002nd article
Geraldine and Michael with Eric Garnier (Julian Whatley)
Occasionally a restaurant is greeted with such adulation by a few “experts”, you’d think it was the second coming of Winner. Such was the case with Garnier, located near the bottom of Earls Court Road. Earls Court Road may be good for something (I can’t think what) but it isn’t restaurants.
The place advertises itself thus: “A charming and elegant restaurant situated on Earls Court Road welcomes both neighbourhood dining and customers from far and wide wishing to enjoy a relaxed and delicious meal for lunch or dinner.” Ho-hum. If that isn’t oversell, what is? As for this troupe of diners “from far and wide” gravitating to the mish-mash that is Earls Court Road, good luck to them.
The co-owner, Eric Garnier, has a career littered with litigation. You feel, charming though he is, he’s carrying a great deal of personal baggage.
Ignoring any psychological analysis of Mr Garnier, I ordered the fish soup. That is the test of a restaurant with pretensions to be French. It was okay. Geraldine told me that at the best fish restaurant in the world, Tétou in Golfe-Juan on the Riviera, they threw bits of fish in the soup. I don’t know if that’s true. Garnier’s fish soup was respectable but extremely dull.
I followed that with a ghastly main course, grilled veal rump with courgette fritters and marjoram dressing. I thought the meat was tough and tasteless. The meal was saved by a choice from the set menu — black pudding and mashed potatoes. That was exceptional. It proves my philosophy that items ordered from the set menu are invariably better than the so-called posh stuff from the à la carte. Apropos of nothing, at Garnier they make their own chips (good) and smoke their own salmon (fairly good).
The service was very slow. “I came for lunch,” I observed to Geraldine. “I’ll be lucky if I make it through the meal in time for dinner or even breakfast.” I asked for my plates to be removed before Geraldine had finished her main course - “the best steak ever”, she said, adding: “Honestly, you’re so rude.” I think that is known to everybody.
Around this time, I forget how or why, the best part of the meal appeared. It was a kind of milkshake with ice cream. My type of food exactly.
It was followed by the most horrible dessert ever, which was billed as crêpes suzette. Anyone with even a tiny knowledge of food — no knowledge being my speciality — comprehends that crêpes suzette should be served from a sizzling pan and made at your table. These had come, pre-prepared as it were, from the kitchen. They were heavy, of appalling texture, totally useless. I ate one of four out of a sense of duty. Then I gave up.
Garnier is a prime example of hype over reality. On the whole, most of the food is, well, it’s there. It is not a prime example of anything. It’s adequate at best, highly inadequate at worst.
I’m not really a takeaway person. But recently I’ve had food delivered by my favourite Indian restaurant (you should go there), Indian Zing on King Street, Hammersmith. The chef-owner, Manoj Vasaikar, produces flavours of incredible quality. My favourite is chicken biryani with raita and a samosa. Geraldine likes his Karwari fish curry. Whatever you have, you can’t go wrong.
From Kay Bagon of Radlett, Hertfordshire: Hymie arrived at the pearly gates and waited to be admitted.
“Well, Hymie,” said St Peter, leafing through the book of good deeds, “there’s no record of you having done anything very virtuous, but nothing particularly bad either. If you can tell me one really good deed you’ve done, I’ll let you in.”
Hymie thinks and replies: “Well, there was this time I was driving along the street and I saw a gang of youths attack an old lady and run off with her handbag. I chased them, got out of my car and called them a bunch of cowardly scumbags, pushed one of them over and managed to snatch the lady’s bag back.”
St Peter was impressed. “Well done, Hymie, when did this happen?”
“About 10 minutes ago,” replied Hymie.
I have come to the conclusion that you are never happy unless you are unhappy. Who else would praise the chef - in this instance, Stefano Baiocco - and then complain that you have been served too much food that is exemplary?
Paul Clarke, Berkshire
I was intrigued to read about your brush with Sir Oswald Mosley in Venice in 1954. I was even more surprised to read that he was accompanied by Lady Cynthia Mosley. I imagine she was not looking good, having died in 1933.
Laurence Rogers, Wiltshire
Cheer up, Michael, about your liver specialist’s too gloomy - God willing - pronouncement that you have less than two years to live. Walter Matthau once joked that he had been told he had only six months to live. “But I can’t possibly pay your bill in that time!” Matthau retorted. “Okay,” the doctor replied, “you have a year to live.”
Christopher Castleton, Gloucestershire
At a prestigious London restaurant we asked the head waiter to move us away from our draughty table, which was also uncomfortably close to the next table. He replied that the restaurant was fully booked. I told him Michael Winner would hear about this and, hey presto, we were moved to a superb table. After this he was highly solicitous. We didn’t know you had such influence.
Dennis Pallis, Kent