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Winner's Dinners

Published 29 August 1993
Style Magazine
10th article

Apart from the stained glass, which is bleak, and the wood panelling, which is dowdy, I like The Ivy near Cambridge Circus. But in the most ordered places and even with me there as a warning beacon, things can go wrong.

I was surprised last week when its usually charming owner, Christopher Corbin, studiously avoided greeting our table as he worked the room. Does he not like Michael York? Had he not enjoyed one of Sidney Sheldon's novels? Had he fallen out with Ned Ryan? Or was it me?

It couldn't possibly have been the lovely American actress Deborah Raffin. But when her "fish of the day" arrived it was so tough she couldn't cut it with a fish knife. She borrowed a meat knife from Miss Seagrove and eventually prised a bit away. That tasted so awful she left the rest on her plate. I was not aware of this or I would have called Christopher over and sought an explanation. I was at the other end of the table congratulating the lovely and gracious Mrs Pat York on being the only person in the world whom I had heard was more demanding than me. Pat took this well and thereafter asked, three separate times, for the air conditioning to be adjusted.

The Ivy realised they'd made a boo-boo with Miss Raffin's toughened fish, for it was discreetly left off the bill. But surely the purpose of going to a restaurant is to have a main course you can eat!

Sadly, the tryst with my favourite food critic, Fay Maschler, is delayed. Fay will be in Greece when Marco Pierre White opens at the Hyde Park. When we do dine, Fay says it must be unannounced, as she always books under an assumed name. I have never used a false name. I am looking forward to it.


I read with great interest Michael Winner's glowing report of the popular Kensington restaurant Cibo, featured recently in The Sunday Times. Until now I would have agreed wholeheartedly with his views. However, when dining at Cibo last week with friends, we were shocked by the bizarre, abusive and threatening behaviour of the owner when we asked for several further guests to be accommodated. Are such "extravagant" displays of rudeness de rigueur among restaurateurs hoping to elevate their professional status? I hope not. My friends and I found the incident unamusing, embarrassing and inexcusable. Neither the food nor the service compensated for this behaviour. Needless to say that hitherto having been regular customers of Cibo, none of us will return. Perhaps, having gained the patronage of celebrities such as Mr Winner, the owner feels that his less well-known customers are now disposable. In any case, from us it's "Ciao to Cibo".
Carolyn Levy, London W11

As a lover of fresh ground black pepper, I am amazed that in many restaurants I have to endure the ritual of the large, almost phallic, pepper mill being paraded around the table with due pomp and ceremony. This ridiculous scene then continues with the ceremonial phrase "Black pepper, Sir?" Never is one able to taste the dish beforehand, nor is it easy to ask for more seasoning once your turn has passed and you have had the opportunity to taste the food. The only pepper mill is being paraded at another table and while you wait your meal gets cold. Why this ludicrous state of affairs? There is no equivalent salt cellar routine and nobody should have to guess by looking at their food how much seasoning is required. Will The Sunday Times join me in starting a campaign against the Phallic Pepper Mill Brigade and recommend the practice of enlightened restaurants where salt and pepper mills are on the tables for the customer to use according to their own tastes and in their own time?
Dr Wayne Jaffe, Richmond, Surrey

Your August 9 issue featured a facsimile of a restaurant bill which stated clearly and boldly "Service Not Included". Does this mean that a diner has the choice of serving him or herself? I suspect not. Therefore, by definition, service should be included. Or does it mean that the restaurant does not pay its employees well enough; perhaps, even, not at all? Why doesn't some enterprising, business-like restaurateur state boldly and clearly that service is included? A really enterprising restaurateur could go even further and say that not only is service included, but, in justifiable cases of dissatisfaction with service, a diner could seek a 10% reduction in the bill. I am convinced that whatever misuse such a guarantee might cost the establishment, it would be more than offset by the large increase in business and think what it would do to the service!
Wilfrid M deFreitas, Montreal, Canada