Published 18 April 1999 Style Magazine 301st article
So good they named it twice: Michael Winner with friends and staff at Soho Soho
I don't like Laurence Isaacson. He's the boss of the Chez Gerard group, a megalomaniac company that keeps buying up individually owned places, whereupon they usually get worse. I've never known any personally owned restaurant that sells up and doesn't slide. It's only a question of how much. This is not why I dislike Mr Isaacson. It's because he once asked me to a restaurant opening and then insulted me in the press before my arrival. That was tacky. If you don't like me, don't invite me; if you do, you're a host, so shut up. His name came into play when I entered Soho Soho, a restaurant, surprisingly, in Soho. I asked the girl at the desk, Collette Dudman: "Who owns the place?" "Laurence Isaacson, he's very rich," she said. "Yes," I replied. "I met him on the beach in Barbados." "That must have been a dreadful sight," said Collette, I assume referring to Mr Isaacson's fat. "It was a toss-up, dear, as to which was worse, him or me," I responded.
We were shown upstairs to a nice, bright room with views onto Frith Street and the pavement drinkers outside the Dog and Duck, "we" being myself and Dennis Michael, who is employed by United International Pictures to run publicity for my film Parting Shots. Dennis is managing director of a very posh PR company. I remember him as a lad when he worked for Rank on my early acerbic comedies. The third man in the group hadn't arrived, probably because Dennis gave him the wrong address. I'd just been having my hands set in plaster for a pavement plaque in Leicester Square. We were a bit early, but Peter Edwards, a brilliant portrait painter who has had many works bought by the National Portrait Gallery, found us anyway. Which was clever as he lives in Oswestry. Peter was "artist in residence" on the set of Parting Shots, a return to the sponsorship of artists as in Renaissance times.
The main people who attended us at Soho Soho were two of the most charming and efficient restaurant employees I've ever met. The receptionist was a South African girl, Freda van der Merwe. She would grace any establishment and deserves greater things. Not that Soho Soho is bad. I rather liked it. Our smiley waitress was Joanna Fiedorowicz from Poland. "Are you an illegal immigrant?" I asked. She said no. And who am I to argue? I also liked Collette, who had the grand title of hospitality manager. "I'm your fun person," she said later, dropping a bit from her initial genuinely witty remark about Mr lsaacson. It was also unnecessary to interrupt me with a folder of twaddle about the private reception room and a batch of order forms with the warning that if I cancelled beyond a certain date it would cost me £10 per person.
The food was pretty good; not what I'm used to, but creditable. Dennis greatly liked his mushroom soup. Peter thought his salt-cod starter "nice". "How nice, Peter?" I asked. "Well, it's salt cod. Salt cod is salt cod. How nice can salt cod get?" he answered wisely. He later found his duck underdone. "I should have asked for it well done," he said, when I pointed out that semi-raw duck was all the rage in high society. Dennis thought his tuna "wonderful" and kept pointing at it and repeating his praise to ensure I got the point. He considered his lemon tart "one of the best I've ever tasted". I tried it. It was okay.
My salmon mousse, pan-fried sea bass and apple crumble with ice cream were perfectly acceptable. I was going to add "for a cheap restaurant". But I did something I seldom do. I checked the bill. Food and coffee alone, for three including service, was £33 per person. This compares unfavourably to superb three-course set lunches at the Dorchester Grill (£29.50 including coffee and service) and at Claridge's (£29).
"Go and get me the Evening Standard and I'll give you £50," I said to Joanna. She came back and said: "Someone else is getting it." I said: "You must be very rich if you can blow £50." It arrived anyway, so when I left I still gave Joanna the £50. Service that good and cheerful is rare. Peter took the chocolate mints, placed them neatly on top of each other and then pocketed them. In the street outside I bumped into Denis Norden and chatted to him for a while. Just as Well. I'd left my camera lens cover on the table and that gave the assistant manager, Ruud Beun, time to rush out to me with it. All part of Soho Soho's truly excellent service.
After a visit to the Monet exhibition in London I decided to have tea at the Patio in Fortnum & Mason, which you mentioned last month (Style, March 7). It was 2.30pm, and I was told that tea would not start until 3pm, so I opted instead for a light lunch of smoked salmon on hot ciabatta bread with a salsa verde (the exact description on the menu). When, after a longish wait, it arrived, the ciabatta was stone cold. I complained to the maitre d' and was told that the bread had to be warm rather than hot because of the smoked salmon. Since it was not even warm, I suggested I should not be charged. As the maitre d' refused, I wrote to the catering manager, Robert Marsham, who did the honourable thing and sent me a refund by return of post.
Grace Ciappara, Northampton
A pox on you, Mr Winner! Thou hast stolen my famous scrambled-egg recipe and made it all thine own (Style, March 28).
S C Pegram, Blewbury, Oxon
On a recent trip to Venice, I decided to try Harry's Bar. This place has a licence to rob. The modest meal with one bottle of wine was £90 a head, and the water must come direct from the Vatican, as it was £5 a bottle. The service was crisp, but at £12 a head it should have been. I shall be returning to Venice, but never again to Harry's Bar.
Arthur Samouelle, Camberley, Surrey
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