Published 18 August 2002 Style Magazine 475th article
Edited highlights: from left, Michael Winner, Maria Elia and Cherie Lunghi
One of the pleasures of being a mini celebrity is that I'm paid to do things most people would do free. So when BBC TV offered a handsome sum for me to dine at Delfina, they asked whom I'd like to be with. I nominated a friend, the beautiful actress Cherie Lunghi, recently exceptionally good on stage in Picasso's Women. Each Diners programme uses four couples, cutting from one to another. This will be on BBC2, doubtless because of the intellectual content of my verbiage. I crossed London Bridge and made for Bermondsey Street, which I couldn't enter because it's one-way the wrong way. So I navigated a circuitous route to Delfina, arriving seven minutes late. Miss Lunghi was waiting patiently. We were led into a bright room, where I was given an uninterrupted view of the ladies' toilet. Not the sort of table I'm normally offered. I moved my chair so it faced the room. A TV assistant pointed out I could no longer be filmed by their secret camera. So I had to face the ladies' toilet. The camera was so well hidden that, search as I did, I never saw it.
After considerable delay, I called out to a young couple opposite: "How long did it take you to get served?"
"About 20 minutes," they replied.
"Obviously, they're serving the customers quicker than the TV people," I responded. Cherie wrote speedily and furtively on the menu. Her message read: "Nobody is meant to know television is filming anything in the restaurant.
I don't think that was quite so, because Delfina only opens Monday to Friday for lunch. This was Sunday evening. The TV company must have invited everyone.
The place is a charitable institution founded by Delfina and her ex-husband Digby. It's for subsidised artists in the studios above to have a cheap meal. They pay £1 For lunch. Normal punters pay full price. The restaurant also does catering.
Sitting nearby were two hair stylists, Lisa and Paul, who worked together. Lisa was blonde. Paul a northern sound-alike for Julian Clary. He has since become a mobile hairdresser. I thought they were both very quaint. "Oh my God. Michael Winner!" said Paul, in the programme, suddenly aware of my presence. "Where?" asked Lisa. "That blob on your right," replied Paul, "he looks like he's had his hair miami-waved at the back." "It's very yellow," added Lisa. "I'd say it needs a toga wrap big time," said Paul. "I'd like to get the clippers on it," said Lisa. "Just whizz it off and start again." "He wants you. He smiled at you," advised Paul. "He's not having me," replied Lisa, "doesn't matter how much he pays me." "Never bothered you before," said Paul.
Back to the Food. It was extremely good. If Delfina were in Holland Park I'd go regularly. Although, at Kensington rents, the tables would probably be an inch apart, instead of nicely spaced in Bermondsey. When the restaurant manager, Sadie-Jane Berinson, eventually appeared, she was charming. I chose "pickled herrings, beetroot pancakes, creme fraiche, savage beets" as a starter. Cherie had "carrot and ginger soup, carrot date wonton". Both were splendid. My main course was chargrilled marinated kangaroo with aubergine, tomato, parsley salad and tahini yoghurt dressing. I asked for some mashed potatoes. "Are these real potatoes?" I queried. "Of course," said Sadie. They were absolutely wonderful, some of the best I've ever had, with just a bit of butter hanging around. The chargrilled marinated kangaroo was cold. "Rather like a duck salad," observed Cherie. It was tender and tasty. I'd definitely have it again. Although I'm unlikely to return to Bermondsey. Nothing wrong with it, but I can eat perfectly well without a huge trek. Finally, Cherie and I shared a plum and lavender bread and butter pudding with stern ginger ice cream. The ice cream was good: the pudding was cloying.
The talented chef, Maria Elia, greeted me. She's from Cyprus. I'd forgotten my camera, so I asked if anybody had one. Someone turned up with a Polaroid. That's not good enough for a posh page like this. I requested mint tea, but they didn't have any. So I had something like camomile. It was adequate. A TV assistant announced, "There's a camera in the kitchen." I assumed he meant a camera better than a Polaroid. But it was a TV camera, because they wanted to film me greeting Maria. Then a TV company rep appeared and took a photo of us. He didn't give his name and his company declined to tell us when we asked in writing. So he has lost a photo credit. That could have opened a whole new profession for him. On the other hand, it might not have done.
I lunched at The Dorchester recently with my wife and friends and enjoyed excellent food and excellent service. However, I wonder if Michael Winner has ever been told, as I was by the restaurant staff, that the receipt showing "Vat and service included" was an error and that service was not included at all. We duly left a tip only to be told when I rang the hotel the next day that there was no misprint on the receipt and that service was indeed included. It appears The Dorchester has a communication problem.
Paul Davis, Stoke Bishop, Bristol
Mr Winner mentions giving a restaurant a gratuity recently of 12.5% (August 4). Can I recommend a much better idea: that he asks for a bill showing the Vat content and only tip on the meal and not on the tax.
Norman Crook, by e-mail
I asked my London-based grandson to take a French-Canadian boy to London to see the sights. Both are just 16, so imagine my astonishment when they returned and told me they had lunch at The Ivy. Both boys were dressed in T-shirts and jeans, but looked respectable. It appears they were made very welcome, enjoyed a delicious two-course lunch, paid the bill themselves and drank water. The waiter was very attentive and filled up their glasses as if they were drinking the finest wine. I would like to congratulate The Ivy for their courtesy to the boys and the fact they are obviously keeping an eye on future generations of customers.
Rachel Buxton, Englefield Green
I have an old, sadly undated menu from Wheeler's Braganza Restaurant in Frith Street, central London, which lists 22 choices of dover sole from 16s/6d to 22s/6d, including the sole capri mentioned in Mr Winner's article (July 28) at 19s/6d (97½p in decimal currency). Also available were 10 kinds of lobster at 35s/6d a throw, six variations of scampi and seven of river trout.
Peter Hinze, be e-mail
I am fascinated by the bagel/bygel debate. Our misinformed "meshugenneh" friend from the north (Letters, July 28) is displaying a high degree of "chutzpah". It makes me rock with laughter, just as much as when I hear a newscaster talking about someone being "gazumped" (Yiddish for being "swindled"), but pronouncing the u as in "pump", rather than as in "put".
Aimee Lawrence, London
Send letters to Style; or e-mail email@example.com