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Surrey's a bit of a hop, even for kangaroo this good

Published 26 January 2003
News Review
498th article

Stuck in Reigate: Wood and Tobin, seated, with Winner (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I was eating delicious food at the Square in Mayfair with my occasional lunch companion Peter Wood. Peter revolutionised insurance in this country by founding Direct Line and Privilege, thus reducing my annual premiums by thousands of pounds. Then Peter sold out for some mind-boggling sum.

He's now boss of esure. It gave me an even better insurance deal. Esure was running a lot of computer-generated TV commercials, which I found utterly dreary.

"Are those ads selling any policies?" I asked. Peter pulled a face. "It so happens," I said, "I've thought up a humorous commercial for esure - starring me."

"How does it go?" asked Peter tolerantly. I told him. "We'll do it," he said.

Later Peter came to my house with his chief executive and the boss of esure's advertising agency, Greg Delaney, of Delaney, Lund, Knox, Warren & Partners. Mr Delaney behaved petulantly and hated my commercial. He said his agency didn't wish to be associated with it. Peter replied he was the boss of esure and either Delaney helped make it, or some other agency would.

My movie company started to produce the commercial, at first with Delaney. But not for long. They resigned the esure account. I made the advert direct for the client.

For Peter and I there's a happy ending. The commercial was a historic success. It sold insurance polices at an incredible rate. Peter was much happier with it than with esure's previous commercials. It was intended for four weeks in London. It's still running all over the country after three months. It spawned a newspaper ad and a radio commercial and I'm soon to make two new esure TV commercials.

Thus the final result was Greg Delaney, so-called posh advertising expert, nil. Poor boy from Willesden, 964.

Then came a sticky moment. Peter was a partner in a restaurant near the esure offices in Reigate called Tony Tobin @ The Dining Room. He suggested Sunday lunch. "Oh dear," I thought, "supposing I don't like it? It'll be terribly embarrassing."

Then I mulled over the fact that Peter makes me look a pushover. He's sensibly very picky about restaurants. He's written to Winner's Letters complaining about Le Caprice and Cecconi's. So, on an unusually warm winter day, I drove down to Reigate in my marvellously tarted up open Saab.

I parked in the High Street. Peter greeted me. "Do you think I need to put the roof up?" I asked.

"Absolutely not." said Peter. "In a recent survey Reigate was said to be the second safest town in the country."

Peter's partner is the host and chef, Tony Tobin, who worked with Nico Ladenis. He's on TV in Ready Steady Cook. Our table, in a pleasant first floor room, was by a window overlooking a church. I was offered Hildon water, which I said was "revolting". Tony offered to pop to Safeway to get Malvern, but I grudgingly accepted Hildon.

My first course was "seared kangaroo salad, crushed peanuts, crispy garlic and shallots". It was extremely pleasant, although I slightly preferred the kangaroo at Delfina in Bermondsey. The salad was exceptional.

Then I had "crispy aromatic duck, pineapple chutney, mustard mash". The duck was like all other crispy ducks, very tasty. The mashed potato, with whatever they'd added, was exceptional. I recall it with great pleasure.

For dessert I chose "cherry bakewell tart, warm cherry compote, softly whipped cream". Peter recommended the "Bramley apple doughnuts, cinnamon ice cream", so I tried them. The Bakewell tart was not real Bakewell tart but it was superb. It was more like a slice of cake. I'd like to place a regular order. The rest was fine.

Geraldine thought highly of her "courgette flowers stuffed with preserved black beans, tiger prawn and spring onion". Her "lemon peppered salmon, roasted fennel, dill mayonnaise" was pronounced: "As good as it could be. The best I've had in England."

Tony Tobin is particularly pleasant. I judge every restaurant by one simple maxim: if it was near my house, would I go? There's no question, if Tony moves to Holland Park he can expect me as a regular. Stuck in Reigate, he's unlikely to see me again.

The lunch price - between £28 and £35 - was similar to the special Sunday rates at Claridge's and the Dorchester. More than the Connaught. "Much better, too," said Peter, as arty proud owner should. He then came down to see me off.

"It would be very embarrassing if your car was destroyed or stolen," he said. My car was still there, but someone had nicked my cigar lighter. Now I know how the locals can afford the excellent food at Tony's place. They're all making a fortune flogging second-hand cigar lighters.

Winner's letters

Michael Winner always brightens a Sunday, but here we are on the brink of war and his £63,000 vacation is ruined by difficulties in acquiring loose tea. Am I alone in feeling profound sorrow for the suffering endured by the super-rich?
Stanley White, Bridge of Allan

Having spent New Year's Eve at Michael Winner's table at Sandy Lane, I thought readers might like to know what he ate. While the rest of us feasted on caviar and lobsters, the great gourmet had specially prepared for himself fried bread, Heinz baked beans, two fried eggs and grilled tomatoes. The truth is out.
Jackie Marinetti, Kensington

Readers may have noticed an article in News Review last week regarding the decline of the sparrow. In a Middle Eastern restaurant recently the owner proffered one of the house specialities, a plate of roasted sparrows. I tried to eat one, daintily plucking the legs off - but my host showed me the way by popping a whole one into his mouth and crunching with a satisfied grin.
John Stott, by e-mail

I must remonstrate with you about your vicious treatment of Floriana (Winner's Dinners, January 12). You complained that it was quiet, but no sensible person would visit for lunch at 1pm on a Saturday. Breakfast is hardly over by this time. I admit Floriana's food is not always to my liking, but as my wife says, I have pedestrian tastes, so my views rarely count. The whole Floriana team are personable and competent professionals. You should give them a couple of chances before nuking them.
Duncan S Grove, New Maiden

I cannot resist your comment (Winner's Dinners, last week) about £63,000 for 28 days at Sandy Lane being a snip. We are in 2003 when it should be manners not to mention the price, unlike in 1950. We all know you have a few quid, Michael, but the interest in your column is the experience you give us, not the price it costs or your ability to pay it. Get modern and get with it.
Stuart Matthews, Leicestershire

I recently found in the St Petersburg Russian restaurant in Liverpool a bottle of Highland Spring water, a "snip" at £5. With prices like this it's set to be numero uno eatery in the city.
Magnus Park, by e-mail

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk