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Every inch the best dining experience in London

Published 1 February 2004
News Review
551st article

Michael Winner, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards and Jeremy King (Robert Holland)

Let it never be said I refrain from due diligence on your behalf. It's not enough for me to dive in and out of a highly significant restaurant as soon as it opens and then express consummate views.

The Wolseley is unquestionably the most important new place for decades. I've been there 12 times between my first visit in October, 2003, and my last a few days ago.

I've seen it battle ragged service, erratic food and the traumatic departure of one of its founding partners. In spite of inevitable early-day wobbles I've always enjoyed going there.

My regard for it rises on each occasion. It attracts severe scrutiny because it's the new baby of Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, who created the current version of the Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey. A hard act to follow.

Writers to this column have been harsh. "It looks like an Eastern European bus or railway terminal," said Norman Coxall. I think it's the greatest room in London and one of the best in the world. "The tables are cramped," opined Jeremy Brown. They're a bit smaller than I'd like, but not painfully so.

When I went with Michael Caine and Sean Connery our table for six was far more spacious than a table for six I'd had at the Ivy - and there was more space between us and the other diners as well.

To show my devotion to giving you facts, the whole facts and nothing but the facts, I personally measured my Wolseley table. It was 752 square inches. Considerably smaller than the 1,031 square inches of my table at Le Caprice and even smaller than the 1,299 square inch size of my Ivy table.

Referring to diners' clothing Mr Coxall wrote, "You wouldn't know who was there to eat and who was there to fix the plumbing." Personally I have no objection to sitting next to plumbers. A good plumber is hard to find.

Among the luminaries I've seen at the Wolseley are Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber, Lucien Freud, Alan Rickman, Sir Michael Jagger, Lulu and many more. I'll phone one of them next time the pipes burst.

The place is phenomenally popular. Over 1,200 reservation requests a day. Poor Jeremy is besieged with irate customers saying, "I've been loyal to you all these years and now you won't give me a table."

This, of course, is utter rot. They haven't been loyal to him. They've come to his restaurants because they were the best and they wanted to. That's not personal loyalty. It's getting private satisfaction. There is a difference.

Let's deal with some of the food I've greatly enjoyed. The Irish stew is historic; the crab fishcakes superb; the foie gras on toast a delight; the dressed crab remarkable; the caviar omelette wonderful; the cassoulet de Toulouse incredible; the Vacherin mont blanc - chestnut, meringue and ice cream - superb.

The Welsh rarebit is the worst ever. A famous movie star said, "Put this on your plate, Michael, I don't want them to think I hated it." The milkshake was wobbly.

One lunchtime a man sitting on our right keeled over and slumped on the table. An ambulance arrived. Robert Holland, the masterful restaurant manager, said, "Jeremy went to speak to him and he had a heart attack." I asked, "What did he eat? I must remember to avoid it." Robert replied, "Chopped liver." I said, "I love your chopped liver!"

The man was wheeled out looking very white. Jeremy proceeded to recount a story of how a lady collapsed in the swing doors of Le Caprice and they had to take the doors apart to get her out. It was that sort of a day.

Robert was later designated to take our photo. He kept not pushing the button firmly enough. You can see me beckoning him in despair. But he got us without our heads cut off. That's something.

In conclusion I'd like, very strongly indeed, to recommend the Wolseley. I think, overall, it's the best dining experience in London. In fact I'll go further. It's the second best dining experience in the world. The first is downstairs at Harry's Bar in Venice.

Come to think of it, Harry's tables are tiny. Which shows, if Michael Winner, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards and Jeremy King proof were needed, that size doesn't matter.

  • PS: Leaving the Wolseley I was amazed as two paparazzi photographers flashed away as I got into my car outside the Ritz, struggled to put the key in the ignition and drove off. Later the Daily Mirror printed a full-page photo of me looking down at the ignition when I had my eyelids closed blinking. They said they'd caught me asleep! What I only have to put up with!

    Winner's letters

    I was ever so upset to read last week of your dreadful experiences on the M25 while waiting along in your Rolls-Royce en route to Barbados. Your further onslaught on such horrid things as children being in your presence was too much to bear. I was shocked that British Airways didn't bring Concorde out of retirement to save you five hours journey time on the way to sunning your leathery epidermis. I feel gratified at the prospect of receiving a set of Concorde cutlery donated by Michael Winalot to us mere mortals. If I'm the lucky recipient I know exactly where I'd like to put such ironmongery.
    Sam Jordan, Suffolk

    Why oh why can't airlines, if they insist on carrying children, sit them in a designated section of the aircraft where they can least disrupt the rest of the passengers?
    Marvin Pryce-Jones, Solihull

    Your sanguine views of British Airways aren't mine. I recently left Cape Town at 8am on a flight to London. Breakfast was served, reasonably, at 10am. By 4pm there was still no sign of lunch. A stewardess explained, "We're short staffed." "Your prices certainly aren't," I replied. Lunch was eventually served at 6pm - eight hours after breakfast!
    Michael Flasser, London

    People who take exception to Mr Winner's lifestyle have missed the point. It's totally thanks to him that while smirking at his dress sense and wincing at his "toilets" and "serviettes" we realise that money isn't everything. We paupers are hugely indebted to the silly old sausage.
    Marianne Bartran Toweestei

    Despite what some of your correspondents last week may think of you, both I and my students love you. I am considering making you required reading.
    Henry Fitzalan Howard, Professor of Law, Calcutta

    I noted Jeremy Clarkson's remarks about Sandy Lane (Winners Dinners, January 18) and thought he'd obviously not engaged his brain with his tongue. Perhaps, like some of the cars he reviews, Clarkson needs an oil change.
    Stanley Silver, London

    Presumably the condition of ascissorphobia will in future be referred to as "Winner's Syndrome".
    Michael Heal, Cheshire

    Send letters to Winners Dinners. The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, Lohdon E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.ul