Published 26 September 2004 News Review 585th article
Michael Winner with chef Manuel Martinez and Christine Watts (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I hate going to new restaurants. They invariably disappoint. So when Geraldine recommended Maggie Jones's, situated just off Kensington Church Street, to say I was unimpressed is putting it mildly.
I decided to reconnoitre it on one of my nightly hour-long walks Geraldine forces me to take. These, plus the 30 minutes of Geraldine's Pilates class for one, imposed upon me every morning, have uplifted my health enormously.
I entered Maggie Jones's and sailed past two surly young men on the door who treated me as if I was just the sort of customer they didn't want. A charming and welcoming assistant manager, Christine Watts, then appeared and showed me round.
It looks very good in a fussy, overdecorated way. It's rustic. There are sideboards hung with chipped mugs and kettles. Hops, wheels and rakes dangle from the ceiling. The tables are all different. The cutlery is solid and disparate. The crockery is old. When I ate there my plate, which didn't match anyone else's, was inscribed "Johnson Brothers, England 1883".
On my evening visit it was busy. I chose a first-floor table for Saturday lunchtime. On the way out I spotted a much larger table on the ground floor, made up of strips of bleached wood.
"How many does that seat?" I asked Christine. "Usually eight people," she said, "but we can easily get 10 there." "You're not busy on Saturday lunch are you?"
I suggested with, as usual, no knowledge of what I was talking about, "I'll have it for four people." "You'll be quite far apart from them," said Christine nervously. "Don't worry, I'll make myself heard," I said.
Thus it was, promptly at 1pm - I'm never late - on the following Saturday I turned up at Maggie Jones's with Geraldine, her sister Wendy and Wendy's husband Ben.
Although it was a bright sunny day all the tables had lit candles in bottles. The wax dripped into a nice sculpture as it melted. The "specials" board was on the floor. "Odd that," I thought, "people have to go on all fours to see it." When I spotted it and asked, they raised it up for me.
I ordered lamb pie preceded by stilton mousse. The stilton thing was excellent.
The lamb pie was pretty good. It's all basic stuff.
Ben had steak and kidney pie. We examined it closely, finally tipping its contents onto a plate, searching for the rather minuscule number of kidneys. Geraldine and Wendy had grilled salmon, which is the house speciality. They greatly liked it. We also got peas with bacon, potatoes, beans and cauliflower cheese.
Geraldine said, "Did you see the shrimp cocktail? It looked fantastic." I asked Christine, "Have you got one you're handing out to anyone else? She said, "I'll go and pinch one back." She showed it to me. It looked superbly 1950s.
My treacle tart was a major disaster. The pastry was thick and clumsy. There was mush on top which tasted like foam. If treacle had ever been anywhere near, it left no mark. The apple crumble was cloying but not terrible. With it was a Marine Ices vanilla. I think they're the best in London.
The bread was terrible. It was moist. Christine sliced a number of loaves and gave me samples as we waited endlessly for the chef, Manuel Martinez, to turn up for our photo. "You could wash your face in this bread, it's so wet," I said.
"It was made specially for us," explained Christine indignantly.
"So what!" I responded.
Maggie Jones's is so called because it is said Princess Margaret, who lived nearby, went there during her courtship with Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Apparently, when they married she'd phone and say, "Maggie Jones here, table for two please!"
Or something like it.
I thank you for your advice! I wanted a wine aerator, like my friend Sir Michael Caine acquired in Las Vegas. It's a blocked funnel with holes above the base, which lets wine out in thin rivulets to help it breathe. You responded with over 100 letters and e-mails!
I'm particularly grateful to Graham Harwin who wrote, "Wine shower aerates wine in seconds. Scotts of Stow catalogue, page 35, item 74534, price £9.95, 24-hour hotline 0870 600 4444, customer service inquiries 0870 544 9449." I bought 12. Great service, Graham! If you ever need a job, call me!
I was sent Harden's London Restaurant Guide for 2005. Their reader polls show the favourite restaurant is the Ivy. It also comes second in the most disappointing cooking category! Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's is third in the top gastronomic experience list. It's also third in the most disappointing cooking list. Utter confusion! Heed no one but me.
I would completely support you in a ban on flippin' kids in decent restaurants, especially at dinner.
Dennis Pallis, Kent.
Having seen the charming Miss Lynton-Edwards in her bedroom, can we now see one of Michael in his?
Barry Denton-MacLennan, Hertfordshire
As the father of one of the "two children screaming and yelling" at the Manor House hotel (Winner's Dinners, last week) I can confirm Mr Winner was correct about my daughter's behaviour. However, my daughter Abbie and her cousin Josie had been impeccably quiet throughout the meal. It was only the arrival of Mr Winner and Geraldine that brought upon the screams and yells. I know they're both not yet two, but is it possible they can already be such superb judges of character?
Michael Burns, London.
The photograph of Geraldine made my Sunday. Please, let's have more of Geraldine and less of Mr Winner's claptrap.
Alan Bracken, Hertfordshire.
Thanks for the historic picture of the lovely Geraldine posing on the Manor House high-tech four-poster bed. I'm guessing she was wearing her pinny and nothing else after helping out in the kitchen to prepare breakfast the way you like it.
David Logan, Hertfordshire.
When shown the ridiculous room at the Manor House, why didn't you leave at once? For £40 I think you can get a Travelodge room. The remaining £650 could have bought the rest of the material for Geraldine's dress.
Heather Tanner, Suffolk
In last week's photo, Geraldine actually looked more twee than the furnishings she was criticising!
Bernard Marsh, Surrey.
I believe I'm becoming just like you, Michael. At the age of 28 I am increasingly finding myself to be a snob, pompous and with more than my fair share of silver hair and receding hairline. My paunch is reaching historic proportions. I also (quite unfoundedly) fancy myself as a culinary expert. Could this be the start of a beautiful friendship?
Geraint Pinches, Yorkshire.
How rude do I have to be to get my letter published in your column?
Sarah Stanford, Berkshire.
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail email@example.com