The Peers' Dining Room in the Lords is gloomy, as are the corridors and all the rooms I spotted. Victoriana at its dullest
Published 26 June 2011 News Review 936th article
Michael, Geraldine and Lord Evans on the terrace of the House of Lords (Lord Brookman of Ebbw Vale)
The House of Lords is peopled by those who failed upwards. Typified by Michael Grade, the former ITV chairman whose oily charm far outweighs his talent. I know I should love my neighbour. I do. He's Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin superstar. Michael Grade is not my neighbour.
The host for our upper house lunch was Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, a witty and intelligent man who was boss of the publisher Faber and Faber, for five years a junior Labour minister, now chairman of EFG, which I thought made fairy cakes but he assured me was the second-largest Swiss private bank. He lassoed a marvellously talkative Welshman, Lord Brookman of Ebbw Vale, to take our photo.
The Peers' Dining Room in the Lords is gloomy, as are the corridors and all the rooms I spotted. Victoriana at its dullest. The table d'hote menu was £21 for three courses. For parties of six and more (we were three) they add a discretionary 10% service charge.
Lord Evans - Matthew - went to a Quaker school in Saffron Walden, Essex. It played cricket with my Quaker school, St Christopher in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. "We looked forward to that," said Matthew, "because your boys were so useless. Once we bowled St Christopher out for six runs." Having spent 11 years there, I'm surprised we got as many as six.
The restaurant manager, the efficient Biagio Lammoglia, used to work at the Dorchester, the Inn on the Park and Aspinalls casino.
"What's the difference between those places and this?" I asked.
"This is the House of Lords; you can't get higher than that," replied Biagio.
"This man lives in cloud-cuckoo-land," I thought.
My set-menu starter of oven-roasted fresh peaches with Somerset brie, mixed leaves and SunBlush tomatoes was revolting. One shrivelled bit of peach, cold but burnt at the edges, was the lowlight of a stupid dish.
The main-course chicken pie was mush served in a soup bowl. The crust sitting on top was rather good. The interior tasted like it had come from a works canteen tureen. After two dreadful bits of gristle I stopped eating.
Dessert was apple and strawberry crumble with cinnamon custard. The waiter said: "Very good. Excellent." As he put it down he pronounced, "Look at that," as if presenting a culinary masterpiece. It looked a mess to me.
It was terrible. Poor topping, indifferent apples and strawberries - just mediocre. If their lordships had any brains when they entered the house, a few weeks of this food and every fibre of body and soul would be severely diminished.
For dessert, Matthew ordered from the a la carte menu: crunchy toffee ice cream.
The waiter said: "I'm going to check that one, because I was told earlier they might not have it."
"It's on the menu; now he's got to check if they've got it," I said.
The waiter returned to say, "It was very popular but it's all gone." He added: "The rhubarb fool ice cream is fantastic."
Matthew said: "It's on the menu."
I said: "So was the other one. Doesn't mean they've got it." It was that sort of lunch. Beyond belief.
I've had curried goat three times: once on the beach at Frenchman's Cove, Jamaica, and then at the Metropole, Monte Carlo. The third time it was ghastly, cooked by Dean Lewis, a contestant on my Dining Stars TV show.
To impress me, he'd not done it his usual way. It was dry and tough. Undaunted by non-success on my show, he gave up his job as a house basher-down and opened a restaurant in Manchester. He was an awkward cuss, but I wish him luck.
Recently at Locanda Locatelli, one of the best restaurants in London, I had roast kid goat. Utterly exceptional. Goats should be everywhere. It was cooked by the sous chef, as Giorgio Locatelli was filming a BBC2 programme in Sicily, from where he phoned to check I had my usual table. There is no nicer person on the culinary scene. I hope TV stardom doesn't turn him into the Italian Gordon Ramsay. Although I'm enjoying Gordon's salacious personal soap opera.
At the Wolseley. Mitchell Everard, the restaurant director, excitedly said to me: "We've got two Daniel Craigs here." One was the restaurant manager, the other the more famous DC who plays Bond.
I was making a teenage musical, Play It Cool, at Pinewood studios in 1962 when Sean Connery was filming the first Bond movie. Columbia pictures turned it down. Everyone thought it would be a disaster. Proof that "everyone" can be wrong.
As I've been dining with the aristocracy, it's fitting this week's joke should come from a knight of the realm: my friend Sir Roger Moore. Hymie is driving his new Rolls-Royce down Golders Green high street. He sees an old friend, lowers the window and shouts: "Abe, how are you?" Abe says: "Not so good. Don't even have anywhere to sleep. Could you give me £10 for a bed?" Hymie says: "Bring it in tomorrow, I'll let you know."
Your photo with Chantal Chagny shows that you've finally found someone with worse dress sense than you. Historic! Was Chantal dressed in black to mourn the death of your tailor?
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
When we ate at Le Cep, Mme Chagny behaved exactly as you described. Great food. Dreadful service. Nice to see you being put in your place and being made to wait like the rest of us!
Jeremy and Clare Preston, Northamptonshire
How can you continue to endorse the efforts of the dreadful Bibendum? Its "trout" looked disgusting and was devoid of any taste. Nothing really worked as a dish. The bored staff even got the bill wrong.
Gerard Van Dam, Oxford
At the Belvedere - near your house, I believe - we ordered a second orange juice and were told apologetically the restaurant had run out. I said, "If Michael Winner were here and ordered a second orange juice, I'm sure he'd get it." Ten minutes later orange juice appeared. Apparently a member of staff had been sent to a shop to buy some. What influence your name carries!
Trevor Fox, Hertfordshire
Please give a big thumbs-up to Pinky Murphy's cafe in Fowey, Cornwall. Colourful, with good food. A sign reads: "We do children. We do elders. We do dogs. We don't do grumpy." So, Michael, visit only when you're in a very happy mood.
Sandra Smith, Sussex
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