Relax: you're in the tender hands of Jimmy Six Skulls
Published 8 July 2012 News Review 989th article
Michael and Geraldine with Jimmy Lahoud outside Soho's L'Escargot (Adrian Whatley)
Jimmy Lahoud sounds like a character from Guys and Dolls. In fact he's a Lebanese who's owned 35 restaurants in London. Geraldine and I went to lunch at his current flagship, L'Escargot in Greek Street, Soho.
I noticed that Jimmy was wearing on his left hand three large silver rings. One depicted a group of skulls, one a beetle, the last a pistol. On his right hand Jimmy had a skull ring in black diamonds and another in white diamonds. That means he had three fingers left to decorate.
"I want to see rings on them next time we meet," I advised.
He also wore a very big silver bracelet inscribed: "The pain is the world." Jimmy explained to me what that meant, but it was all too intellectual for me.
Enough of Mr Lahoud's arm candy. Let me tell you about L'Escargot. The restaurant was opened in 1927 by George Gaudin, who bred his own supply of snails ("escargot" means "snail", in case you didn't know) in the basement. It was later run by Elena Salvoni, a formidable woman with a great following of actors and actresses.
In 1992 it went into liquidation. In stepped the much-decorated Jimmy, who bought it. It's still old-fashioned Soho. It sits (if restaurants can sit) unrelated to the brash, new, tarted-up pretentious twaddle that surrounds it.
The main dining room is elegant, decorated with Jimmy's collection of signed lithographs by Miro, Chagall, Warhol, Leger and Matisse.
Jimmy, the most cheerful person I know, came to England in 1975 and started as a washer-up in a restaurant in Waterloo. He also owns the Belvedere in Holland Park, which is decorated with highly important Warhol lithographs and two fantastic original Damien Hirst concoctions.
At L'Escargot, the bread was served warm, extremely good. I asked for a fresh apple juice.
The restaurant manager said: "It's very nice."
"I didn't ask that," I said. "Is an apple cut up on the premises and put through whatever machinery is necessary to turn it into genuinely fresh juice?"
"We can't do that," said the manager. A glance from Jimmy that could have skinned a rabbit produced a change of events. Genuine fresh apple juice duly appeared.
I started my meal with cheddar cheese soup. Outstanding. A real old-fashioned soup, beautifully constructed.
My main course was a bit of a disaster. I ordered roast guinea fowl. It was exceedingly dry. The chef should have put some thin gravy with it to loosen things up. I left most of it.
Geraldine chose better: she had oysters followed by a steak, which she thought was great.
My dessert was rhubarb and ginger parfait with poached rhubarb. That was a triumph.
Before leaving, I noticed Jimmy also wore a necklace shaped like a dagger.
"Chrome Hearts," he explained, which meant nothing to me. He had another skull on a chain around his neck. If he was mugged, they'd have to bring a van to take all his stuff away.
I'll sum up the whole experience in the judicious, detailed and thorough manner you expect and appreciate: L'Escargot - excellent. If you go and Jimmy's there, tell me if he's acquired any extra trinkets. He's got room for two earrings, something strange attached to his nose and a tiara made of snakes, skulls, daggers: all the stuff you know and love.
I worked in Soho for many years, first as a producer, director and film editor for a wonderful man called EJ Fancey. EJ made the only film with the Goons - that's Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine. He mainly financed the lower end of the market.
In 1960 two Jewish film distributors had a short film called Nudes in the Snow. It showed three topless girls on a mountainside throwing snowballs at each other. They fell over. They stood up. They threw more snowballs. Nudity of any kind on the screen was not allowed, and nudity on the stage only if the topless girls stood stock still and never moved.
A new film censor had recently taken over, a cadaverous, scholarly man named John Trevelyan. He passed Nudes in the Snow with a U certificate, meaning anyone could see it. It played at the Cinephone Oxford Street. People queued down the road to see something previously not allowed. All the small producing companies suddenly had to have a nudist film. As long as it was set in nudist camps, everything was fine.
I was anointed with a movie called Some Like It Cool. An hour and a half long, it cost £9,000 and made its money back in one week. That got me my first feature movie.
Trevelyan had started what became known as the Swinging Sixties.
Hymie, worried by the world and its travails, saw a personal ad in a newspaper: "Need help? Call Jesus on 020 1660 4820."
Out of curiosity and desperation, Hymie did. A Mexican showed up with a lawnmower.
Mr Thompson, a reader, admits taking regular train journeys from Wales to north London to buy fish and chips from Sam's in Golders Green Road, twinned with Beirut High Street. Sam's demise occurred 18 months ago. I suggest this was not due to it being "the UK's greatest fish and chip shop".
Anton De Fanoir, London
Andrew Davidson states that since your weight loss you are less arrogant and more amusing. I still find you thoroughly obnoxious. Keep up the good work!
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
In your weekly photos it's Michael Winner the monster that makes your columns so appealing.
John Finegan, Co Cavan
Your visit to Great Fosters tells us all we want and need to know about you! It shows how tasteless and ignorant you really are. It's a joy for us to visit there.
Annabelle and Paddy Cribb, Surrey
Thank you for recommending the Wolseley. We took Bob, a 90-year-old Bomber Command veteran, after the unveiling of the Bomber Command memorial. The maitre 'd recognised Bob's medals and gave us half a bottle of champagne.
Jay Margrave, Surrey