Published 26 March 1995 Style Magazine 90th article
No fear: Michael Winner at Kai Mayfair with the waitresses and, left above, Bernard Yeah, the owner and, next to him, Don Tan, the manager (Vanessa Perry)
I've had experiences in two ethnic restaurants lately; one lovely, one ghastly. Kai Mayfair is currently my favourite Chinese, even though the decor is too posh by far. It lacks the chummy slapdash I like in most Chinese places. Oddly, waitresses are dressed in sailor-suits. as if auditioning for The Pirates Of Penzance. But they're pretty and very good. There's a lot of moving about before a table is placed in a comer that I can accept. Murmurs like "The King of Malaysia is downstairs" abound. Why if l was upstairs, was he downstairs, I wondered on reflection!
The owner, Bernard Yeoh from Kuala Lumpur. qualified here as a barrister. He did a big sell on the chef, not really necessary because the food is wonderful. Bit of Chinese Shoashing hot wine there, very sweet with crystal sugar to add to it, bit of fresh prawn crackers there, a Chinese croissant filled with minced prawns, flaming pork in silver foil with onions . . . all things I find impossible to order. Just let them sort it out for you, I say, as a major restaurant expert. The meal ends with a bit of total nonsense. In comes a large bowl belching masses of swirling steamy-mist, like the dungeons in Phantom Of The Opera. A major presentation! Inside were two of the drearicst little mint chocs I've ever eaten. Never mind, I adored the sea spice lobster.
The recently opened Tamarind, also in Mayfair, is a disaster. When I telephoned they asked was my name spelt Winnersh or Winnash? If nothing else I speak with horrific clarity. I turned up to be greeted by a European lady with a cold "Do you have a reservation?" As if those without reservations were non-people who deserved to wait in restaurant-corridor hell forever. I always walk right by snooty things at the door when that’s their only greeting.
Downstairs was the most ghastly room I have ever seen. Golders Green minimalism would be a kind way to describe it. A works canteen with horrid gold pillars in the middle, no sign of humanity and 1950s-type office chairs with over-curved hard backs which kept bashing my arms. Things did not improve when I was told they only had spicy poppadoms. The ones that look like they've got mumps. I much prefer the old-fashioned large potato-crisp appearance type. After the meal the chef said: "Of course we have plain poppadoms." "Why did the manager tell me you didn't?" I asked in aggravation. "I don't know," said the chef.
We waited forever for our main course, and this at lunch time with only live other tables occupied. The chutney and other condiments were in three of the tiniest bowls I've ever seen. Each one had about enough for a small baby to eat in one mouthful. After looking at the room for 50 minutes, and having great difficulty in getting any service from anyone, by the time the food came I was ready to kill. It wasn’t as good as my favourite Indian, the Bombay Brasserie. And there the service is immaculate and in pleasant surroundings. If Tamarind survives it'll be a miracle. I wouldn’t move a millimetre to give it the kiss of life.
Believe it or not, I get endless invitations to restaurants. One particularly brilliant letter came from Eliza Dunlop, "Publicity Executive" of Merehurst Fairfax. She asked me if I would be interested "in featuring the critically acclaimed restaurant The Old Vicarage in Observer Life". Well, why should a PR be able to distinguish one newspaper from another’? She also wrote "Tessa Bramley's restaurant is rated higher than Nico's. Gary Rhodes' and Anthony Warrell-Tompson's." A few spelling mistakes there! "Move over Nico, make way for Tessa," Eliza trumpeted. Perhaps Ms Bramley is higher rated than Nico in Exchange and Mart or Feathered World. I doubt in much else. I've been to her restaurant. It's not bad. It certainly deserves a better PR.
My friend, top TV comedy writer Laurence Marks, went to Sticky Fingers. "Do we know you?" the manager asked. "I'm not here to have your children, I'm here to eat," said Laurence. "Do you have a reservation?" was the response. "The place is empty," said Laurence. "You'll have to sit at the back," said the manager. Funny, they're always polite to me. But then fear is a great leveller.
If Michael Winner is alarmed at the disappearance of Sole Capri from the menu, let him prepare himself in advance for another shock. Spaghetti as we have always known it is now an increasingly elusive item, having been replaced in some restaurants, supermarkets and delicatessen shops by a square-sectioned variety which totally lacks the eating, twirling and sauce-holding qualities of proper spaghetti. Is this Brussels at work again? Can Mr Winner wield his influence to vanquish this imposter?
Judy F Schwarz, Maidenhead, Berkshire
In her letter of February 26, Janet Crawford was critical of the National Theatre's catering. I recently visited the National and ate at the Olivier's hot buffet. Considering the number of people also eating there, I was amazed at the quality and quantity of food. The roast lamb I ordered, and my partner's choice a delicious, creamy-tasting lasagne were both of excellent quality and given to us by friendly, all-smiling staff. We would certainly return to the National Theatre, perhaps just to eat.
Glenn Wilson, London NW4
Earlier this year I phoned the Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair, London W1 to make a reservation for dinner at 7.30pm on Saturday January 7, leaving a contact phone number. My son and daughter-in-law travelled from Surrey to join us, to celebrate my 60th birthday. When I phoned to say we would be 15 minutes late, I was told they had no record of my booking. The restaurant was fully booked and they already had four parties, like us unrecorded, who had turned up, and they were shunting tables round to fit them in. I was then left to find an alternative restaurant, at 7.30pm on a Saturday in central London all I tried were fully booked. We were all bitterly disappointed. I wrote to the restaurant to complain, but they did not have the decency to reply. How does the potential customer avoid this happening, and how can the restaurant compensate for the evening they ruined?
K M Richards, Kingswear, Devon
If you desire a homely, economic and trouble-free Italian meal in a typically cucina casalinga ambiente, I heartily recommend the Verde Valle II in Lower Grosvenor Place, London SW1, opposite the Palace Mews. The service is fast, friendly and efficient. The food is excellent, and yes, Michael Winner can have an egg on it if he wants. I asked for one on my politically incorrect escalope di vitello and got it without fuss. Viva Italia!
Herb Meyer, London SW7