Published 13 May 2001 Style Magazine 409th article
Green's gauger: Michael Winner, with David Vickerstaff and waitresses (Georgina Hristova)
I've always been an avid collector. Furniture, paintings, bronzes, porcelain, ornaments - you name it, I collect it. I've spent years in salerooms, antique shops and art galleries. Years ago at Christie's, I bought what is called a school painting. That means in the style of a known artist, maybe from his studio or by one of his pupils. My restorer at the time was a man who worked largely for the dealers with galleries in St James's and Mayfair. "Would you like a signature on it?" he asked. "You mean there's a signature on the panel you could strengthen?" I said, in all innocence. "There's no signature. Would you like one?" he responded.
Following that, I saw school paintings miraculously authenticated and offered in galleries for a fortune, furniture greatly restored and sold as genuine and all sorts of other tricks, which the trade knows full well are rampant. The salerooms also offer a lot of items that are vastly misrepresented. I've written about this and got my money back many times.
Nevertheless, I retain a soft spot for both dealers and salerooms and still buy regularly. Twenty years ago, in the midst of their territory, St James's, a restaurant called Green's appeared. It's much favoured by picture dealers and others who visit Christie's. I was always told it originated because prices at nearby Wiltons were so high there was demand for a similar, but cheaper, establishment. Though why people who are unbelievably rich should want to save a tenner on lunch, I can't imagine. Green's was opened by Simon Parker Bowles, brother of the famous one who married that woman. I'd never been there, so I went for lunch one Saturday.
The director-cum-restaurant manager on duty, David Vickerstaff, greeted me enthusiastically, but totally ignored Georgina. This upset her - and quite right, too. It's happened elsewhere. Fred Serol at the Mirabelle initially ignored her, as did Roger Benham at Tuscan Steak. Although I'm sometimes, inaccurately, called chauvinistic, I have great respect for ladies. I'm old-fashioned polite. I stand up when they enter or leave the room. I resent them not being treated properly. Having been enraged by her non-greeting, Georgina softened as we left, saying: "Don't mention he didn't say hello, because I now realise he was very nervous and forgot. He didn't realise what he was doing." He's an adult restaurant manager, he should know what he's doing.
Green's is a sparse, clumsy, substandard Wiltons, but not unpleasant. There are booths with a studded, rust-red hessian-type covering, framed prints and a male-club atmosphere circa 1980. Not one of the great years for interior decoration. The food is comfort food - sausages and mash, fishcakes and, when in season, oysters, crab and sea stuff in general.
Other than not greeting Georgina, Mr Vickerstaff was extremely courteous and efficient. So were the waitresses, dressed in black skirts, white blouses and bow ties. They looked as if they were at a function. As it was a Saturday, the place lacked the buzz from the workaday art-trade group. But it was quite busy.
I started with a salmon fishcake, which was perfectly all right. Georgina greatly liked her goat's cheese and leek tart with salad. My main course was pan-fried fillet of sea bass with grilled spring onions and brandade. Mr Vickerstaff had explained it was a cod brandade and "rather salty". That's the understatement of the decade, if not of the past 500 years. This brandade was so salty I still tasted salt in my mouth four hours later. It wiped out any appreciation I might have had of the dish and accompanying vegetables - although I did observe that the spinach puree wasn't pureed at all, just cut up in small bits. Georgina had monkfish, which started as "good" and ended up as "quite good". "There's no atmosphere," she added, correctly.
I got extremely excited about dessert when I noticed one of my all-time favourites - Bakewell tart. I asked Mr Vickerstaff when it was baked. "I'd guess yesterday afternoon," he said. "Why not go to the kitchen and check?" I suggested. He returned, saying it had been baked that morning. Unfortunately, it was not made with the usual raspberry or strawberry jam but with large, chewy slices of apricot. It also lacked the icing and cherry that sometimes tops the almond sponge. The pastry and sponge, though, were superb. If they'd stuck to the classic recipe this could have been historic.
Green's is unexciting, certainly not terrible, but offering no major accomplishment in food or decor. As I left, I asked Mr Vickerstaff who his co-directors were. He listed Lord Vestey, Simon Parker Bowles and the Italian-American co-owner. "Then you don't need an enormous room for board meetings," I observed. That's a strange farewell, isn't it?
I read Michael Winner's weekly reviews with delight, and admire his excellent use of the English language. So it is with a sense of disappointment that I read (Style, April 29) of Charles Bronson and his "then" wife, Jill Ireland. This carries an unfortunate connotation and does scant justice to that lovely lady and their loving relationship, which would have been much better served by the adjective "late".
Joseph Sinclair, London
Reading of Michael Winner dining with Charles Bronson (Style, April 29) reminded me of a week I spent on business in Los Angeles some years ago. I thought I would experience a bit of glam, so I stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel and dined every day in the Polo Lounge. On the last day, having not spotted a single star all week, I called the waiter over and told him so. He replied: "Well, Charles Bronson is on the next table, glaring at you, actors a, b, c, d and e are on those tables, and director x is over there. In fact, you're the only person in the room who is not in the movie business."
Nicholas Pine, W Sussex
Michael Winner comments that a lot of Chinese people eating in a Chinese restaurant is "comforting" (Style, April 29). He is not alone in making such remarks, but I have always regarded them as rather stupid. Chinese people have no more clue as to what good food is than English people do about English food. You will find more Americans in McDonald's than anywhere else. Does that mean it's the best venue for American food?
Joanna Koenig, by e-mail
I recently booked a table for 7pm at the Oak Room restaurant in London's Le Meridien hotel. I turned up 10 minutes early, and was astonished when the receptionist would not let me sit at my table, but insisted I wait outside. The adjacent lounge would not serve me a margarita, as, despite the hour, one could only order from the afternoon-tea menu. When my guests and I were finally permitted to sit down at the table, nobody approached to ask what we would like to drink. We were left feeling most unwelcome. It was somewhat ironic, therefore, to note the quotation from Brillat-Savarin on the dessert menu: "To know how to eat well, one must first know how to wait." We certainly learnt how to wait, but perhaps the waiters at the restaurant could have taken the dictum on the menu a bit more to heart.
Dr Stanley Ho, London
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