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Word of mouth

Published 7 July 2002
Style Magazine
469th article

Room for improvement: Philip Osenton and Michael Winner (Georgina Hristova)

I was in my kitchen enjoying a superb toasted steak sandwich - made by me - and watching the early-evening news, when the phone rang. It was Gordon Ramsay. He sounded nervous. He assured me he'd only said nice things about me to The Daily Telegraph. If they reported differently: they lied. I surmised he'd said something rude and was now regretting it. This is not untypical of Gordon. An item appeared where Gordon scattered invective my way, adding the only thing to do was to seat me with Terence Conran. Bizarre. Particularly as I'd always been friends with Gordon. I announced his chef scholarship scheme for him at its launch party. I supported him at his book reception. I named him the best chef in the UK. I wrote he should be knighted. We'd holidayed in France.

The Telegraph asked me to respond. I said Gordon was a wonderful fellow and if he'd gone a bit mad, so what. I told the Telegraph journalist Gordon said he was lying. He assured me he wasn't and I believed him. This is not the first time Gordon has shot his mouth off about me. In an Observer interview he was highly complimentary, but gave a grossly inaccurate account of my visit to his superlative Gordon Ramsay restaurant in Chelsea. Later, Gordon wrote me a letter saying I shouldn't have believed the Telegraph report.

Gordon is a man of amazing talent. I'm not amused by his "improvements" to Claridge's restaurant, but it's a great success. If I had shares in Claridge's parent company, Blackstone, I'd be delighted. I care not that he's radically changing The Connaught hotel dining room. It's a pity he isn't ripping out the hideous panelling, which a number of misguided people campaigned to have retained. He's making it an Italian-type restaurant, supposedly opening in September. I look forward to that.

But Gordon now speaks not only for himself as a reformed expletive-driven chef. He represents Claridge's. Would its distinguished managing director, Christopher Cowdray, give careless interviews as Gordon does? Would the directors of Blackstone shoot their mouths off like Gordon? Definitely not. I greatly admire Gordon for the peaks he has climbed. He's still a long way from the top of one named "mouth control".

I'm thinking thus because I recently are at the Savoy's River Restaurant, owned by Blackstone. Will Gordon be involved there? I hope so. Because while it's not bad, "Gordonisation" would make it better. It took me for ever to reserve a table for Sunday lunch. The switchboard girl said there was only one person on the board until noon. For a hotel with 207 rooms, that's pathetic.

The River Restaurant overlooks the Thames if you're seated near the windows. I was. It was absolutely full of "event" people. It looked as if 20 suburban charabancs had disgorged a middle-class convention into the room. Before letters pour in: I like British suburbia, with its neat, cared-for gardens. I consider our middle class the backbone of society. I'm just not used to seeing so many of them in one room.

The set lunch with 15% service added is £38.52. More than Claridge's or the Dorchester Grill. And not as good.

Georgina said: "It's a horrible room, except for this table." I didn't strongly object to the room. It's one of the last "grand" hotel dining rooms.

My starter was smoked eel with scrambled eggs and toasted muffins. The muffin was soggy, the egg fine, the eel all right. Georgina had spicy chicken salad with artichoke and wild mushroom. She thought it very good, except for the mushrooms, which were marinated.

The waiter brought a second buck's fizz for me, but left the dirty glass for the old one. He carefully moved it to another side of the table, but still left it. So I got up myself and put it on one of the serving areas where dirty plates were piled.

Georgina's main-course lobster was mushy and tired. My roast beef was okay. Georgina liked her apple tart dessert, but my cream and raspberry gateau was gooey and uninteresting. The excellent restaurant manager, Philip Osenton, then brought me a caramelised banana with cinnamon ice cream. That was nice.

I said to Georgina: "This doesn't have the class of the grill room, where I used to eat with my father."

"Was your father elegant?" she asked.

"Yes, most beautifully dressed," I replied.

"Not like you," said Georgina.

The coach party group next to us was getting drunk and noisy. Georgina leaned over conspiratorially toward me as if she had something very important to say. I inched toward her to listen. "I'm very healthy," she announced. I was pleased about that.


I thoroughly endorse Geoff Foster Taylor's comments on the excellence of the Thai cuisine at the Amanjena in Marrakesh (June 23), not because I've been there, but because I used to know the executive chef, Barnaby Jones. About 13 years ago, when I was a windsurfing instructor in Poole, Barney used to be the "slipway monkey" tasked with getting the kit ready for the day's hapless victims. He did a brilliant job at that, but was even better at making us all foot-long baguettes for lunch. We all knew he'd go far.
Tim Palmer, Poole

I read Mr Winner's column each Sunday with a mixture of horror and fascination, never imagining that I will ever frequent any of the establishments about which he writes. But a few weeks ago, a kind and wealthy old friend took me to Wiltons as a celebration for surviving September 11. Lo and behold, in the next Winner's Dinners (June 16), Wiltons is carpeted. Having enjoyed a superb dinner in Jermyn Street, I was disconcerted to read the great man disparaging the place over a bakewell tart. Surely 60 years of fine dining and excellent service deserves a little more loyalty?
Rev Lionel Kevis, Leigh, Kent

If Michael Winner - with his expensive transport, cameras, tape recorders and beautiful women companions - still finds reason to complain about poor service, what chance have mere mortals like us? If he had endured the dinner party that I, my wife and five educated friends recently had to suffer at the four-star Cheltenham Park Hotel, he would have gone berserk.
David Wallace, Sandy, Beds

When Michael Winner next visits La Reserve de Beaulieu, I suggest he takes earplugs. Dining and sitting around the pool is now spoilt by the constant use of mobile phones. A British group were swaggering around conversing on the phone in loud voices, resulting in our American friend remarking: "Can you ask your fellow countrymen to be quieter?" Most guests wanted mobile phones banned from the pool area. Perhaps Michael could talk to the owner, M Delion. His voice would carry more weight than ours.
Tricia Sneath, by email

Of the four readers who wrote in recently, two had to wait 1 hours for food. What wimpishness is this? If the staff haven't the courtesy to treat their guests with respect - walk.
Lewis Benjamin, by e-mail

Send letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk