Published 14 July 2002 Style Magazine 470th article
From left: Hassan Ahmed, Farizeh Salloos and Michael Winner (Gerogina Hristova)
Salloos was very popular in the 1970s. Now it's rather strange. The menu still has an 01 phone number on it. It's falling to pieces and extremely dirty at the edges. The whole place needs a mammoth cleanup. It should have been redecorated ages ago. Georgina looked round the narrow first-floor room with its hideous Indian paintings and rightly observed: "I think this is a very depressing atmosphere."
It wasn't helped by the guests. They were largely men without jackets who looked as if they'd come to town for a sales convention and got lost. The restaurant is in Belgravia, in a posh mews-type road that backs onto the west side of Wilton Place and its super-grand mansions. But there's nothing grand about Salloos.
Nobody asked if we wanted a drink. After a very long time, a man called Hassan Ahmed came to take the order. He told me the speciality was lamb chops. "It's the best lamb. You won't find it anywhere. It's Tandoori chops; young lamb marinated for 24 hours." It sounded like a recorded statement, but I ordered a starter portion. Georgina asked for mulligatawny soup. Hassan said to me: "Have number 21." It was on the menu as "Chicken Karahi, a speciality from the Khyber, diced de-boned chicken cooked with spices, chopped ginger and green chillies". I took it. I'm easily led.
Georgina ordered a chicken shish kebab. She looked round the room again. "A very down atmosphere," she sighed. I'd chosen Salloos because it was close to a supposedly chic clothes shop that was having an opening party. With loyalty for which I am renowned, I was supporting one of my ex-receptionists who was involved. At Salloos we were given two large spicy poppadoms. Georgina's was burned black. We returned it. They didn't have non-spicy poppadoms. My two small lamb cutlets were okay. Nothing to write home about. So I didn't. I'm the only person at home anyway. There's no point in writing to myself.
The old man, Hassan, when told anything, said, "Yes, sir!" very loudly, with volume rising on the "sir", as if he was in the army, obeying an officer command. The vegetables came after our main course. That was weird. Chickpeas, mixed vegetables, a bit of sauce and some rice. I mushed it all together. It was spicier than I'd have liked, but quite pleasant.
Hassan said he had Indian ice cream made from fresh milk. He also had halwa gajar, made from fresh carrots, pistachio and cardamom. We got halwa, rice pudding and oriental ice cream in three bowls, which we served ourselves. It was adequate.
A lively lady, Farizeh Salloos, the daughter of the owners, Mr and Mrs Salahuddin, explained Salloos was a shortened version of their name. I didn't understand that. She told me Hassan was Egyptian and had been there 26 years. The chef had been there 32 years. It seemed possible the menu had been there longer than any of them. It certainly looked the weariest member of the group.
I return to my strangest time ever in a hotel or restaurant - at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mayfair. You may recall I was served tea bags with their £22 Jubilee Afternoon Tea. When I complained, the hotel's duty manager, Rachel Begbie, didn't investigate or apologise. She told me I hadn't been served tea bags because the hotel used leaf tea. When a pot of tea with the tea bag tag hanging from it arrived in Miss Begbie's presence, she didn't offer condolence, she just said: "I don't understand it." She looked at far-from-fresh sandwiches, the bread curling up, and refused to touch them to find the centre was soft and the edges hard. She said "They're fresh, we only use fresh bread." Ms Begbie is also the training manager of the Four Seasons. I felt like suggesting she should train herself, but my natural reticence prevented me.
I was so utterly appalled at this service in a supposedly top-class hotel. I sent my article about it to Wolf Hengst, the Four Seasons president of worldwide hotel operations. Mr Hengst apologised - which is more than Ms Begbie did - adding: "She may have just been intimidated and nervous." Mr Hengst, old chap, Ms Begbie was in charge of one of your premiere hotels - 183 rooms and 37 suites. She should not be intimidated when a customer asks why he's got tea bags. How can that excuse the worst example of customer management I've ever seen?
Mr Hengst continued: "Her reputation for providing excellent service is stellar." What qualifies as not "excellent service" at a Four Seasons Hotel? Repeatedly slapping the guests with a wet kipper perhaps. I remain bemused.
I used to belong to a golf club where the dress code dictated that men had to wear a jacket and tie in the clubhouse, even when the temperature topped 80F, while women could be more comfortably dressed in loose, short dresses. Throughout my working life, I have had equal opportunities drummed into me on an almost daily basis, yet I feel that I am constantly being discriminated against on dress codes. I now will not have meals in restaurants that impose this sort of discrimination. Even on holiday, the dress code in the restaurant/bar forbade men from wearing sleeveless tops or shorts (women could wear both). What's going on?
Gerry Dunn, by e-mail.
Michael Winner is a tease. He tells us how great Michael Caine's roast potatoes are, but fails to pass on the secret of his (potato-roasting) success. How about giving us the intimate details?
Jeff Paynter, by e-mail.
As I read Winner's Dinners every week, I was wondering if Mr Winner would ever think of sampling some restaurants in Belfast. We have some very fine restaurants in the city centre - Aldens, Cayenne (owned by Paul Rankin, who is famous for BBC Ready Steady Cook), Deanes and Christies. All have expensive menus, and I would love to know if Mr Winner would think them worthy.
Paula Wilson, Belfast.
Michael Winner describes the food at The Cottage Inn, Maidens Green, as "not great, but supremely reasonable". This is a contradiction in terms. Supreme is of the highest quality, while reasonable is merely moderate or tolerable. So, Michael, which is it to be?
Julian Corlett, Scunthorpe, Lincs.
I was delighted to learn that bagel is actually pronounced "bygel" (Letters, June 30). Coming from Birmingham, I have always pronounced it this way.
Julie Loft, Birmingham.
I am grateful that Michael Winner tried my suggestion of The Cottage Inn and glad that he found it "nice" (June 23). However, I would still maintain that its roast potatoes are among the best around, even if I have not had the privilege of trying those made by Sir Michael Caine. I doubt, though, that they would be as good as my wife's, which rank alongside those at The Cottage Inn. Not just "nice", but magnificent.
Stanley Silver, Hadley Wood, Herts.