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Daddy's girl

Published 5 August 2002
Style Magazine
473rd article

From left: Natasha Ladenis, Michael Winner and Paul Rhodes (Michael Edwards)

Natasha Ladenis was a beautiful baby. I couldn't stand her. I was very house-proud and her pram obstructed the narrow entrance hallway of the Victorian house in Cornwall Gardens, Kensington, which I owned and where I lived in the first- and second-floor maisonette. Natasha was the daughter of some bearded man who worked on The Sunday Times in the personal ads department. He'd moved in with his mother-in-law, a formidable lady called Madame Zissu. I directed solicitor's letters at Madame Zissu, telling her to get that revolting pram out of my hall. Then they all left and I was in peace. Decades later, I went to Nico Ladenis's restaurant Chez Nico at 90 Park Lane. The whole Ladenis family started embracing me. A dreadful case of mistaken identity, I thought. But they revealed we'd been neighbours in Cornwall Gardens, and all was forgiven. Except by Madame Zissu, then living in France. She never quite took to me.

Natasha has inherited the mantle of her three-Michelin-star father, Nico. He has retired with his wife (whom I tried unsuccessfully to seduce before he married her) to the south of France. Madame Zissu has passed on to a place where even my solicitor's letters cannot reach her.

Natasha, now an elegant and lovely lady, runs Nico's restaurants: the tiptop Incognico and, now, the new addition, Deca, just off New Bond Street. Natasha is a worthy successor to her father, and that is no mean compliment. She has charm, she is thorough and very hard-working. She has the old Nico team around her. There's Jean-Luc Giquel, the splendid ex-restaurant manager of the now closed Chez Nico in Park Lane, and Paul Rhodes, the exceptional chef who also moved from Park Lane to Deca.

It's a small restaurant on two floors, decorated appallingly by David Collins. There are hessian lamp shades that look as if they came fiom a sale at British Home Stores, before Philip Green bought Bhs and smartened it up. When I visited, Natasha was bringing in pictures from Park Lane to add colour to the rooms. I took Michael Edwards there to lunch. Mr Edwards was the managing director of International Travel Connections, specialising in the Caribbean. I found him a delight and highly efficient. Sadly, he left and the owner, Drew Foster, took over running the show. He was not a delight. So I stopped using them. Mr Edwards is now in Surrey running Beachcomber Tours, which specialises in Mauritius and South Africa. I can safely commend him to you. Mr Edwards also thought Deca's first-floor room was drab. "Nice," he added, pointing to six roses on the table. They were not done by David Collins. I decided on the cheapo set lunch - three courses for £12.50, with a "suggested" 12.5% gratuity. It was very good. Simple, but good. I had endive salad, grilled solette with tartare sauce plus some chips, which Jean-Luc said a machine cut in their own kitchen. There was no salt or pepper on the table. "It's only if requested," said Jean-Luc.

This hankers back to Nico's more adrenaline-splattered days, when he was one of the first chefs to throw customers out of restaurants. He never permitted salt or pepper. I saw him throw someone out of his Park Lane place. Nico was very worried. He said to me: "Don’t tell anybody." I also was there when a waiter reported an American had asked for mustard to go on his sole. Nico said, "Give it to him." Then, "Do we have any?" And then, "I hope it's Colman's." He's a wonderful person. I greatly miss him on the London scene. But Nico returned his three Michelin stars to enjoy well-earned time off.

To finish my Deca meal I had a ghastly home-made chocolate ice cream. When it comes to ice cream, "home-made" is frequently a disastrous label. Natasha, should buy them in from Marine Ices, far and away the best in London. You can get them over the counter or sit for a treat at their restaurant in Chalk Farm. Mr Edwards had some chicken, which he greatly liked.

I can definitely recommend Deca. Not so much for the rather modest meal I had, but because Paul Rhodes is a staggeringly good chef and I'm absolutely certain he'll do you proud. I also ate a sort of onion and bacon tartlet, which I described as a "cheese hors d'oeuvre". This appeared upside down on the tablecloth and I hadn't even touched it. I suppose they must serve it upside down on the table. This is highly original and worth visiting Deca for as a star turn all on its own.


Location: Taste of India, Llandudno. The friendly waitress said: "The iced water will be with you directly, the poppadoms in two minutes and your starter in five. I'll keep you informed on the main course." Astonished, I asked: "Do you read Michael Winner in The Sunday Times?"
Lewis Benjamin, Ashby de la Zouch

I appreciate that Michael Winner has a job that requires him to be critical. However, I take exception to the supercilious and patronising tone he took when remarking on his experience at Salloos in Belgravia (July 14). He may well claim to "hold his tongue" and refrain from vociferous moans in person, but good manners would also preclude him from blatant rudeness in the written word. While my own visits have been a delight and a pleasure, I'm prepared to accept that his was not. But why do it in such an irritatingly pompous fashion?
A Dixon, London

I visited The Cottage Inn again last Sunday and can confirm that the roast potatoes are still as good as my wife's. However, the host told me that, on Michael Winner's last visit, he was very pleasant. Has the lion lost his roar?
Stanley Silver, Hadley Wood

I was eagerly awaiting Mr Winner's article on Salloos, and it certainly made me laugh. I'm sorry you found us dreary; we certainly found your presence very exciting. The dining room was buzzing with comments about you and your beautiful girlfriend. The restaurant will be renovated soon, and I will mention "grand" as a style guideline to the interior designer. I do hope you will come again. And I promise, no burnt poppadoms.
Farizeh Salahuddin, restaurant manager, Salloos

Further to Michael Winner's request for comments on the Al Fassia in Windsor (July 21), my husband and I often eat there and find the service superb and the cuisine excellent. The lamb served in a tagine is a must; so is the pastilla - filo pastry stuffed with chicken and almonds. I understand that delegates from the Moroccan Embassy are regular guests, as this is the only restaurant that serves traditional home-made Moroccan fare.
Elisabeth Casey, Bracknell

How quaint to see that southerners chew the word bagel - "bygel" - in the same way that they chew the rest of the English language. Please, let bygels be bygones.
P Preger, Bury, Lancashire

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