Published 1 September 2002 Style Magazine 477th article
Pierre-Jacques Marquise and Michael Winner at Tetou in Golfe-Juan
Lucretius (99-55BC), the Roman poet and philosopher, wrote only one poem. De rerum natura. In it he said: "What is food to one man is bitter poison to another." This bears upon our tract for today. My personal great tastes, which may not be yours.
I don't refer to food prepared by some Michelin-starred "genius", but that which gives pleasure. The greatest dish in my world is the bouillabaisse at Tetou, in Golfe-Juan. in the south of France. It's been run by the same family since 1920. The fish soup itself is staggering. The further ingredients - lobster, daurade, rascasse, st pierre and rouget - are superb. So are the croutons, the garlic and the yellow boiled potatoes. Even when heavy traffic makes the road journey arduous from La Reserve de Beaulieu, I take a boat - at stupid expense - just to enjoy it. In winter, Tetou has an incredible selection of home-made jams in enormous jars, which you take with deep-fried beignets and whipped cream.
Another all-time great is the chocolate cake at Harry's Bar, Venice. Good chocolate cake is extremely rare. The owner Arrigo's is moist, very chocolatey and unbeatable.
I remain nervous at the oversophistication of Wiltons in St James's, but the fried plaice is extraordinary. It is lush. tasty and has a fantastic batter. The new chef appears to be refining the batter. This makes it less good, but it's still near the top.
There's some dish they do in Spain - certainly not one of the main food centres of the world - that is extraordinary. It's tiny eels fried in olive oil and served in earthenware bowls. They're almost worth my returning to Spain for. But not quite.
There used to be a hot-dog place called Nathan's in New York, opposite The Plaza hotel. They were spectacular. A really good hot dog is hard to find. Where do you get one now? Nathan's remains a high-point memory.
Keeping in the stratosphere of cuisine are the chips at Heston Blumenthal's Riverside Brasserie in Bray. They're one of the most exciting eating experiences ever. Heston explained to me in the kitchen of The Fat Duck, now deservedly two Michelin stars, how he did them. It included taking the air out of a bowl they were in and then various hocus-pocus I didn't understand. Heston said he had them at The Fat Duck, but didn't offer them too often. He doubtless fears they'd eclipse the skilful cooking he manages there.
I'll always remember a lunch on the beach in Jamaica. I'd been sent there by Warner Bros of Hollywood to research a thriller. Staying at a now-gone hotel, Frenchman's Cove, I tired of the US-style imports of frozen steak and caesar salad. I asked the Jamaicans running the beach grill what they ate. "Curried goat," they said. They got permission to knock some up for me by the sea. One of the best meals I've ever had.
On another film trip, I was vastly impressed by the Kobe beef in Tokyo. It had a tenderness and a taste much better than UK beef. Apparently, the cows were fed on beet or milk, or something peculiar.
It's strange that a Frenchman should have produced the best English breakfast I was ever served. Raymond Blanc did just that at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire. This has now been acquired by the Orient-Express group. I last saw Raymond when he was visiting the Cipriani in Venice as part of an acclimatisation tour. The Orient-Express people maintain very high standards, so it's nice to know Raymond is partnered by the best.
There are things from time gone by that, for some inexplicable reason, have fled from sight. One of these is the marrons glaces that used to grace Fortnum & Mason. In the lower restaurant, you got these two superb meringues with chestnut puree in squiggles in the middle and topped by cream. They provided a moment of considerable pleasure. More than I can say for Fortnum luggage department. Three times in three years I've been there trying to buy something, and there's been nobody to serve me until I looked high and low and made a noise. If you don't want to sell luggage, fellows, close the department down. If you do, have staff there.
I also have great affection for the fried scampi at the Hotel Splendido in Portofino. Michael Caine's home-roasted potatoes, Marco Pierre White's (when he cooked) trilogy of differently done pork, and my own totally historic scrambled eggs, steak, sausage and salad toasted sandwiches. Not all the ingredients together, you understand. One at a time. I'm definitely up there with the transcendent dish creators. This makes me truly proud. What's your favourite taste?
PS: nextweek, I shall be moving to the back page of the News Review section
I was delighted to read that Michael Winner has discovered the Trattoria alla Madonna in Venice (August 11). For the past 20 years, we have enjoyed meals there. But he neglected to inform his readers about the most important fact - that this is where the Venetians go to eat.
Edna Weiss, London
Can Michael Winner launch a campaign against restaurants where the waiters/ waitresses bang into diners' chairs? The worst place in London for this practice is the Criterion, where your chair is kicked or knocked at least twice during each course. It is only a matter of time before a bowl of consomme is poured down a customer's neck. Nor is the problem confined to Britain. A few weeks ago, at the otherwise impeccable Moulin de Mougins in France, my chair was whacked several times, without apology. The rot is spreading. It must be stopped.
Paul Luke, Hampton Hill, Middlesex
I recently visited Weymouth with friends and was recommended a local fish restaurant, the Sea Cow (pronounced CK in local dialect). All was going swimmingly until we noticed a strange smell. No, it wasn't the fish. To my amazement, one of the diners decided to change his daughter's nappy beside his table. Not really what one wants to witness while awaiting seared scallops.
Richard Bywaters, London
As a former waiter, can I say that people like Norman Crook (Letters, August 18), who are constantly trying to find new ways to leave a small tip, are mean, petty and they annoy me. If you enjoy the food and service, tip well. End of story.
Richard Harries, Edinburgh
I find it laughable that Michael Winner considers himself generous for giving a 12.5% tip. In the States, he'd be considered a cheapskate. A 20% tip is the norm there. A friend who works at a four-star restaurant in Washington told me he cringes when he gets a table with Winner types, because he knows he'll get next to nothing as a tip.
Suzanne Freg, by e-mail
Aimee Lawrence (Letters, August 18) was doubtless well intentioned when she offered assistance in pronouncing the word "gazumped", but for those of us living north of the Watford Gap, it wasn't really much help. Up here, the "u"s in "put" and "pump" are pronounced in exactly the same way.
Stephen L Phillips, Preston
Send letters to Winner's Dinners; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk