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You think I'm ghastly . . . you should try this place

Published 31 July 2005
News Review
629th article

Michael with Joanna Dadyk, left, and Helena Hell at the Ledbury (Paola Lombard)

Occasionally a restaurant is so awful I'm almost lost for words. But not quite. Thus it was with the Ledbury, a newish venue in Notting Hill. Local residents would be better served if the premises were razed to the ground and turned into a car park. That's useful. The Ledbury isn't.

I may have been more unimpressed with a meal. I can't remember when. Strange, because the Ledbury is part-owned by a marvellous chef, the two-Michelin-starred Philip Howard of the Square in Mayfair.

The Ledbury's chef, Brett Graham, worked with Philip.

Either he wasn't attending or he decided when, mistakenly, given his own restaurant, to go it alone. That's where he should be. And when I visited one Saturday for lunch that's how I was. More or less alone.

The wonderful restaurant manager - "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" - Helena Hell, said: "It's summer, people are all away. We do have 25 bookings." An hour and a half later, when we left, only 16 of them had turned up.

Buzz and atmosphere: nil. Not helped by pretentious decor with black pillars and mirrors, which at night would reflect black from outside.

Before I relate the tedium let me also congratulate the head waiter, Joanna Dadyk.

Service throughout was superb. They just didn't bring anything worth having.

Actually, I did like their first offering: the bread. After that it was downhill.

My first course was "sardine beignets with wild rocket and aubergine caviar". A pompous, overelaborate description of a ghastly concoction. The so-called sardines were mushed-up and covered in what looked and tasted like shredded wheat. The whole thing was bland and utterly meaningless.

Round the corner at e&o every dish tastes of something. At the Ledbury every dish tasted of nothing. The next disaster was "breast fo (sic) duck with celeriac, beetroot and tart fine of peach". What a load of old cobblers! Silly little slices of duck which could have been anything. They were utterly meaningless.

Paola only enjoyed her mashed potatoes. She said: "I'd rather be at the Ivy or San Lorenzo." I replied: "Well, I offered you those two; you turned them down." "Because I thought we should try somewhere new," said Paola. "Trying somewhere new is always a disaster," I responded.

Helena, who used to be at the Connaught and should speedily go back there, strongly recommended the house speciality - chocolate souffle. I don't know much about food but I prize myself on being a world expert on desserts, particularly chocolate souffle. This one was, by a long way, the worst I've ever eaten.

Once again it had no taste. If it wasn't for the rather thin chocolate sauce (it's much richer and creamier at Racine) I wouldn't have known it had anything to do with chocolate at all.

"The food is all too played about with," I dictated. "It isn't relying on the real flavour. It's hiding it." We left before coffee. I was just so fed up with the place.

When I got to my Suzuki Grand Vitara with its local parking permit I dictated: "This restaurant is absolutely pointless. There's no reason to have it there at all." By now you may have guessed I wasn't mad about the Ledbury.

Paola suggested we had coffee at 202 on Westbourne Grove. This is a restaurant owned by top fashion designer Nicole Farhi. She's a delight and married to David Hare who invited me to speak at the Cambridge Film Society when he was in charge of it in the 1960s.

202 is also a clothes shop and sells antiques, mirrors and sofas. It was packed.

Its customers weren't on holiday - the reason Helena had suggested for the Ledbury's near emptiness. I think the Ledbury was empty because it's no good.

We found a table, or rather were sneaked onto one by the manager, had an excellent coffee and read the menu. This offered wonderful things such as scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms; fish and chips with mushy peas; hot salt beef sandwich on rye with mustard and pickles. I made a note to return.

Then a brief drop in to Assaggi in nearby Chepstow Place for a chat with the chef and co-owner, Nino Sassu. He'd been packed for lunch and was, as usual, fully booked for dinner.

Assaggi is the only restaurant I ever "discovered" for the world. It was recently awarded a Michelin star. I'd like to suggest Nino owes it all to me. But he and his partner, Pietro, succeed by serving simple food and good ingredients - all brilliantly prepared. Simplicity being a word totally unknown to Brett at the Ledbury. And more's the pity.

Winner's letters

Your choice of risotto at Harry's Bar was excellent. But I'm curious as to whether you know the additional benefit from consuming it. Since I've been eating it my sex life has improved no end. Has yours?
Galina Breckhovnova, Paris

Michael Winner frequently goes to tiresome lengths to establish the precise freshness of his freshly squeezed orange juice, yet he congratulates Arrigo Cipriani of Harry's Bar, Venice, on using tinned peach juice in his bellinis. If this is logic then my middle name is Descartes.
Robert Randell, London

I place Mr Winner's choice last week of the best restaurant - Harry's Bar in Venice - second behind Hadley's fish 'n' chip caff in Whitby. It is the real winner, Mr Winner.
Ken Booth, Middlesbrough

Like you, Michael, I was badly treated at Cipriani in Mayfair. We were greeted by a very rude man, Antonio. The way one is received sets the whole tone of the evening. There was an inefficient bartender who removed my drink before I'd finished. One redeeming feature was the attention and pleasant attitude of our waiter, Pino. I hope he'll be rewarded.
Rosemary Irving, London

You told us last week you like to take your meals beside it, but didn't say why the swimming pool of the Cipriani hotel is the biggest and best in Venice. It's said the British architect's drawings were in feet but the Italian builders constructed it in metres!
Michael Cole, London

In last Sunday's photo it looked like Paola was doing a Sharon Stone. I hope I'm wrong!
Barry Denton-MacLennan Stevenage

Winner, you really are the most preposterous and pompous man I've ever come across. Why do I spoil my Sunday mornings by reading your sycophantic ramblings? What is your contribution to this planet, and are you really on it?
Peter Mate, West Yorkshire

You have an incredible sense of humour, Michael. How else would you allow such a cornucopia of readers to insult you? I think you've improved standards in many establishments. I thank you.
Shelley Spendfield, Monaco

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk