Published 2 October 2005 News Review 638th article
Before the storm: Winner with David Tang at China Tang (Victoria Tang)
When David Tang, the Chinese entrepreneur supreme and general nice person, asked me to a party at China Tang, his new restaurant in the Dorchester hotel, a series of e-mails flowed. I checked if I was to be seated willy-nilly, or at David's table. David assured me I'd be at his table, no more than two places from him.
Thus Paola and I arrived in the basement bar of China Tang at 8.30pm. David showed me the private rooms and the elegant dining room.
Then I returned to the bar to talk to David Dimbleby. "I told my Question Time producer not to take a lift back to London in your private jet," explained David. "I said, 'If Winner makes a mess of it and you have to cut him out, it'll be very embarrassing'."
"What do you mean, 'if I make a mess of it', David?" I responded. "I always make a mess of it!" Of course I was brilliant as ever.
As I saw no sign of people going to eat and as I'd noticed Mr Tang had reserved two entire walls of the restaurant's banquettes, with chairs facing the wall, for his large party, I said to Paola: "This'll take for ever. Let's go in now."
The restaurant manager showed me to a silly, small banquette table. "I don't sit at places like that!" I announced. "I'll sit there!" I indicated a round table for five.
On the way in I'd said hello to a sweet white-haired little old lady in a red dress at the next table who I assumed was a guest. This greeting becomes significant in respect of the story that will follow.
Then Paola and I ate a superb Chinese dinner. Other than getting Hildon water (ghastly) and no prawn crackers (one of my favourites) it was a historic meal.
There were very light spring rolls, some excellent and fresh sweet and sour pork, which was the best I've ever had, fantastic crisp-skin chicken, stir fried chicken with spices, pak choi (a Chinese vegetable), Cantonese fried rice, vegetarian fried rice, E-fu noodles, which are some sort of dumpling, and I finished with peach sorbet.
Towards the end of the meal David Tang's party entered the room and various illustrious guests stopped for a brief chat, including, but not limited to, Barry Humphries, Nick Mason, drummer with Pink Floyd, Lord Lichfield, and other glitterati. David was instructing people where to sit.
After a while he came over to me and asked: "Did you see that?" "What?" I responded. "That woman," he said, pointing to where the red-dressed woman had been at the table next to me. "As I was seating my guests she said, 'If you want to shout go back to your own country!'"
I felt a good story coming on. David continued: "I said, 'I'm very sorry, we're having a party.' The woman said, 'We don't shout in England. Go back to your own country!' I said to her, 'You can't make racist remarks like that.' The woman said, 'Who are you? The head waiter?' I told her, 'No, I'm the proprietor.'
"Her husband said, 'We'll buy it tomorrow.' I replied, 'I'm sorry, madam, I don't deal with vulgarity.' She said, 'What's your name?' I said, 'Madam, I have two plastic surgeons in my group. They could fix your ugly face. Now get out of my restaurant, you old bag.'" So the couple left.
Indeed I saw Barry Humphries's son led to what had been their table. About five minutes later David Tang returned to my table. "Stella McCartney asked me to thank you," he said. "Why?" I asked, baffled.
"Well, you took her table," explained David, "so she and her party are sitting in the bar. The husband from the couple who insulted me came back, grabbed me by the neck and tried to strangle me in front of Stella! He took my tie and tightened it round my neck! Three of my bar staff had to drag him off! He must be 70! Stella had a ringside seat."
We'd finished our meal so David led me to the bar. "Sorry I took your table," I said to Stella, noticing her group had not yet been served, "it's free now. At least you got a great seat for the cabaret."
I don't know if they went into the main dining room or not. They were better off in the bar, really, because the dining room had got rather noisy. Either way they had great food and, thanks to me, a great piece of entertainment. It's not often you see an attempt to throttle the restaurant owner. Although there are quite a few, David certainly not being one of them, I would happily strangle myself.
We asked our wine be well chilled at Duncan Walker's 22 Mill Street, Chagford. The response was: "No, I'll get it out of the oven!" Our table was in a draughty doorway. My wife asked if we could move to the empty one next to us. The reply was: "No, I'm not making that table up again tonight!" They need a lesson in goodwill and manners.
Jonathan Kaiser, London
We know you're a bit of a show-off, Michael. But last week's photo at La Reserve featuring your recent breast implants was, even by your standards, OTT.
Alan Bracken, Hertfordshire
You often mention Michelin-starred chefs. The photo at La Reserve suggests you're starting a Michelin spare tyre award. And you've already won it!
Nigel Deacon, Harrow
Sandy Lane letting in "cruise ship bores and general yobbos" (Winner's Dinners, last week) and their effect on your friends, the major television star and famous singer, was a genuine tale of woe. The new manager should indeed sort things out. I hear he's a big Millwall FC fan and has invited the team (with supporters) for the Sandy Lane Boxing Day beach football. It seems such a shame your friends will miss it!
Steve Christie, north Wales
At Sketch Gallery in Mayfair we dined to the sound of plates being dropped. We didn't get our drinks until the main course arrived. We had to chase staff for a refill. They forgot our coffee order twice and also to clear our pudding plates. We had to ask for the bill three times.
Andrea Bishop, London
At Cip's restaurant in the Hotel Cipriani we enjoyed seeing the sun set over Venice. The meal was impeccable. But wait! Where was the photo of the great Winner, our leader? It was only on our way to the launch we discovered a rather small photograph obscurely placed. I thought you were big in Italy!
Lawrence Sissling East Sussex
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