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A chef who knows how to treat an emperor – stuff him

Published 23 October 2005
News Review
641st article

Richard Corrigan with Michael Winner, who asked for all the desserts (Paola Lombard)

He went on: "You’d be amazed how often restaurateurs overlook their customers - or even insult them or simply rob them. You have to get the right staff. I look for people who are happy to be themselves. At home with the concept of service.

"The English have a problem with being manservants. They want to get to the top without the skills. The best Europeans I've hired have been French or Italian."

French, Richard? Er . . . not usually. Italians definitely.

Having decided he was a bright lad, I set off to be treated like an emperor at Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House in Soho.

Richard greeted me in exemplary fashion and showed me round. The ground floor, where we sat, is simple. Like a room in a private house. Richard is the only chef I’ve met without his name embroidered on his tunic. Luckily he told me who he was, otherwise I’d never have known.

He specially got Evian water in for me in an art deco silver-plated decanter. There was croute of grouse in pastry carved at the table or wild duck - that's a tame one which has been aggravated. I fancied the loin of beef. Except I don’t know what loin is. Paola said: "It's like a little rounded . . ."

Then she moved her hands left to right. Richard said: "We cut it in four as a timbale." I asked: "What's a timbale?" "Could look like a fillet," explained Richard.

I ordered crubeens (pig's trotters) with Jabugo ham and woodland sorrel followed by west Cork beef, bone marrow, prune and caramelised onions. Richard's cookbook (I'm doing one called 100 Ways to Scramble Eggs) was advertised on the table. The Independent called him "a genius with flavour".

"Another reason he's good is he's actually here," said Paola. A lot of named chefs are seldom in their restaurants, which I find appalling.

They moved an extra chair to the table nearest to me. The people who came seemed quite respectable. Not always an advantage. They talked in very posh voices. I could have done without them.

"That table behind, they're getting a bit drunk," I observed to Paola. She said: "That’s all right, they're having fun."

"I don't want people having fun near me," I responded. "It's Friday night, they're letting their hair down," said Paola.

"The woman making the most noise doesn't have any hair," I commented. "It's short, like a man."

A waitress brought me a fish knife and fork. "What's that for?" I asked. "Your foie gras," she said. I didn't order foie gras. Later the waitress took away the fish knife and fork and replaced them with a steak knife.

Paola tried to stop the wobble on the table but couldn't. We got a freebie starter, two spoons, one with fresh mackerel tartar, one with sturgeon caviar, smoked sturgeon and cucumber, and some croquettes of I know not what and a small glass of tomato soup. Very nice. By now I felt I'd eaten enough. A vanilla ice and a cuppa tea and I’d be finished. Instead I got my pig’s trotters, which were little savoury croquettes.

A new silver-plated pitcher with more Evian arrived. Then my main course of beef. All very good. But when you add the homemade bread and organic butter, I'd scoffed too much. This didn’t stop me asking for all the desserts, including a blackcurrant soufflé with lemon curd and ripple ice cream.

"The souffle will take 20 minutes," said the French (and remarkably charming) restaurant manager Cyril Lommaert. "Nonsense! Tell the chef to get a move on!" I said.

I saw a souffle going to the next table. "Ask him if I could have some," I said to Paola. "You can't have it," she replied. "Why not?" I asked. "It's very rude," she said.

We got a souffle in well under 20 minutes and Victoria plums with cinnamon rice pudding and almond biscuits, also black figs with marsala, panettone and saffron ice cream and a bit more. "Say the homemade almond biscuits are incredible," suggested Paola, "so is the souffle and the ripple ice cream."

I hate Soho. My chauffeur Jim, outside with the Rolls Phantom V, said he had strange propositions from men and women. Richard should move to Holland Park. There are large premises going on the corner of my street. Although it says “bar use”, Richard’s Irish, he could charm them into letting it be a restaurant. Then I could walk down the road and be treated like an emperor. More than I get at home.

Winner's letters

Mostly people treat you like a vile, rich, irritating fat bloke who enjoys a good nosh. I think you're an utterly charming, wise and generous man -or else why would those young lovelies be happy not only to be seen in public with you, but appear in a fetching pose in your column? In response to your question of last week, Paola's photo was taken in Berkshire on June 21.
Annie Tomkins, Hampshire.

As "the Princess" looks about 12 years old, I guess the photo was taken by her mother at the Hotel Splendido, Portofino, some 10 years ago, probably July 28, where she was being groomed to meet a wealthy man of stature. She appears to have wrapped a tablecloth around herself.
Heather Tanner, Suffolk.

If The Sunday Times pays you for your column and I buy The Sunday Times this means that I'm contributing to your decadent lifestyle. How do you propose we reverse the flow?
David Hawkins, Kent.

Dr Senior leaving a restaurant without settling his bill (Winner's Letters, last week) could lead to an extra course -the arm of the law. It's an offence known as "biking" to dishonestly make off without having paid. Better to leave a message on your plate saying you waited as long as was reasonable and with details of where the bill should be sent. And tip the cloakroom attendant on the way out!
District Judge Stephen Gold, Kingston upon Thames.

Not being Michael Winner I don't get the special treatment you obviously had at Cecconi's (Winner's Dinners, October 9). The noise was intolerable. The waiter started to pour a highly overpriced bottle of water. I said I'd had a bath that morning, so please take it away. The food was indifferent. The service was fast as a high-speed train, so they could get us out as soon as possible. You gave a totally wrong impression of this restaurant.
Harry Michaels, London.

At Heston Blumenthal's Hinds Head, Bray, we ordered a bottle of wine. Two glasses came instead. Begrudgingly the glasses were removed. When our bottle of wine finally arrived it was already open. We asked why and were arrogantly informed: "That's the way we do it here." Certain staff members should go to charm school.
Carolyn Dolling, Buckinghamshire.

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