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I'm Michael, fly me - if you want a feast in the sky

Published 13 November 2005
News Review
644th article

From left: Lord Lloyd-Webber, Michael, Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh (Dinah May)

I never understand why people complain about airline food. What do they expect? Gordon Ramsay slaving in a confined space with his microwave?

Once British Airways and TWA provided mountains of caviar. That was nice. You don't see any today. I also enjoyed TWA's vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce and nuts. But as far as cooked stuff goes, forget it.

So I had to figure out how to provide a good lunch on the flight to Venice for my 70th birthday star guests. The solution was Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh. With a name like that Johnny should be wearing a boater and singing an Eton college ditty on the Thames. His catering company, the Admirable Crichton, is my favourite.

Which reminds me of the old joke. A Jewish man says to his friend: "It's terrible! My wife's having an affair." The friend says: "Really, who's doing the catering?" I thoroughly recommend Johnny, or Lucy Gemmel - who worked for him and now runs Rhubarb Food Design - or another group called Mustard.

Michael Caine was less worried about the catering than the aeroplane. "It's not a Tiger Moth is it?" he asked. "It's older," I replied, "but if the Sellotape holds the wings on, we'll be okay." It was a 52-seater Canadair Regional Jet 200 LR. Which means nothing unless you're a plane spotter.

My friend Marwan Khalek at Gama Aviation got it from something called Citelynx. Johnny went down a week ahead of our departure to inspect it regarding his food service. He rang from Farnborough airport. "The plane's not here! It can't land because of fog," he announced.

He waited more than two hours. Suppose on the morning of my flight to Venice the same thing happened? I phoned Marwan and said: "My plane has to be overnight at Farnborough, I can't be delayed by fog!"

So the Canadair slept there and we duly arrived in the lounge to sample Johnny's catering. Bloody marys and Crichton's cocktail: freshly crushed strawberries, melons, oranges and pineapple sharpened with a dash of lime.

Also pain au chocolat, Danish pastries, tiny English muffins with spinach, nutmeg and quail's egg, little bowls of cream scrambled egg with smoked salmon. Or his bloody mary cherry tomato served with sesame caramel or skewered exotic fruits.

The quail's egg fell off its mini muffin and landed on my black cashmere Brioni jacket. In trying to get it off I think I've destroyed the garment. Never mind, what's a £3,000 jacket compared to a canape?

Food service on the flight started with "little parmesan and rosemary sables". Don't ask what a sable is. I've no idea. Then we had spiced foie gras with pine nut cream and griottine cherries. a trio of smoked marlin, sugar-cured tuna and royal fillet of salmon with Beluga caviar. Note Beluga. That's top of the line. I got it personally from John Cowan at W G White.

For pud we had a passion fruit tart with white chocolate cream and cocoa nib snap. Then coffee and home-made petits fours. I suppose they were made in Johnny's home. They certainly weren't made in mine.

To drink we started with Dom Perignon 1996 champagne, or Bramble, made with gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice laced with creme de menthe or crushed peach and pomegranate juice combined with fresh basil. Followed by some serious wines. Gate Gourmet, eat your heart out. In case you don't read the news, Gate Gourmet were the striking (literally) group who provide grub for British Airways.

My jaunt was financed without assistance from Hello! magazine. I rejected their offer. It's extremely nerve-wracking giving a party. Will someone be late for the plane, the boats in Venice, lunch. dinner, the lavatory, the eggshell painting class? So many things can go wrong. As the jet taxied back on the Farnborough tarmac I saw 10 limousines lined up, the drivers holding signs so guests would know which one was theirs. I thought: "I made it! I survived."

I'm not sure I'll survive the exceptionally nasty sight I saw last Sunday - the redecorated Dorchester Grill Room in Mayfair. It's beyond belief awful! Bright red, studded banquettes, red lamps on the tables, two large panels of horrid brown. It's like a 1950s clip joint gone wrong.

Were I the Sultan of Brunei (he owns the hotel) I'd take the manager to the back of the Dorchester, shooting him is probably a bit strong, and hand him his notice.

If he went to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal I'd invite the arbitrators to view the new Grill Room. They'd say: "Absolutely right, Sultan. Let him go!"

A pity, because the Grill restaurant managers are the best and the Dorchester staff are wonderful. They should redecorate the Grill Room (again!) on their days off.

Winner's letters

Considering last week's headline, "I won't put myself in someone else's hands on my birthday", it seems ironic that in the photo you look so rejuvenated in the hands of Roger Moore. His firm grip seems to have given you an instant face-lift. Do you pay him a daily rate to follow you around in case of photo opportunities? Or is Mr Moore available by the hour?
Tracey Christiansen, Lincoln

Was Roger Moore passing your severed head to Michael game for an Italian job? Was the rest of your body donated to gastronomic medical research?
Bob Mitchell, Yorkshire

I see Michael had his head detached from his body to stop him eating so much. Let's hope Roger Moore can fix it back, otherwise there'll be nothing for Michael to write about.
Rev David Heap, Morecambe

Last week you wrote: "We dined at Trattoria Alla Madonna near the Rialto Bridge, it's very buzzy, typically Venetian." Surely that's to be expected. Or hadn't you noticed you were in Venice!
Wyndham Northam, Norwich

Before you know it you'll be arranging your 75th birthday party. By then Gordon Brown I will be redistributing the wealth of this unfortunate country - including yours! You should still be able to afford dinner at Harry Ramsden's. With transport by charabanc.
Don Roberts, Birkenhead

You don't have to be famous or in Venice to be let down over a booking (Winner's Dinners, last week). We booked lunch for four overlooking the river at the Thames Lodge hotel, Staines. On arrival we found the restaurant closed. It was being prepared for a wedding. The robotic manager offered us lunch outside - in the middle of October! Or on our laps in the foyer. We left and had a great lunch and stay at the nearby Runnymede hotel in Egham.
Andrew Vickers and Judith Emmanuel, Dorset

Following my letter last week, you've been eliminated from the Royal Barbados Police inquiry into our burglary. A man is now in custody who has admitted it! He cleaned me out, though. Even took the signed copy of your autobiography. He'll have to plead insanity to that one.
Marvin Pryce-Jones, Barbados

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, t Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk