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All very stylish, but slightly lacking in taste

Published 2 November 2005
News Review
645th article

From left: Ashley, Leona, Marcus Etty and Michael at Glade (Terry O'Neill)

There was a lot of "oohing" and "aahing" three years ago when it was said a man from north London invested £15 million in a Mayfair house to turn it into a restaurant complex called Sketch.

The poshest restaurant there, the Lecture Room, had steaks at £84 each. They may be more now. I went once. It was quite nice, but diminished by too much pomp and circumstance. The French chef, Pierre Gagnaire, lurked somewhere behind the food.

The Lecture Room rose to just one Michelin star. A downstairs area that was a bar is now called Glade. It opens only for lunch. I telephoned and asked for the restaurant manager. Some very unwelcoming and pompous girl asked: "What do you want to talk to him about?"

"What does she think I want to talk to a restaurant manager about? Architecture in ancient Rome?" I thought.

Then she said curtly: "He's not in until 12 o'clock." It was 10.30am.

I asked if there was anyone else in charge. I think it highly important when I'm going anywhere people should be warned. Rather like the air raid sirens that went off to tell us German bombers were on the way during the second world war.

After a very long time listening to appalling music I was put through to Sinead Mallozzi, manager of the whole caboodle. She was extremely pleasant and very bright, because she knew who I was. I booked for two at 1 o'clock.

My friend, ace photographer Terry O'Neill, was already there when I arrived on the dot of 1. They'd given us two tables put together so we had a lot of space. That was intelligent.

The room is quite glamorous. Pink walls with squiggled flowers. Mirrors revolve high up showing you who's dining where. "They're all Swarovski crystals," explained Sinead, referring to a lot of glitter. I'd never heard of the water, Belu. The waitress, Leona, told me all the profits went to charity to build something. "Build what?" I asked.

"Water irrigation in the third world," she advised.

"I'll have an extra large glass," I said.

The restaurant manager, Marcus Etty, showed up. He hovered diligently. I ordered eggs en cocotte served with peppered gambas, serrano ham and smoked milk. That's a dotty menu description. I'm not surprised a recent Lloyds TSB survey showed a quarter of people quizzed didn't know any of the items on a sophisticated menu.

Terry and I opted for a main course of smoked haddock, creamed desiree potatoes with olive oil, gordal green olives. I hate olives. Also steamed vegetables.

My starter was very good. "There's an aubergine crisp," explained Marcus.

"Do you eat it?" I asked.

"You can eat it or not eat it," he replied. It didn't look crisp to me.

My main course was a bit like my starter. I'd chosen carelessly. I often do that. The haddock could have been hotter. The plate was just warm. The steamed vegetables were very hot. Other than the tepid temperature, it was quite pleasant.

There were only three desserts: petits gateaux; fruit salad with blueberry and olive oil cake; or three flavours of ice cream - vanilla, lemon verbena and walnut. "Bring the lot, I'll sort it out," I said to Marcus.

Terry had idiazabal - a smoked Spanish cheese - and black croque monsieur with mozzarella. Marcus, most professionally, kept changing my glass of ice before it melted. Would other places had as much sense.

The desserts looked good. "He's an inventive chef, I'll tell you that," said Terry. I don't want to upset Terry. He's a wonderful human being. But if there's any group I wouldn't trust on food it's photographers. They've got even less of a palate than food critics. And that's saying something.

The desserts were okay. The ice cream was strange. It was very soft with no discernible flavour. "It's sort of got an under-taste which you don't often get in ice cream," advised Terry.

"I couldn't find the over-taste," I responded. "What on earth is an under-taste?"

"It changes in your mouth," replied Terry. "It's bland at the beginning and then it gets into the cream."

"Serves me right for asking," I thought.

It was a pleasant meal. "And not expensive," said Terry.

"How do we know? We haven't got the hill yet," I responded. It turned out to be £75.38 for two. I call that expensive.

Perhaps you'd like to know who the second waitress is in our picture. It's Ashley. She never served us, but I thought she deserved a fame opportunity. Plus, there was nobody else in the room prepared to stand near me.

The general manager, Sinead, appeared. "You missed the photo," I told her.

"I'm too old to be in photographs," she responded.

"Never stopped me," I murmured.

Winner's letters

I always knew Michael could walk on water, so you didn't have to print last week's photo of him levitating champagne glasses. Can he perhaps help with some loaves and fishes?
Bob Hargreaves, Bury

Fog at Farnborough should have been the least of your worries (Winner's Dinners, last week), While the Canadair Regional Jet 200 LR has superb performance under normal conditions, carrying the bulk of you and your companions it probably took an hour to get off the runway. You could have helped by leaving your wallet behind.
Jeremy de Swarte, Hertfordshire

It seems incredible Britain doesn't supply a decent aeroplane for its prime minister. After reading last week of your skills in arranging flights, I nominate you minister of aircraft procurement and food for the PM. If Gordon Brown got the job, you'd be out. Where would he ever travel to?
Linda Renner, Malta

I visited Venice at the same time as Michael. Hopped on a Ryanair flight to Treviso, caught the coach to Venice and marvelled at my first view of it. I sat on steps outside churches and enjoyed takeaway cheese rolls and custard pies. The tiny boutique hotel was excellent. My holiday was more stress-free than Michael's. I didn't have to worry whether water taxis, hotels and restaurants were up to his exacting standards. lt cost me a fraction of what he paid!
Gill Stafford, Wrexham

Your next event should be a reunion lunch for your many girlfriends. At least those who'd be prepared to attend. Whether you'd wish to share the outcome of that gathering with your readers is another matter!
Glenda Brett-Holt, Malta

You said last week you didn't know what sable was. It's a cake in which there is a high proportion of butter. The word in French means sand, so it also refers to the cake's sandy-looking texture.
Nick Jones, France

I absolutely agree with your comments last week about the redecorated Dorchester Grill. What used to be a lovely room has been changed into Angus Steak House meets Brigacloon. Please use your influence to have it restored to something like the original.
Peter Lane, Hertfordshire

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