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Just right for a graze before I'm put out to pasture

Published 11 December 2005
News Review
649th article

Michael with Katherine Connelly, left, and Jane Horn at Cowshed (Dinah May)

Clarendon Cross is a daft name, dreamt up by an estate agent to add glamour to an area at the junction of Portland Road and Penzance Place, Notting Hill.

Portland Road doubles sharply back on itself so you get the appearance of a cul-de-sac. It's a pretty spot with late Victorian terraced houses and some chic shops. There's a kitchen one part-owned by the wife of photographer John Bishop; Julie's restaurant, which is ever-twee but nice; and a marvellous dress shop owned by the actress Virginia Weatherall.

It sells second-hand glam clothes of the 1920s and 1930s. The young girl star of Harry Potter bought her premiere dress there. It was supposedly once worn by old-time movie star Anna May Wong.

The centrepiece of Clarendon Cross was a restaurant called Orsino. It was beautifully and simply decorated, very light and airy, serving highly indifferent food. I wasn't surprised it closed down.

The premises have now been taken over by Nick Jones, an adventurous entrepreneur who has the marvellous Electric cinema in Portobello Road and the two restaurants attached, as well as Soho House clubs in London and New York, Babington House hotel in Somerset and the re-invigorated Cecconi's in Mayfair.

Nick's Clarendon Cross place is called Cowshed. It's more spa than restaurant. As you enter there's a counter with food on it, a tiny kitchen area behind and a lime green table with white wooden chairs for 10 diners.

On your right is the cash desk with lots of potions on display.

The ground floor is completed by three large, white leather chairs where people sit having their feet massaged. Downstairs are full-body massage rooms.

It's all far too elegant for a poor boy from Willesden. But ever wishing to invade a social class that is well above me, I dropped in for lunch accompanied by Dinah May, my lovely "queen" receptionist, and a recent addition to our ranks of office assistants, Jane Horn.

She answered our ad in The Stage newspaper for new recruits.

"Don't say I'm a dancer," said Jane. "Tell them I'm a singer who can dance." Her most recent triumph was rollerskating in a tour of Starlight Express.

"The invasion of the body snatchers!" I announced to the young and beautiful female staff at Cowshed as we plonked ourselves down at the lime green table. They had Evian water (good) and fizzy Badoit (perfectly okay).

There's a fairly small breakfast, lunch and tea menu. "Even smaller than usual today," explained the chef Leigh Codyre-Benson, a woman by the way, "because we had a bit of trouble with the cooker."

Normally they offer freshly cooked hot tart. Leigh said she'd warm up yesterday's. "Not for me," I advised.

We all had leek and potato soup. Rather bland. "Maybe because it's so healthy they don't put salt in," observed Dinah. Salt and pepper were produced in attractive white shakers. That jazzed it up a bit.

"I don't like spicy things," commented Jane. "I hate Indian or Chinese food.

Garlic makes me feel ill. So if the soup's bland I'll probably like it."

Katherine Connolly, the manager, directed me toward the facial stuff. I bought "Cheeky Cow rejuvenating facial moisturiser" and "Cowshed Bullocks soothing moisturiser made by Babington House with grapefruit and palmarosa essential oils".

Apparently the cowshed was the only building left at Babington House hotel in which to place the spa. Thus the name. If I look more beautiful than ever in future photos, these products could be the reason.

Back at the lime green table I had roast butternut, feta, pecan and french bean salad. "What's this I'm eating?" I asked Dinah. "Rocket," she said. It's nice to have an expert on call. As salads go it was pleasant.

The blueberry muffin, which I was told had been baked that day, tasted cloying and clammy. "Not as good as Starbucks," said Jane. The other muffin was coconut and something. That was absolutely superb. Close to historic.

The chocolate brownie, definitely made the day before, was pretty good. Not as good as at Le Caprice but commendable nevertheless. The cafe late was fine.

Then I saw three girls having a smoothie of passion fruit, banana and mango. It looked terrific and only cost £2 plus 12.5% service. "If I go again," I thought, "I'll have one of those."

As we exited an assistant rushed out after me. I'd forgotten my moisturising creams. As my current crop were running out it would have been a disaster.

I wonder if I should have a face-lift or Restylane injections? These are problems I really shouldn't trouble you with. But if I do take the plunge, I promise to reveal all.

Winner's letters

Where did you find your gorgeous receptionist Dinah May (Winner's Dinners, last week)? She should be your girlfriend - if not, why not? Below was a photo of Julia Roberts. Not a patch on Dinah. Why can't you get Dinah a part in a movie for $20 million?
John Towle, Hampshire

Last week you said you were prepared to give James Blunt "a fair whack" to perform at your birthday in Venice. I wish you'd told me. My wife (a professional singer) claims I do a very good impersonation of Mr Blunt. I'd also be considerably cheaper. So far my world-class performance has been limited to bathtime.
Dr Richard Evans, Merseyside

There's nothing like placing yourself between two attractive women in a photo to make them look even more beautiful. If Julie Cowell is 80 then I'm nearing 35.
Dale Renner, Malta

I'm not sure if you consider being single a positive or a negative for you, Michael, as you never divulge. What happened? Did Paola meet someone on campus?
Joe Volk, Bristol

I was shocked by Mr Winner's revelation last week that he knows what a spin dryer is and would be able to find it in his mansion.
John Burns, Liverpool

Now you're single would you like to join us in Cornwall for a Strolling Singles walk? Keep you fit, make new friends. Every Saturday we end with a pub lunch. All ages. Lovely people.
Vicky Wood, St Austell

May I ask Stanley Silver (Winner's Letters, last week) what's wrong with going out with a woman of your own age? It's well-known that women, generally, age better than men. Witness the picture of yourself last week with the wonderfully preserved 80-year-old Julie Cowell.
Simon Pockett, West Sussex

At the Mulberry Tree in Wrightington, Lancashire, the waiter asked if we'd like dessert but never took our order. When we asked why he said: "You should have ordered at the bar." We said: "You took our main course order." He replied: "I was doing you a favour!" How would you have responded, Michael?
Barbara Taylor, Twickenham

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