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Thoroughly modern Michael in the land that time forgot

Published 9 July 2006
News Review
677th article

Michael with Robert Earl Jr, standing, and Robert Earl Sr (Anita Land)

I don't often go to funerals. But when Robert Earl's lovely mother Daphne Leigh died I travelled all the way to the Golders Green crematorium to pay her tribute and out of respect to Robert and his father, whose stage name was Robert Earl. He was a terrific singer of yesteryear.

Robert Jr founded Planet Hollywood, which is now doing so well they have a hotel in Las Vegas. Robert, who changed his name when he left college to his father's stage name, has many other restaurants.

He'd arranged lunch after the religious ceremony at Madisons Deli in Temple Fortune, another bizarre area of north London. It's the land that time forgot.

You won't be surprised to learn I was first from funeral service to restaurant. Nobody else was there. Tables were laid out, seating for all, with a tempting display of goodies on them. Dangerous for a man on a diet.

I was dressed in suitable black attire, including a Maxwell Vine blazer, reclaimed from my attic, made in July 1994. The newer Brioni one, already restructured in 2005, looked like a tent when placed over my new super slimline body.

So there I was sitting in this airy restaurant, food all around me, almost alone.

The owner, Stephen Balsam, told me he'd been open only a few months but had another branch not far away in Stanmore.

"I don't know this area," I said.

"That's because you're always in Harry Morgan," said Stephen. Harry Morgan is a similar Jewish-type deli in St John's Wood, an area I hate.

I haven't been in Harry Morgan for more than six years. Then my assistant Dinah and I had terrible fried fish with stale oil. Everything else had gone off too.

The place recovered and occasionally my chauffeur gets me perfectly good takeaways from Harry Morgan.

I dare not set foot in St John's Wood since I wrote last year that I used to go to Harry Morgan with my friend John Gold of Tramp "who knew every Jew in London . . . sitting with him it was impossible to have a conversation because endless locals of the Jewish faith would barge in and talk to Johnny. I found that irritating".

St John's Wood Jewish folk wrote in apoplectic outrage telling me I was anti-semitic. Well, perhaps a few thought, "We'll save on stamps, not write to that bum Winner, and use the stamp money on a three-course meal."

In truth I'm tolerant of all faiths, religions, races, weirdos, useless people and animals. Although I sometimes draw the line at waiters. Anti-semitic I ain't!

Back in present time and at Madisons Deli, other people started to arrive. Sir Philip Green sat opposite me. That's always good because he's so amusing. Needless to say, I hadn't waited for them before eating. Very good chopped liver, falafel, hummus, rye bread and pickled cucumber.

"That's only the starter," explained Robert Earl Jr as I was ready to leave. So I waited for the salt beef (truly excellent), latkes (that's a fried potato cake - very good) and a frankfurter sausage, which I think they called something else.

That was fine too. I was now stuffed.

"You've got to try the lockshen pudding," said Robert Jr.

Lockshen pudding is made of something usually so heavy that Jewish people say, "He's making a lockshen pudding of it," meaning he's making heavy weather of whatever it is.

This lockshen pudding, mercifully served without the ice cream I'd been told to expect, was not too heavy. I only had a little, but it seemed pretty light and tasty.

Suddenly Anita Land, who was sitting next to me, acquired one of those throwaway cameras.

She's Jeremy Paxman's agent and followed in the footsteps of her late father Leslie Grade, a powerful agent and one of the three fabulous Grade brothers.

She took our photo of me with Robert Earl Sr and Jr.

"I hope it's sharp enough to use," I said nervously. You're used to seeing photos taken on my Leica Minilux.

I've just bought a new Leica CM. The Leica people tell me its lens is even sharper. I'm not talking digital. Why slave over a hot computer when the chauffeur can take the film into Boots and get good prints in an hour? Let them do the work. It costs hardly anything. If I want reprints Pinewood Studios laboratory pick up and deliver.

As a further part of the Winner modernisation programme I've changed my 10-year-old cellphones for new Nokia ones.

I first bought a cellular phone in 1983. Know what it cost? Go on, guess. If you said £3,300 you were right. Amazing, isn't it! Now they give them away.

Winner's letters

I've noticed you now stand further back from the camera in your photos. Is it because you suffer from the same syndrome Zsa Zsa Gabor had when she did ads for Kodak? Or is it because last week you bore an amazing resemblance to that legendary culinary expert Fanny Craddock?
Iain Chapman, Marciac, France

Klaus Schmidsdorf complained of the waiter dismissing his vegetarian requirements. Why should any of us kowtow to this bunch of attention seekers? Try asking for the meat alternative at a vegetarian restaurant and gauge the reaction!
Jonathan Simms, Padstow

We empathise with Klaus Schmidsdorf (Winner's Letters, last week) concerning his visit to the Black Boys Inn, Henley-on-Thames. My partner and I were politely informed the only thing they could do for vegetarians was put them out of their misery! We compromised on St Peter's fish with Provencal stew. Truly historic!
James Taylor, Berkshire

Do us all a favour, Paola. Quit documenting the shortcomings of second-rate hotel rooms (Winner's Letters, last week) and get down to a chore more suited to a Princess -kiss the portly frog and see if he turns into a handsome prince!
Oliver Chastney, Norwich

Well, you nearly fooled us! Your disguise was almost perfect. You blended in beautifully with the Villa Serbelloni staff in last week's photo. Until I noticed the scruffy shoes, wrinkled slacks, tie-less shirt and unkempt appearance. Then I recognised you. Come on, smarten up, stand straight, shoulders back!
Alan M Rind, London

Mr Winner seems impressed that the restaurant manager of Villa Serbelloni was present at breakfast "checking that the scrambled eggs in the tureen are fresh". There's no need to check. If scrambled eggs are in a tureen they are not fresh. They're normally in a tureen because the hotel can't be bothered to cook them to order.
Andrew Ledingham, Dorset

Having watched the television programme Great British Menu I was very impressed with the chef at Benares in Berkeley Square, London. So we visited his establishment. The service was slow and the staff surly. The food was average and overpriced. Avoid it, Michael.
Alan Williams, Harrow

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