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I've never been one for fashion - and here's why

Published 30 July 2006
News Review
680th article

Michael with, from left, Terry and Laraine O'Neill and Lucio (Marie Helvin)

Lucio is extremely charming. But not so charming that I can be bothered to find out his second name. Let's just assume he has one.

Lucio was the restaurant manager, or maybe something just under restaurant manager, at San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place for 30 years. About three years ago he left.

Mara Berni, the co-owner of San Lorenzo, one of the greatest restaurateurs and hosts ever, and by far the hardest working, was a bit put out when Lucio went. That's putting it mildly. She was (Gordon Ramsay swear word) furious.

Being a devoted admirer of Mara I did not join the fashionable set - I never have - and trot along to Lucio, the place he opened in Fulham Road. I stayed loyal to Mara, declining invitations galore, including one from the delectable Joan Collins, to eat at Lucio.

I succumbed recently when my friends, photographer Terry O'Neill and his lovely wife Laraine, suggested we go there for Sunday lunch.

The main room has always been a problem. It's thin and ill proportioned and leads to an equally dreary second room, which in turn leads to the entrance. Thus it was when the brilliant chef Vineet Bhatia was there with Zaika and when it later became the worst Chinese restaurant in the history of the world, which, mercifully closed quite speedily.

Lucio has wisely kept it simple - white walls and outstanding celebrity photos by Terry. I got the table I always had, in the window. So passers-by could see me and think, "If Winner's there it must be particularly good." Well, it isn't. It's not bad, but I'm not rushing back.

We started very well. I took a mini roll in the shape of a croissant, there was tomato something bread and the focaccia was also terrific. "It's home-made on the premises," explained Laraine.

"It could only be made on the premises if it's home-made," I suggested. Then we got some fried zucchini, which was all right at best. But I give Lucio brownie points for bunging stuff onto the table quickly.

Gordon Ramsay once said, "The only way to make Winner happy is to keep putting food in front of him. Don't give him time to think." Very intelligent man, our Gord.

My orange juice also arrived speedily and was definitely fresh. By that I mean squeezed then and there. At nearby Scalini the lunchtime orange juice was always excellent. Then I went for dinner and it was ghastly beyond belief.

It turned out they'd squeezed it at noon and left it standing. By 7.30pm it had degenerated to horrible. Orange juice has to be drunk within 30 minutes of being squeezed or it's useless.

At Lucio I had risotto with asparagus and taleggio cheese.

This was far too salty. The taste and texture were nowhere near the quality of risottos I've had at San Lorenzo.

The main course - chargrilled salmon fillet with new potatoes and asparagus - pulled them up a bit. It had some juiciness and a reasonable taste for salmon, which is not the most piquant of fishes.

The menu announced you had to allow 10 minutes for warm chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. There was a special supplement of £3 for it. I guess that must have been in addition to a set meal price, which I didn't take a note of. This was obviously not my most efficient day. But then what day is?

"It says wait 10 minutes," I put to Lucio, "can you make it six minutes?"

Lucio said, "I'll see." Once he indicated it may be six minutes Terry ordered some too.

Lucio appeared with a chocolate fondant exactly two minutes after I'd given my order. Then said, "It's not for you," and took it to the next table. He returned and whispered to me, "The guy who got the fondant is a Fulham football player!"

"So a football player is more important than me," I observed icily.

Our fondant finally came at 13½ minutes past 2. It had taken a minute more than prophesied on the menu. Five more than Lucio was aiming for. It was absolutely superb. Even tasted of chocolate, which a lot of them don't. I paid the bill, £78.50 for three, which I thought very cheap. Terry left a £15 tip.

On the way out I spotted the model Marie Helvin looking absolutely beautiful.

"Come and take our photo," I said.

Before taking the picture Marie brushed her palms against her sweater at exact bosom height. Why? A signed copy of my bestselling autobiography plus £25 for the first correct answer. Result in two weeks. So get a move on!

Winner's letters

In a drab, grey world it's a delight that we still have eccentric, unique characters like Michael Winner. No matter what mood I'm in he brings a smile to my face.
Ray Thomas-Brown, Glasgow

How delightful for Geraldine that you decided to take your brother, Fausto, shown seated on the wall last week, on your recent holiday. Can we hope to see more of him and less of you in future? I send kind regards to you both.
Liz Graham, Cheshire

You must dine at La Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. The owners are pompous, totally uninterested in anything except the food and arrogant to the point of rudeness. You'd probably feel much at home. We found this while making arrangements for a birthday group there. Apparently it's one of the top six restaurants in the country, or so the owners told us. We went elsewhere in search of customer service. Keep it up though, you cheer us over our cornflakes on Sunday.
Lorraine Francis Gloucestershire

It's reassuring to learn (Winner's Dinners, July 16) the Petersham Nurseries Cafe standards of rudeness are being maintained. We found two of the six main courses were "off" at 1.30pm. Our food arrived two hours after we ordered. The fish was so oversalted as to be almost inedible. Our complaint produced a young woman from the kitchen, we presumed the chef, who told us delays were because everything was cooked to order and the kitchen was very, very small. We suggested it might be a touch greedy booking more covers than the kitchen could cope with and were told, "Don't bother to come back!"
Syd Stiller, Surrey

I find Michael Winner irritating and distasteful. He is a pompous little man with a perpetual desire for self-aggrandisement. Could we not have something a little more intellectually challenging and amusing and more in context with the page?
Angus Baxter, Cornwall

You are priceless.
Ali Spencer-Churchill, London

I find it hard to believe Winner's spindly legs in last week's photo could support such a rotund upper frame. Could he be half way through a programme of full body liposuction?
John Lehal, Derby