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Somebody needs to turn over a new leaf

Published 20 May 2007
News Review
722nd article

Michael sitting in front of Chris Staines at Foliage in the Mandarin Oriental hotel (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I've just had a really terrible, terrible meal. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I mean beyond belief awful. Where was this catastrophic waste of my lunchtime? At a posh place called Foliage in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Knightsbridge.

What's so amazing is that it's rated in the AA Restaurant Guide with five rosettes, its top rating. Only two other places in London get that, Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea and Petrus in the Berkeley hotel.

According to the AA (who may be good at car breakdowns but are useless at restaurants) the chef, Chris Staines, ranks equal with Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Raymond Blanc. Not on what I ate, he doesn't.

The Which Good Food Guide gives him only 5 out of 10. The Michelin gives him one star, which places him nowhere near the top of the heap. It's a pity because Chris is a delightful person and I'm sure, led in the right direction, could cook a meal worth eating.

He reminded me that when he worked at the Oak Room for Marco Pierre White he came to my house and cooked lunch there a few times when our housekeeper was away.

Geraldine thought our Foliage lunch was fantastic except for some chicken, which was bland and tasteless.

"To be fair," she said pointedly, "you must tell the readers you hate haute cuisine." Hate it? I don't even know what it is. But if it's the silly itsy-bitsy little portions of meaningless twaddle I was served at Foliage, then, yes, I do hate it.

The Mandarin Oriental is a grand hotel with marble halls and modern bits they've done up somewhat oddly. The staff were exemplary. From the lady who met me and showed me to the restaurant, to the restaurant manager, Nick Liang, I had no service complaints at all.

We were shown a nice table overlooking Hyde Park. For Sunday lunch at £27 plus 12.5% service you're offered any four courses from 14 "savouries" and six desserts.

Just to prove it's "foliage" there's a leaf under your see-through plate. The room is standard hotel nonentity, with a carpet that could have come from a pub in Bradford.

The first food I received was a baguette. This was, without doubt, the most disgraceful bread offering of all time. It tasted stale, cloying and the crust was soggy. The Sunday before, my baguette at Galvin at Windows in the Hilton was historic.

My first course was foie gras. Reasonable, but nowhere near top of the range. Followed by four tired scallops, which, in my view, had been far too long in the deep freeze. There was a bit of cauliflower puree with them. Who cares?

Then I'd chosen beef, Thai shallots and watercress. It just wasn't very good beef. Chewy, poor flavour. Nowhere near the quality I eat at home from Allen of Mount Street. I left half of it and there wasn't much of it to start with.

If you're going to serve these daft mini portions, then do them like Gordon Ramsay. At his place the incredible fusion of taste and texture is always a delight.

Having now had my three savoury courses, a plate of egg and chips would have been a delight. But nothing as vulgar as that defiled their menu.

For dessert I chose blueberry souffle, apple salad, almond ice cream. I like sweet things but this souffle was sickly sweet. The apple salad was plate decoration, the ice cream not memorable.

I sat on my yellow leather chair, which looked like it came from a sale at House of Leather, and wondered what happened to real food. When was it that these mini portions of tarted-up plate decoration came to be taken seriously?

The place was far from full, although it was nice that people from two tables came to tell me how much they enjoyed my column. After this week's they'll probably abandon me. Why should anyone in their right mind set out to a strange place like Foliage to eat enlarged canapes? There was no atmosphere at all.

Geraldine said, "You feel like you're alone, just the two of us in the middle of nowhere." I've never been to nowhere, but it couldn't be worse than this.

We did end with one enormous plus for Foliage. Miraculously I'd remembered to bring my credit cards, but I had no idea what the pin number was for any of them. Even more miraculously the management informed me they didn't do pin numbers, they just accepted signatures.

Thus saved, I was escorted from the premises by more of the Mandarin's charming staff. I will not be returning.

Winner's letters

Do you take all your readers to be complete idiots? Of course VVIP by your name in the Bombay Brasserie reservations book doesn't stand for very, very insignificant person. It stands for very vulgar insignificant person.
Peter Taylor, York

From your apparel and demeanour in last week's photo it seems you were being wheeled to the Bombay Brasserie kitchen as a special offering. Pity you lost so much weight. You won't now make so many tasty portions.
Dennis Pallis, Kent

Reading Michael Winner's autobiography should put paid to the alleged anti-semitic nonsense levelled at him by some "Jewish folk". A Jew, in denial, joins an ultra Gentile bath club. On leaving the Turkish bath steam room he jumps straight into the plunge pool. To his horror it is freezing cold. "Oy Vay!" he screams. Then, looking furtively round, adds, "Whatever that means."
Bernard Russell, London

Being Jewish myself I cannot possibly agree with the readers who complained that your piece on Reubens was anti-semitic. These people really ought to stop being so oversensitive. You were, however, too over the top in your praise for the place.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire