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This little Igi is on the way to the market

Published 17 June 2007
News Review
726th article

Michael Winner and Ruby Snape outside Cafe Tarte on Kensington High Street (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I was sitting at an event (a bar mitzvah, if you must know) and to make conversation my opening remark to Michael Portillo, who used to be my local MP, was: "I see you eat at Cafe Igi, Michael."

"I've never been there," he responded.

"Oh yes you have," I continued, as if exposing one of his guilty secrets, "two of my lovely receptionists saw you there. It's on Kensington High Street, almost opposite the Odeon cinema."

Mr P thought for a second, as if considering weighty matters, and replied, "You're right, I have been there." He then turned to the guest seated on his other side and not a word passed between us for the rest of the evening.

I met Mr Portillo on various television programmes later, but the words Cafe and Igi were never spoken again.

To clear up the matter: outside the premises there's a purple square. At the top in smallish white letters is the word "Cafe". Then in large rough lettering is the word "Igi". Then underneath the red Igi (I hope you're still concentrating) is the word "Tarte".

So if you ignore the largest identification, the place is Cafe Tarte. That's what it's called on the menu. I later learnt what we locals think is the word "Igi" is in fact an "artistic representation" of a plate, knife and fork.

Cafe Tarte Igi, Igi-piggy, Tarty-Party or whatever, is one of those places which multiply all over. I bet there's at least one of them near you. It's the sort of place that defies conventional wisdom that everything must be salt-free, preservative-free, fat-free and taste-free.

The window is awash with cakes as if they were entrants in a Women's Institute baking competition. There's apple tart, strawberry cheesecake, caramel gateau, chocolate gateau, brownie cake; on the shelf above, doughnuts and other delicacies; and on the top shelf, little models of bride and groom to go on wedding cakes. That made me nervous.

Occasionally my staff bring back cakes from Igi-piggy and offer me a slice. I rate them 5 out of 10. That's the cakes, not my staff. They're 10 out of 10.

There are two steel tables outside, nine inside. I sent my luscious receptionist Ruby ahead to keep an exterior one until I arrived.

An extremely surly manager said we couldn't put an extra chair there. Throughout he walked round looking grumpy. The waitress, on the other hand, could not have been nicer.

The menu is enormous; their microwave must be on overdrive. I asked for jacket potato with chilli con carne. It was on the menu but they didn't have it. So I ordered the jacket potato with baked beans, cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs. Also freshly squeezed orange juice, which you could see done on the premises.

Geraldine wanted freshly squeezed carrot juice - on the menu but not available. She settled for a "5 fruit smoothie (freshly made)". The waitress said, "I'll have to check it out." She returned to say, "Okay, we got it."

Geraldine described the birthday cake bought here for her son. It went from "fabulous" to "really, really not bad" in one breath. Ruby, sitting behind us, had a savoury tart with mushroom, leek and gruyere. I tasted it and rated it pretty good.

Geraldine had the pearl. Her 5-fruit smoothie was the most delightful pale pink and had a sensational taste. This was memorable. The only other really good offering was Geraldine's baked potato with vegetables. Didn't look like that to me. More like shepherd's pie with vegetables. She had it with coleslaw and ate everything.

Even I couldn't eat the vast serving that came to me. I had to ask for another plate to put half of it on. The jacket potato was all right, skin not really crisp, the cheese and baked beans were adequate. The microwaved scrambled eggs were lumpy, overcooked and inedible.

I finished with a white-iced doughnut. Not that good and enormous. But I still ate half of it.

I'd say Igi-Piggy would satisfy its customers. The queue at the bar for takeaway showed people liked it. The cakes were described as "home-made". Although Igi-Piggy is a one-off I find it hard to believe the owner's wife is busy baking at home.

Further up the High Street the gargantuan new organic shop Whole Foods Market has opened in what used to be Barker's. I had salmon from there, which was unbeatable, and Ruby had a sea bass, which she said was better than any she'd ever tasted.

It's the hit of the High Street. I get food from there regularly. It's all been far better than organic stuff at the supermarkets. Almost back to the quality of food I ate during the Second World War. I suppose that's progress.

Winner's letters

You wrote last week praising fish'n'chips at the Golden Hind "cooked in vats of oil". How disgusting. Fish'n'chips should be cooked in pure beef dripping.
Brian Mullen, Yorkshire

You recommend your favourite: La Chaumiere in Eze. If it wasn't for the fact we had to pay a deposit of €300 we'd have left after the first course. It ended up one of the worst meals I ever had to pay for. Even its famous chicken was dry and brown meat all stringy. The boast of a veranda was just an extension facing the road.
John Michael, Essex

You wrote last week praising fish'n'chips at the Golden Hind "cooked in vats of oil". How disgusting. Fish'n'chips should be cooked in pure beef dripping.
Brian Mullen, Yorkshire

I've been eating fish'n'chips with mushy peas all my life. But never "accompanied by its excellent tomato salad with raw onions". Are you trying to convince our French neighbours?
Jill Darlington, Hastings

I read with interest the letter from Clive Burton (June 3). We had a similar experience at the Pump House restaurant In London. When we politely mentioned to the owner that the toilets needed cleaning, he inspected, did nothing and continued to serve the customers. Then he instructed a waiter to clear our table and asked us to leave. He was abusive to one of our guests and told us he didn't care as he'd sold the restaurant. Has this become a trend? I hope not.
L Berkman, London

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