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A corner of Pimlico that is forever France

Published 12 August 2007
News Review
734th article

Michael, looking grumpier than usual, with Geraldine outside La Poule au Pot (Allan Pattemmore)

If you go south from Sloane Square and turn left, there are lots of chi-chi antique shops, Lord Linley's furniture showroom, and then on the left is Ebury Street with a French bistro, La Poule au Pot, that looks like it was designed for a 1950s MGM movie.

You expect Gene Kelly to tap dance by. He wasn't there when I visited for lunch.

It's as if the set decorator went mad. There are hanging baskets with wheat, dried flowers and grapes coming from them. The only things missing were human heads from the tumbrel.

Some of the wooden tables have cloths. Ours did, but it was also covered with two pieces of brown paper.

I was shown a large table in the back room with a view through to the street. Unfortunately I didn't realise the chicken wire screen behind me, covered with fading plastic roses (how can plastic roses fade?) hid the door to the kitchen.

"It's very romantic," said Geraldine.

"I've got the door to the kitchen whirring open and shut by my left ear, I've got the ghastly clatter from the kitchen and I've got heavy waiters with big boots clomping on a wooden floor to and fro every second," I responded. "I don't call that romantic."

"Let's move," suggested Geraldine. I seldom do that, I make the best or worst of where I am.

"The baguette's not fresh," I pronounced.

"It's not baguette, it's ordinary bread," explained Geraldine.

"It's horrible," I said.

Geraldine ordered ratatouille to start followed by grilled salmon with sauce bearnaise.

I chose onion soup from the £18.75 set lunch and then rabbit with mustard sauce.

Geraldine took some of my dreadful bread to dunk in her enormous portion of ratatouille. My soup was fine. My rabbit arrived in a large copper pot, there were also petit pois with onions, bacon, more ratatouille and pommes boulangere. Sliced potatoes "done in the oven with onion and stock", explained Geraldine.

This rabbit was bionic. I mean enormous. It was the sort of rabbit you might have seen in the 1950s horror film The Attack of the Killer Rabbits. That's where gargantuan rabbits attacked America, sweeping skyscrapers aside with their paws, trampling on tanks and other weaponry brought up to do them in and then biting off the troops' heads and spitting them out into the streets.

You didn't see that movie? It was absolutely marvellous. Or maybe I'm mistaking it with Attack of the Killer Ants. It doesn't matter really.

The rabbit, oversized as it undoubtedly was, remained very good. The sauce was pleasant, so were the vegetables. If it wasn't for the crashing of waiters the size of killer rabbits it would have been a peaceful meal.

Geraldine liked her salmon, thought the sauce bearnaise was superb and finished her all-round approval by declaring her creme brulee "the best I've ever had, even in France".

Before the dessert the brown paper covers on our table had got very messy, but no one seemed keen to change them. Or even to crumb down, which is the trade expression for clearing the table.

So Geraldine and I started wrapping up the brown paper covering the cloth, and, thus inspired, the waiter joined in and helped. Then they brought some more paper. "It's like eating off a parcel," I observed.

My tarte tartin was robust. Nowhere near the standard of the ones I used to love when Marco Pierre White cooked in the kitchen of the Hyde Park hotel, but not unpleasant.

"At least everybody works here," said Geraldine. "They don't stand around poncing about."

"Yeah, they're all working going to and from the door that's an inch from my left ear. Quite honestly, I'd rather they weren't working," I said.

  • I now offer you a useless piece of information: the restaurant has been here since 1962. It's pretty good really if you like that sort of thing, everyone looking very peasant French. Personally I can leave it or leave it, but Geraldine assures me she's going back. Bet she doesn't.

  • Our photo was then taken by my relief chauffeur Allan.

    I said, "Do you know how to take a photo?"

    He replied, "Of course, sir."

    He then proceeded to hold his finger over the flashlight, failed to take it as instructed when I looked up, and generally annoyed me. This, believe me, is easy to do. That's probably why I look grumpier than usual.

    If you're wondering why I had the flash on when the sun was shining, it's because all professional photographers do. It helps take out the shadows from the sun and if it's gloomy it brightens up the faces. There's a little tip for you.

    Winner's letters

    You told us last week at Rules restaurant you had an uninterrupted view of a pheasant's arse. We must all be grateful, for the pheasant's sake, it was not the other way round.
    Nigel Bartram, Torquay

    At last we see Michael being given the bird. The maitre d' is trying not to snigger. I offer him my congratulations and wonder whether he recommended the finger buffet.
    Tim Burton, Wokingham

    I dined at Locanda Locatelli last week. Apart from dreadful service and an even worse attitude from the waiters, the place was virtually dark! Why are restaurants getting gloomier and gloomier? I don't need reading glasses, but I do need a torch.
    Jan Ayres, Kent

    Never mind Malcolm Miller moaning last week about Florentine mineral water at £7.19 a bottle. I learn from Bown's Best (www.bownsbest.com) that at La Pergola in Rome's Hilton hotel you can pay €155 (£104.45) for a bottle of water. You like being ripped off, Michael. You should go there.
    John Hicks, London

    When I get The Sunday Times I do the crossword, cut it out, and send it off. This saves me from reading half your column and looking at your picture every week.
    Terry Proctor, Coventry

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