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Ringing the changes to remain exactly the same

Published 4 January 2009
News Review
807th article

Michael and Geraldine in the Old Town of Zurich last year (no credit)

I last visited the restaurant One-O-One in the Sheraton Park Tower hotel, Knightsbridge, on October 9, 1994. You couldn't say I was a regular. I returned last year because John Cleese was having his teeth fixed nearby and I foolishly suggested it. I should have said Mr Chow, which is close and very good.

One-O-One was ghastly in 1994. Fourteen years later I found it totally changed in every way. Except one. It was still ghastly.

In 1994 I asked the waiter if the chips were cut from potatoes and cooked on the premises. He said, "Definitely." It turned out they were bought in. Not fresh at all.

This time the restaurant manager, Darren Neilan, asked if he could explain the menu to me.

"I can read, Darren. I think I'll probably manage," I replied. "But if I want to know anything I'll ask. In fact, you can tell me, are the chips bought in or are they cut here?" At first Darren said the chips were made on the premises. Then he changed and said they were bought in. "We don't have chips in One-O-One anyway," he added. An utterly useless conversation.

At 1pm there were six people in the restaurant. Then John Cleese arrived. There were never more than nine diners.

Last year, when the pier burnt down at Weston-super-Mare, John's place of birth and upbringing, a newspaper asked him for a quote. John said to his assistant, Garry, "Tell them I wish my mother had been on it. It would have saved me a fortune in cremation costs." Then he temporarily censored the remark. I thought it was very funny.

"I wish my mother had been on it as well," I said to John. "We could have got a deal. Two for the price of one." The wine waiter offered to tell us about the restaurant. It was sitting there, plain, bland, hotel-like. What else did I need to know?

"Do you serve cat and dog?" asked John.

"No," responded the wine waiter.

"Any human?" John said.

"Not that I recall," replied the wine waiter. Then he said, "If you want to order I'll send my colleague."

"Why wasn't his colleague there in the first place?" I thought.

John received a massively decorated portion of steak tartare. He observed, "I've seen art that isn't as good as this." My grilled line-caught mackerel goujons were less decorated.

"This isn't beef," said John, "it's badger." The mackerel was okay. John said, "You could photograph mine."

"Difficult," I responded. "I left the camera at home."

John took my tape and dictated, "I've become addicted to texting but there's a problem: my finger is too fat. So I'm going to have it sharpened."

We both had a main course of "rabbit saddle with black pudding and pan fried scallop, carrot puree, vanilla emulsion and jus gras", which we were told was reduced veal stock with truffle and foie gras. "It's the marketing department. Instead of saying 'fat sauce', they come out with this," explained John, adding, "I tune you out a lot of the time because you're so boring." Surely he was joking?

For dessert John had goat's cheese. I had "raspberry and pink champagne consommé jelly, white chocolate sorbet, pink foam". John summed up the meal: "It's clever food. The shame is we have to eat it."

As I exited through the main lobby, I ran my finger along various surfaces. They were all clean. In 1994 they were black with dust. The tables, the dado rails, everything. The general manager then was Derek Picot. I never thought much of him.

When I went to visit Roger Moore some time later, it was all clean. I asked the concierge if Mr Picot was still there. "Thankfully not," he said. Picot had moved sideways to the nearby Jumeirah Carlton Tower. If you go there, take dusters.

Pending settlement of John's divorce, his wife, Alyce, is on maintenance of some £900,000 a year. When John told his son-in-law, the Hollywood screenwriter Ed Solomon, Ed texted, "But . . . how will she survive?"

  • Another joke: a widow buys a parrot; the shopkeeper assures her it will become a treasured companion.

    She takes it home and says, "How's tweety-pie?" The parrot screams, "You ******* ******." Put in every obscenity you can think of. The woman is shocked. "You mustn't talk like that," she admonishes. The parrot screams the worst possible swear words again. The woman takes the parrot, puts it in the deep freeze. Two hours later she returns. The parrot is nearly dead. "If I take you out, do you promise never to swear again?" says the woman. "I promise," replies the parrot.

    As it's being put in the cage the parrot says, "Can I ask one thing?" The woman replies, "Yes." The parrot says, "What did the chicken do?" Geddit? Chicken in deep freeze. No head. Plucked. Oh, forget it.

    Don't know why I bother.

  • PS: I didn't have my camera at the Cleese lunch, so here's a photo of Geraldine after she'd joined John and me on our buddy-buddy divorceymoon trip through Switzerland last year. We're in the Old Town of Zurich. You'd rather see me and Cleese in the restaurant? You need help. Get a psychiatrist.

    Michael's missives

    So it's taken you 26 years to find Fisher Pond Great House, Barbados. Now even pondlife has to tolerate your presence.
    Paul Clarke, Berkshire

    Help! The great man has shrunk! He looks 2ft shorter than Rain Chandler in last week's photo. If it's not him who's been eating all this food every week, then who is it? I suspect Geraldine. Let's see a recent photo of her.
    Mike Morgano, Solihull

    Bad news, 1,871 people. Michael says he sent out 1,875 Christmas cards but hasn't got five friends. So hundreds of people who thought they knew an A-list celebrity now know they're nobodies. How many cards will Michael get next year? Presumably no more than four. Very environmentally friendly.
    Tim Burton, Wokingham

    You're spot on regarding the Ivy. Recently I was amazed to see empty seats and staff I'd never seen before. Now celebrities have their Ivy club, the chance to eat in the same room as a star is gone. The rich and famous will get bored with their exclusive club and move on to a more exclusive club. I see gloomy days ahead for the Ivy.
    Stuart Matthews, Nottinghamshire

    Please print the rude letter to you from Maurizio Saccani of the Orient-Express group. We could do with a masterclass on how best to insult you.
    Trevor Sherwin, Derby

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