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It's round the corner . . . and doesn't send me up the wall

Published 23 August 2009
News Review
840th article

Michael with Fiona and Mike Gooley outside W8 Catering in Kensington (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Where I live, Holland Park, is a restaurant catastrophe area. It could be saved by Philip Howard of the Square in Mayfair. He's a two-star Michelin chef I greatly admire who makes the best cinnamon doughnuts in the world.

Philip's taken over a ghastly restaurant in Abingdon Road called Bistro 11, which never had any diners except me when I wrote a review of total condemnation. Philip intends to re-open it in late October under a new name.

A few doors away, there's a delightful little place called W8 Catering. It has a counter full of salad, chilli chicken, baked cod with pancetta, chicken korma, pasta bolognese and some delicious-looking desserts. It's for local workers to buy takeaway food or eat at bar seats. In the back and on the pavement are some tables.

The boss is ex-air hostess Fiona Gooley, married to Mike Gooley, who owns and founded the travel agency Trailfinders. Fiona caters for his staff who all get free meals. That alone accounts for 2,000 lunches a week.

"I had to marry him to get the contract," explained Fiona.

Mike is ex-SAS and looks it. When he joined Geraldine and me for lunch I expected him to come through the window on a rope and chuck CS gas all over the place, followed by a burst of machinegun fire. Instead he sat meekly at a pavement table.

"The council kept telling us to remove the tables because they were clutter obstructing the footpath," explained Fiona. There are two of them. I didn't notice any pedestrians inconvenienced.

With outstanding logic Kensington and Chelsea council then decided if Fiona paid £720 to apply for a licence, it may conclude the tables weren't obstructing anyone and she could keep them there. That for a mere five-days-a-week licence.

The £720 being non-refundable if the licence wasn't granted. Seven hundred and twenty pounds to reject a licence. Pavement robbery. As the tables have been there 10 years with no complaint, and the whole area is alive with the sound of chairs scraping on sidewalk, I shall closely watch and report on what happens when the council gets the application.

Mike drives an Aston Martin. I'm always suspicious of cars like that, having had a Ferrari which spent more time in garage repair shops than it did with me. It was always going wrong.

"The Aston's four years old and it's finally working properly," said Mike.

A wasp appeared. "You're in the SAS, deal with it," I said to Mike.

I had chilli con carne and then beef meatballs with feta cheese. Both very nice. They'll be even better in winter when they're kept on a hot plate, in the area now used for salad, and not re-heated in the microwave.

At home I later tried its lamb curry. Splendid. The desserts were beyond belief historic. The apple crumble, made, as is everything, daily in its kitchen, was the best I've ever eaten. The giant fairy cake, shaped like a mushroom with pink icing and big white spots on top had superb texture and taste. The icing was perfect.

This is an oasis in the culinary desert of Abingdon Road and its environs. When Philip Howard comes there could be two. That makes it oases, doesn't it? Who cares? Just get some good food near my house. I deserve it.

  • Talking about Ferraris, here's a laugh. The Birmingham Post reports a new Ferrari scheme whereby owners of any car made since 1947 will get 12 months' roadside assistance if their vehicle breaks down, cover for getting home or reaching the Ferrari service centre their car's been taken to and cover for any hotel expenses owners incur before returning home or continuing their journey. The Post story ends: "The new service follows the very public rant by celebrity film director Michael Winner that his Ferrari was the most troublesome car he ever owned."

  • I can't believe the fuss, led by the possessed Selina Scott, about employers being "ageist" if they replace some old dear with anyone younger. Are these twits saying no one can fire anyone over 50 and bring in a youngster? That would mean these dodderers have a job for life. Why should young people have to wait for opportunity until the oldies drop dead on TV or wherever else they're plodding on? What moron made a law that has-beens could go to court demanding compensation or re-instatement? We're consumed by so-called political correctness. Political lunacy I call it.

    Mind you, if I'm fired and replaced by a young person, I'll issue a writ immediately. Jokey-jokey. Won't really.

  • Woman takes her duck to the vet. He says, "Sorry, it's dead."

    She says, "I don't believe it." Vet calls in a labrador dog. Dog sniffs the body of the duck, lowers its head dolefully, shakes it left to right and walks out. In comes a cat, licks the duck, lowered head, sad nod of head. Leaves.

    Vet says, "That'll be £1,000.

    Lady says, "That's outrageous." Vet responds, "It would have been £200 but you've got to add the lab report and the cat scan." Reader Dennis Pallis of Kent sent that. Blame him.

    Michael's missives

    When John Cleese holidayed with you in Switzerland, I presume the two of you, in view of his ex-wife's name, would have considered a visit to the Eichelberger to be inappropriate.
    David Lowe, Sunderland

    I'm surprised Mr Cleese had any appetite at all after that horrific divorce settlement.
    Hugh McGlinchey, by e-mail

    I notice in last week's photo you had transmogrified into a parking ticket allowing Geraldine to either hold on to you and pay the price, or crumple you up and ignore you.
    Ken Wheeler, Hertfordshire

    Thanks for the tip about Westminster not towing cars. With a foreign-registered car and not having to pay fines, London is now an open car park.
    Tony Thompson, by e-mail

    Faced with a dilemma in Robert Dyas about which scissors to get for you, I assume your chauffeur chose left-handed ones on the basis that left-handed people tend to be more intelligent and creative than right-handed people - and got it wrong!
    Peter Kurton, Essex

    Blimey, you're right about something! On holiday in Corsica we had Contrex bottled water. My daughters described it as tasting of salty soap and "gross". They'd appreciate it if you could add tomato ketchup to your repertoire.
    Stuart Curl, Guildford

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