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A day of dining stars ... and lunching disasters

Published 10 January 2010
News Review
860th article

Michael at the Duke William pub with Martin Carefoot, left, and Harry Larter (Dinah May)

As I roamed the country for my TV series Michael Winner's Dining Stars, dinner was with people who invited me to judge their home cooking. Before that, I stalked the streets grabbing locals and talking to them. Got some wonderful dialogue. For lunch we'd drop in locally.

One of the worst meals I've ever eaten was at the Duke William in Longridge, near Preston, Lancashire. Strange, because the pub is owned by a local farmer, Martin Carefoot, whose butcher's - Carefoot's Farm Shop - is superb. Everything looked fantastic. I had a sausage roll which was beyond historic. Stratospheric plus. Martin suggested we lunch at his pub, the Duke William. So my hairdresser Dinah May, my make-up lady Joan Hills and I sat down for what we expected to be a nice meal. Boy, did we have a wrong number.

I ordered a deluxe burger with cheese bacon and onion rings. Dinah, chicken curry with braised rice; Joan, a cajun chicken salad. No one else was lunching except my TV crew. That should have told me something.

The sauteed potato I took from Joan was poor. I'd been told the chips were made in the kitchen from real potatoes. They weren't brown; I'd never seen an albino chip. Awful. The waitress hadn't asked how I wanted my hamburger cooked. It came well done. I wanted medium rare. It was flat, skimpy and flaccid. Didn't even look like meat.

The ketchup and mustard were in tiny plastic packs. I don't do plastic. Dinah opened them for me. Martin has a fantastic meat shop with pies and cakes and he's serving pathetic hamburgers with packed condiments. I tried another chip. It needed to be fried much longer or at greater heat. The hamburger was inedible.

Dinah described her curry as "edible because I'm hungry. The chicken is horrible, absolutely dreadful". We left most of everything. Realising this was a disaster I asked if we could have some sausage rolls brought from the shop. At least they'd been good. They came reheated, slimy and soggy. In the morning they'd been crisp.

On the pub menu it said, "Sweets from our blackboard". None was listed on the blackboard. The waitress said most of them were bought in but the chocolate fudge cake was made on the premises. Another disaster. Tasted as if it had been made out of a packet or a cake mix. Dinah took a bit and said, "It's revolting."

The landlord, Dan Horrobin, never greeted us or suggested what we should have. He stuck his head round the corner from a lower-level floor when I was talking and said, "May I interrupt you?" I said, "No you may not." We never saw him again. It was the worst possible example of hospitality, food, ambience.

The Lancashire Evening Post rang to say Horrobin described having me there as "a nightmare". What was he complaining about? He didn't have to eat the food. Horrobin moaned on, "I think Mr Winner is used to dining in fancy restaurants such as the Ivy." Horrobin should visit the Ivy to learn. Its hamburgers are superb. His are a disgrace. The Ivy is professional. The Duke William is appalling.

Back on the streets a couple of youngsters said, "You should be eating local dishes, lancashire hotpot and Goosnargh chicken." Goosnargh is a nearby village specialising in corn-fed chickens. Neither was available in the Duke William. Would they had been. Would I'd eaten somewhere else. A Salvation Army hostel for example. If I'm ever in Longridge again I'll check if they've got one.

I'm pictured with the so-called chef, Harry Larter, and the owner, Martin Carefoot. My advice to Martin: keep the shop, close the pub.

  • I flew Virgin to Miami. Its staff are always helpful. Not Richard Marks, the contact centre duty manager. For years his boss, Mary-Anne Coyle, gave me details of those I was to meet - the captain, the flight service manager and the airport managers. Before that British Airways people gave the same information when I flew with it.

    Marks refused to reveal anything because airline employees were "covered by the data protection act". What drivel! Flight service managers wear a badge with their name on it. So do airport managers. Pilots announce their names on the plane's loudspeakers. They don't work for the secret service.

    A senior executive of Virgin gave me the information Marks declined to part with. Virgin remains much admired by me. Marks does not.

  • My employees didn't like their Bombay Brasserie staff dinner. My receptionist, Zoe, presented her cloakroom ticket on leaving. They'd given her coat to someone else. Arun Harnal, the general manager, said they'd pay for a new one. That left Zoe having to look for a coat, be without one and be inconvenienced through no fault of her own. All this, plus lousy service and food, shows a lack of control at the top.

    Harnal took over recently from Adi Mohdi, who was very good. I don't think Harnal is up to it. Another restaurant bites the dust. Anyone know a good Indian place?

    Michael's missives

    Geraldine's beauty and radiance in last week's photo is the result of a lifetime's dancing. You should try it.
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    Geraldine looked happy, cheerful, attractive, intelligent, stylish and with great legs. Opposites attract, they say!
    Paul Rose, Leicestershire

    Nice legs, Geraldine. Thank God we didn't have to see Michael's.
    Ken King, London

    Brilliant idea! Burying you up to your neck, and, as a bonus, Geraldine throwing her hat over your head. Mind you, if that's what happens at the Villa Feltrinelli when you give them a good review . . .
    Chris Clayton, Kent

    It's not just Victor Mature who's not been at his best these past few years. I've worked out why you weren't in last week's photo. You were at the morticians being re-embalmed.
    Nick Jones, France

    Winner the food critic: "nor can I be bothered to tell you what I ate". Love it.
    Mark Evans, Cap D'Antibes, France

    On New Year's Eve we were enjoying a pleasant dinner and a murder mystery evening. To our astonishment who should turn up alongside Inspect McClue for an all too brief cameo in the Champagne Murders DVD! We wondered, Michael, if there's anything you won't do to earn a crust.
    Andrew Wimbush, West Sussex

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