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Glad you've turned over a new leaf, Skye

Published 24 January 2010
News Review
862nd article

Michael stands with Charles Pullan and Skye Gyngell behind Sophia Franc (Gerladine Lynton-Edwards)

I know it will surprise you, but sometimes I upset people. And they upset me. Such upsettance occurred at the Petersham Nurseries Cafe, a large greenhouse in a far-flung part of Richmond that sells small plants, palm trees, ornaments and food.

I visited twice, liked it massively, praised the chef, Skye Gyngell, and was therefore a bit miffed when she was quoted in The Times saying, "That man's not bloody well coming back." It followed me writing how much I had not appreciated the attitude of her then restaurant manager, Rachel Lewis.

Ms Lewis, when I phoned one Sunday to book a table, was considerably less welcoming than a disembowelled frog. Eventually, as if the effort was killing her, she offered me a table for two.

I phoned back and said, "Don't bother."

Skye gave a bizarre account of this incident, saying I'd asked for a table for eight at the last minute. No, dear. It was Geraldine and me. We're two people.

When Skye told her friend the wonderful Rose Gray of the River Cafe, Rose advised, "You should grow up. We have to learn to play the game. You must always be able to fit people in. It's part of the business."

I was discussing this with Charles Pullan, the preppie-looking restaurant manager of the River Cafe, whose wife runs the nursery part of Petersham Nurseries. "You should go back; I'll take you," he said. "They asked me to help find a restaurant manager and Sophia Franc from here has the job."

Sophia is a marvellous restaurant person; Charles, apart from the odd lapse of memory when you order something, is great. He got the Winner's Dinners award for best restaurant manager at our book launch ceremony.

"What about Skye?" I asked. "If she comes screaming out of the kitchen waving a sharp knife, will you throw yourself in front of me?"

Luckily this wasn't necessary. Skye was all charm. Her food, as on my previous visits, was totally superb. Fantastic home-made lemonade. Crab cakes of wonderful taste, texture and quality. Guinea fowl accompanied by a tasty, blending-in sauce.

To finish I had lemon tart with tulameen raspberries and crème fraîche. Perfect, old-fashioned, tangy lemon taste, lot of lemon cream on top, more cream and strawberries. Then I dictated, "Panna cotta very delicate." I must have nicked a bit from someone else.

Petersham Nurseries Cafe is as good as it gets. The journey puts me off going as often as I'd like. Move into town, please, Skye. Then you can throw me out from a closer location.

As Charles escorted Skye from the kitchen to have our photo taken, she said to him, "If this isn't a good review I'm going to kill you." I knew she was dangerous. But, boy, can this gal cook.

  • You know what surprised and delighted me about New Year's Eve in Miami? I never saw one stupid paper hat, one whistle being blown, crackers or anyone remotely drunk.

    After dinner at a great Italian restaurant we went to Michael Caine's apartment, which has an enormous wrap-around terrace, and watched the firework displays all over town. Then we drove back to our hotel down one of Miami's main streets. No one was the worse for drink, no screaming, no shouting, all very restrained and orderly.

    Not for you? Well, if you want to be an overdressed lush wearing a funny hat and blowing a whistle, good luck to you. Just keep away from me.

  • One of the housewives who welcomed me into her home for my television show Michael Winner's Dining Stars phoned to say she and her family were coming to London for a football match. She and her husband arranged dinner at the Royal Oak, Michael Parkinson's pub in Paley Street. Congratulations to the chef, Dominic Chapman, for just getting a Michelin star.

    For lunch I booked them into the Wolseley. Justine and her daughter came to my house for tea while dad and the rest of the family watched the football. It was a pleasure to pay for all their meals. Justine's story is one of great bravery. It's very moving. She's in my first programme, which airs on February 26. Forget me. Watch it for her.

  • Marmite sent me six new cereal bars described as "lots of lovely chewy oats, wheat and rice, all wrapped up with the hefty punch of Marmite". Terrible taste, totally revolting. Product placement people, please note: I want no freebies. Send stuff at your peril.

  • A clarification: my friends Hymie Pockle, Moishe Pippick and Abe Schwantz wish it to be known they are not in any way associated, personally or professionally, with Julius Schmulius, the pipsqueak, fat, short, bespectacled little squirt, publicity-seeking theatrical agent. Glad to clear that up for you, fellas.

    Michael's missives

    You say, "Geraldine listens to her radio on headphones all night." Why doesn't she just have a headache like a normal girl?
    Don Roberts, Cheshire

    Can you be sure that Geraldine's listening to the radio, Michael? They're probably noise-cancelling headphones. Check the weather forecast she gives you in the morning. If it's correct you'll know she's making the whole thing up.
    Ian Deeprose, Hampshire

    Why do you need to know the names of flight and airport staff? Judging by your performance on Mastermind you wouldn't remember them anyway.
    Paul Rose, Leicestershire

    I rarely disagree with your esteemed column. However, in Prime One Twelve Miami we were treated rudely by the manager and staff, who served overpriced food badly. I wrote to your friend Myles with my complaints and did not receive the courtesy of a reply.
    Ray Endfield, Monaco

    I agree with almost every review you've written except your previous recommendations of the awful, mass-market, overpriced Bombay Brasserie. I'm glad you've now come to your senses.
    David Bodmer, London

    Ron and Caroline
    Some jolly friends of mine
    Would be happy to have dinner
    With Michael Winner
    But we'd rather be seen
    With the charming Geraldine.

    Jane and Bob Hargreaves, Sablet, France

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