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A case of Bruges meets Lancashire hotpot

Published 22 August 2010
News Review
892nd article

Michael in Bruges with Dinah May, left, and Justine Forrest (Nic Guttridge)

Throw a stone into water - there are ripples. Throw Winner: shock waves. When I made Michael Winner's Dining Stars for ITV1, most of the critics realised I was playing the wicked pantomime villain, some thought the panto dame. A few, that I was just being rude. "Reduced contestants to tears," all that sort of claptrap. Truth is I remain friends with all of the contestants. I had them to my house for dinner.

I speak a lot to the series winner, Justine Forrest, a housewife from Longridge near Preston who dieted and lost 14 stone. I made Justine famous for her brownies. Now she's selling them to local shops and via a website which is grander than mine. Not difficult as I haven't got one.

Dean Lewis, the Jamaican who wanted to kill me because I hated his curried goat (his father agreed with me that he'd done it all wrong) has given up his job as a demolisher of buildings. He and his wife, Sophie, now own Mango's Cafe Bar, serving Jamaican food in Failsworth, Manchester. Dean asked me to come for the opening. I declined but sent a signed photo.

I asked the other day, "Is my photo on the wall?"

"No," he replied.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because it's you," said Dean. He's a laugh. I wish him well.

Particularly memorable was taking Justine to lunch in Bruges at one of my favourite restaurants, Den Gouden Harynck, Golden Herring to those not speaking Flemish. The Michelin-starred chef Philippe Serruys cooks, his wife, Marijke, manages front of house.

Philippe was in his kitchen showing Justine how to cook pommes boulangere. She said, "I don't do it like that," as if her way was better. Terrific. Lancashire to the fore.

I loved my lunch. Scallops with pureed chestnut; a second course of langoustines with cabbage and some delicious sauce. Main course: pan-fried partridge with a vine leaf on top, buckwheat on the side, and chutney. For dessert, tarte tatin with vanilla cream.

"What are you having?" I asked Justine.

"The mango thing," she replied. At a nearby table, my assistant Dinah and make-up lady Joan had sea bass. Both said it was the best ever. Justine left almost everything. Too twiddly-diddly for her.

There we were in this lovely 17th-century building, beautiful room, a fire burning, lovely flowers - water off a duck's back to Justine. That's what I like about her. She is what she is. Go to her website, order chocolate brownies. She sent me some, the container wrapped in white paper with red hearts on it.

People ask me why I cried when giving judgment on Justine's cooking. Her 13-year-old daughter, a stroke victim, said in a slurred voice, after I'd not been kind about her mother's meal, but referring to how thrilled Justine was to be on television with me, "I want to thank you for all you've done for my mummy." That tipped it. A marvellous, loving family.

Justine's nine-year-old son, Christopher, has half a heart. He's undergone many serious operations. He's still at risk.

I also speak regularly to Hema Chauhan, a lovely Indian contestant. She gave a dinner party to celebrate her husband Dillip's recovery from cancer. I proposed a toast to his continued wellbeing. The cancer's returned. Doctors say he won't live. Peter, the lively Essex boy, will just miss me in the south of France this summer. They're all part of my life now. I like that.

  • Be on red alert. Buy nothing for Christmas (a mere 124 shopping days away) because my new book Unbelievable! My Life in Restaurants and Other Places is out in October at £14.99, less from Sunday Times Books. It contains very funny stories (I'm doing my own book review) about my dining with movie stars and other biggies. It's a great addition to last year's Winner's Dinners book because it contains all the more recent columns to bring the information up to date. Plus new Winner's Dinners Awards.

    The first five off the press will be given, fully signed, dedicated and cartooned by me, to the letter writers whose work is published on the nearest ST to the date of the book's arrival on the planet. Hold the applause until you've read it.

  • I'm not going to Sandy Lane, Barbados this Christmas/New Year. With my depleted left leg I can't get in or out of the sea because there's a shingle drop that had me yelling for help anyway. The beach slopes so much I can't handle that either.

    As last year, Geraldine and I will have Christmas Day lunch prepared by the world's greatest cook, Sir Michael Caine, aided and abetted by the wondrous Shakira. We'll New Year it at the Palace hotel, Gstaad. I have secret plans to visit a different Caribbean location early in 2011. You'll be the first to know. Possibly the second. Maybe the 105th.

  • I haven't written lately about Moishe Pippick, Abe Schwanz and Hymie Pockle. They're mourning the closure of Bloom's kosher restaurant in Golders Green. I told them Reubens in Baker Street was better. But they're inconsolable. Some people are never satisfied.

    Michael's missives

    I agree: screaming children are not an ambient experience I seek in a restaurant. I got a horrified response when I asked if I could sit somewhere other than the crèche at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. The stuffy maître d' told me to put a sock in it. I said our table of eight (placed helpfully on a table for six) were going hoarse trying to talk over the incessant mewling. He was probably still miffed at me for having the temerity to tell him his champagne was corked.
    David Impey, Oxfordshire

    My wife and I and our two children were feeling out of place at La Reserve de Beaulieu in between all the Russians with their Swarovski baseball caps, too-tight bathing shorts and screaming children. We sighed with relief to see you and Geraldine. Finally, two guests who wore appropriate pool wear and kept themselves to themselves. Unfortunately the benefits were outweighed by the negative effect you had on the weather.
    David Newlands, Petersfield

    Last week you wrote you ate a dessert dating from the 15th century. A recipe of your own, perhaps?
    Stuart Ross, Hesdin, France

    Here's a quote from a book called Disorder in the American Courts.
    Attorney: What was the first thing your husband said to you that morning?
    Witness: He said, "Where am I, Cathy?"
    Attorney: Why did that upset you?
    Witness: My name is Susan.

    Dennis Pallis, Kent

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