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Going in for the kill . . . coming out full of praise

This week Michael decides that restaurant slaughter is always good for a laugh and works himself into a frenzy of bloodlust with his knives out for Koffman's at the Berkeley Hotel
Published 19 September 2010
News Review
896th article

Michael with restaurant manager Eric Garnier and Pierre Koffmann at Koffmann's at the Berkeley (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Sometimes I think I’m being too kind. I must kill, kill, kill. Restaurant slaughter is always good for a laugh. So I worked myself up into a frenzy of bloodlust. A friend told me he hated Koffmann's at the Berkeley hotel in Belgravia. I thought: I’ll get the knife out.

Things started well. I phoned the Berkeley. "Is Pierre Koffmann's restaurant open for Saturday lunch?" I asked.

A lady replied, "I don't know."

"Perhaps you could find out," I said rather icily. It was.

The Koffmann receptionist was polite. "Do you have any special requirements, such as dietary requests?" she asked.

"Just a large table, please," I responded. Three cars were parked in front of the Berkeley. I placed my Bentley behind them.

A doorman said, "We’ll move it round the side."

"Why can't it stay here?" I demanded. "Those other cars are in the front."

"I'm going to move them," said the doorman. Bet he isn't, I thought.

Before major hostilities commenced, a senior doorman, Taffy, appeared wearing a bowler hat. "I'd like my car to stay here," I said.

"Don't worry, Mr Winner, I'll deal with it," said Taffy. After lunch two of the three cars that I was assured would be moved were still there. A £1m-plus Bugatti Veyron and a £535,000 chromed-up Mercedes SLR McLaren. My 1975 Bentley added gravitas.

In the hotel I asked, "Where's Pierre Koffmann's?"

"You have to go outside and walk to the street entrance," said a concierge.

"Nonsense, you can go through the hotel," I responded. So I was shown through the bar to Pierre's pad. Why tell me I had to go outside?

The restaurant is drab. Corridor-like. Lacking in atmosphere. I was led to a comfy table by the restaurant manager, Eric Garnier. I liked him when he was at Racine.

The starter canapes of stuffed cheese were ghastly. Heavy, no taste. Water was the awful Tufa. Now removed from the Wolseley and Richard Caring's Ivy, Caprice and Scott's. The bread was only adequate. Great for the scalpel, I thought. Things are going well.

Then Pierre ruined it. My first course - fresh crab with celeriac and apple - was superb. Geraldine's foie gras with french bean salad lacked much foie gras. I asked if she wanted extra; she said no. Then I saw Eric going to get her some more. She said no to me and yes to him. That’s beautiful women for you. She loved it.

Pierre could be seen through the glass wall, working away in the kitchen. Rare for the chef to be in for lunch on a Saturday.

My main course - cod with chorizo, white beans, tomatoes and a bowl of peas and carrots - was marvellous. Perfect chips, made on the premises, came in a cup of Le Monde newsprint.

I asked Eric how long it would take if I ordered pistachio souffle. He said 12 minutes. Normally they ask you to order souffle at 6am if you’re coming for dinner. It was the best souffle - texture right, taste fantastic, ice cream to go in it, incredible. A splendid meal. Simple, to the point, no plate decoration, masterful blend of tastes, not overpowering, not overworked. Service very on the ball.

Pierre Koffmann had three Michelin stars, took six years off, then returned. Next star time Michelin should give him eight.

Later, I took Michael and Shakira Caine. They loved it. I had the best sweetbreads I've ever eaten. The horrid cheese puffs were off; my freebie starter was a delicious savoury pastry tart.

"The room needs mirrors," observed Michael. Just what I'd said on my first visit. Mirror the end and one side wall. Liven the place up. Take away the boring photos of food and have a mural of something jolly. It’s a basement. Make it cheerful.

So this hasn't been a murder. I must leave on a low note. Let me think. Bill took too long to come. Eric, nice chap, gave me a number he said was direct to the restaurant but was to some woman in Bethnal Green. He took for ever to return calls to his mobile, so what was the point of giving me the number?

Summation: food, 99.9%. Atmosphere, -68. Room, -1,006. Pierre Koffmann, the greatest cook. A cook is better than a chef.

  • My local Blockbuster staff used to close the shop when it should be open, putting a sign on the door saying when they'd return. They never came back when they said. The DVDs and Blu-ray discs are sometimes dirty and damaged, so the picture splinters and breaks up. I insisted they put a cleaning machine in the Kensington High Street branch.

    When renting a Blu-ray of the movie Leap Year I asked the assistant to clean it. He refused, flashing the disc in front of me, saying it wasn't necessary. The disc was dirty and pixelated every so often.

    Martin Higgins, Blockbuster's UK managing director, blamed my Blu-ray player. Odd, since it played Blu-rays perfectly before and after this fiasco. He said I should have it upgraded.

    My cinema supplier, Chris Adair of Cornflake, assured me upgrades would not in any way improve the ability to play Blu-rays. "From what you describe it was obviously a dirty disc," he said.

    Blockbuster is close to bankruptcy. How unsurprising.

    Michael's missives

    Judging by last week's photo it seems congratulations are in order to you for winning a giant Oscar for having a large ego.
    John Finegan, Ireland

    I note in the photo at Les Terraillers the fragrant Geraldine has been turned to stone. Now you know what being a boring old windbag can do to those around you.
    Frank Byrne, Dublin

    You complained about aspects of La Reserve de Beaulieu. The scenery is lovely between Nice and Menton but the entire place exists solely for the purpose of separating foreigners from their money. Thought a smart fellow like you would have noticed that, Michael.
    Terry Eaton, Oxfordshire

    Like Geraldine's granddaughter my nine-year-old daughter suffered rudeness from Gerard, the pool attendant at La Reserve. She asked for a dry towel after swimming. Gerard at first said she'd had one, then finally hurled a towel at her. "He's not a nice man, Mummy," said a tearful Alisia.
    Barry McKay, Berkshire

    Hymie says to Ruben: "We've been friends for years. I'd do anything for you. If I had two houses I'd give you one."
    "That's very kind," says Ruben.
    "No problem," says Hymie, "if I had two cars, I'd give you one."
    "What if you had two chickens?" asked Ruben.
    "Bugger off," said Hymie. "You know I've got two chickens."

    James Simmons, London

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