Food with no squiggles on the plate? I'll have hers too
Published 25 November 2012 News Review 1,009th article
Geraldine and Michael at Shepherd's (Fabrice Moussy)
Last week I returned to an old favourite of mine, Shepherd's in Westminster. It is part of the Langan's empire started in 1976 by Peter Langan, Richard Shepherd and Michael Caine.
I met Michael in 1963 and I've had more meals with him than any other film star I know. I've had them in London, in Barbados and at his fantastic house in Surrey, where Michael personally cooks Sunday lunch.
You get there and he's stirring pans and putting things in the oven and getting burnt. There is no doubt at all that Michael's lunches offer the finest food I have ever eaten.
Richard has decided it's time to move into a new era, and a few months ago he handed the baton to Brian Clivaz, who is doing a fantastic job.
And so he should. Brian's career began at the Dorchester. He has worked at Le Meurice and the Plaza Athenee hotels in Paris, and was managing director of Simpson's-in-the-Strand and chairman of the food and beverage committee for the whole Savoy hotel group. He also set up the private members' club Home House and was managing director of the Arts Club in Dover Street. Not a bad CV.
He and Richard decided to close three of the restaurants in the group - Odin's, Langan's Bistro and Shepherd's - and refurbish them. Odin's and the bistro will reopen next week.
At the fourth restaurant, Langan's Brasserie, the famous mural upstairs has been restored and looks exceptional. When Peter Langan commissioned it, he asked for a snow scene but the artist Patrick Procktor painted Venice in summer while Langan was on holiday. At least it wasn't Beckton on a rainy day.
Langan was a character. He was very rarely sober and kept everyone talking till the early hours. He almost destroyed the mural by having it covered in brown varnish. In the new year, the Venetian Room will become a private bar.
Shepherd's has changed enormously. Close to the Houses of Parliament, it was a favourite meeting place for politicians and used to feel formal and old-fashioned. Now it has wooden floors, white walls and lots of pictures of celebrities.
One of the first photographs you see as you walk in is of me with Ben Kingsley, who was in my last film, Parting Shots, a comedy with Bob Hoskins, Joanna Lumley, Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Felicity Kendal, John Cleese and the singer Chris Rea. It was about a young man who learns he is going to die and decides to knock off five of the people who most damaged him during his life.
If I'd drawn up a list like that every time I'd been told I was dying, celebrity chefs would be extinct.
Richard was waiting for us when we got to the restaurant and came over to our table for a chat. He was charm itself. The restaurant is now a gorgeous, light and airy room, with big windows and a long bar. Tables are spaced apart so you are not listening to one another’s conversations. There's a large family table with country-style chairs, and little corner tables for lovers.
I had wild mushrooms on toast to start, followed by three-cheese macaroni, and treacle tart for dessert. The treacle tart was one of the best I've eaten.
Fabrice, Geraldine's son, had oysters to start and then grilled calf's liver and bacon. Geraldine had devilled whitebait followed by steak with bearnaise sauce. Having asked to taste her whitebait, I ended up eating the lot and had to ask for another portion.
Dinah, my assistant, had smoked salmon, dover sole and a creme brulee that everyone agreed was the best ever. It was just a normal creme brulee with no orange or anything else that restaurants seem to add these days. Just the sort of delicious, ordinary food Geraldine likes. She hates squiggles on her plate.
From Frazer Walker of Shropshire:
Coming out of school, eight-year-old Hymie sees the bus pulling away from the stop. He decides to run after it and catch it at the next stop. At the second stop, he almost reaches the bus but fails. The same thing happens at the third stop and the fourth until, at the sixth stop, he realises that he is outside his house.
Breathless, he runs to his father and says: "Guess what, Papa, I’ve run all the way home behind the school bus and saved 50p!"
His father clips him round the ear and says: "Stupid boy - why didn't you run behind a taxi and save £5?"
Spelling mistakes on menus are common. However, I prefer to spot amusing translations in French restaurants. What about "jumped potatoes", "rooster in red wine" or "plate of crudeness"?
Christine Gresham-Smith, Oxfordshire
Rather than Burke & Hare, perhaps the photo caption last week should have read "Berk and Hairy".
Geoff Greensmith, Surrey
What a transformation you achieved in your Victorian costume. You haven't been so elegantly dressed for years, I would guess.
Paul Clarke, Berkshire
It had to be only a matter of time before a potty food critic such as you was outed as the Mad Hatter.
Ian Hearn, Leicestershire
I have had my entire repertoire of Hymie jokes printed in your column. Whenever I launch into a joke, friends say they've read it in The Sunday Times and shut me up. Now you have the nerve to publish them and charge for the book. Can I have a discount?
Stuart Fisher, Somerset