Saturday Column - Number 17 - Saturday 3rd February 2001

As an internationally read columnist, naturally I cannot open my mail without finding it overflowing with invitations to attend all the major events in London. The premiers, the parties thrown by the rich and famous, you know the kind of thing.

So, having received my hand delivered invitation, a couple of days ago.. pushed under the windscreen wipers of my parked car..let me tell you.. the Maida Vale Tandoori is a place to drive by, but not to eat in. It was only later, on taking a magnifying glass to the Fay Maschler Evening Standard review on the flyer, that I saw she had only ordered a take away from there in 1988 and hadn’t been sick afterwards.

My favourite Greek restaurant, The Hellenic in Marylebone High Street, also has long had a Maschler Standard review in the window headed ‘A success of Low Expectations’ “Listen, this is not a rave review. ” I told Peter the owner. But he wouldn’t listen.

So when I was invited to last night’s DINING EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME at Claridges, I accepted immediately, even though they spelt my name wrong on the invitation.( How come my monthly account is always addressed correctly?)

They have been sucking up to me since my piece last week. I got my table back the next day! The power of the press! If any reader has a really big problem – .has lost their puppy, or needs a UK passport in a hurry – just treat me as your on line Agony Uncle.

The papers had described it as The Gourmet Event of The Millennium. HUGE numbers of A list celebrities were apparently fighting each other to be invited; and they were flying in so many three Michelin starred chefs that France was closed for the night. Clearly your columnist had to be there. But remember, I was eating for you.

At the drinks reception beforehand, I casually looked around for all these celebrities but the only person I recognised was in the Gentlemens, when I stood next to the King of the Papparazzi, Richard Young. I didn’t offer to shake hands. “You know you are the only celebrity here, don’t you?” I said.

He nodded gloomily. “I know, ” he said. He brightened up. “They’ve invited me to stay for the dinner.”

I was seated at the Celebrity Accountants table. That might sound dull to you, but it wasn’t JUST accountants. On my left was a member of our most secretive profession …no not MI6’s pin up boy Richard Tomlinson… an Actuary from Equitable Life. Later on, I saw him sign someone’s menu.

All the men on my table actually looked like movie stars, six feet tall, slim, tanned and with the most incredible heads of thick silver grey hair. ” In the office they all think I dye it” a senior partner at Price Waterhouse said, tossing his tussled locks back with his hand. “No” we said.

My fellow guests spent the first hour (and that just got us through the ‘Faberge Egg Mouselline’, followed by The Gratin Of Fillet of Turbot with almonds, sauce Ton Ton Macoute) telling each other how they didn’t believe how old the other was.

“Sixty five!? I do not believe it! Impossible!”

“You look sensational! I would have said forty five maximum.”

Suddenly a large, wildeyed, dishevelled man appeared dramatically on the podium; dressed in chef’s clothing. It was one of the Super Chefs. He said he was very upset because some of the other 10 superchefs in the kitchen (“massively combined egos” as the programme note described them) were apparently failing to bond together in quite the ‘spirit of friendship and cooperation’ that the organisers had hoped for.

” I am sorry, but I have not had the respect for my sauce, my signature dish, that I expected. It has been quite emotional for me” he said. He strode off back down to the kitchens to do further battle with the multi starred Michel (one of Paris’s most revered masters) Roth, and the legendary Strasboug culinary wizard, the three starred Emile Jung, proprietor of Au Crocodil restaurant.

The auction started, and I found myself furiously bidding for Lot One. I had no idea what Lot One was, but I was determined nobody else was going to get it. This was definitely a tribute to the Gallo Brothers wine for the evening. When I was finally handed the box of Monte Cristo No2 cigars that I had bought, I felt a little bad about it for two reasons. One, I had no money or credit cards to pay for it and, secondly, I stopped smoking three months ago.

It could have been worse. If I had bid for Lot Two, I would have won ‘A Day Behind the Scenes at the Antiques Road Show. A fabulous day spent in the company of John Bly.’ As it was described ‘ Kindly donated by John Bly,’ I guess he knows. (But as that would have meant giving up my ticket for Eminem’s first London concert.It would have been a tough decision.)

Across from me, Michael Mansfield, the famous silver haired criminal QC ,who is about to defend Barry Busari, the man accused of murdering Jill Dando, was only eating lettuce and beans. “In training?” I asked.

“I am a vegetarian” he replied.

“You should be ashamed of yourself ” I said, stuffing a couple more of the foi gras and truffle on sticks into my mouth. “Waiter! Bring me his REAL food. I will eat it.” “Why didn’t you give your ticket to Mr. Busari? I bet he could do with a good Tournedos Rossini before his appearance at the Old Bailey.He could have polished it off in less time than it takes to say “not guilty M’lud.”

I then had a a spirited discussion with a couple of the other guests at the table over where was the best place in London to buy a Glock 9 mm semi automatic pistol was.

This is when things start to get a little blurred. I remember leaving the table before the arrival of the tartlet Souffle with Stilton and so missed the evening’s climax when the ‘ team ‘pooled their skills’ to create a dessert experience that will close a marvellous evening in the real spirit of sharing gastronomy and enjoyment.’

And I definitely remember finding myself standing on top of a table in the kitchens and making what I thought, at the time, was a witty remark to the assembled chefs about the ragout of lobster and mushroom’s amaretto flavouring being a little too strong for me.

I woke up this afternoon from what I thought was just a very vivid dream. A lot of chefs were fighting each other in the Street outside Claridges, and the police vans were just arriving as shouts of “You idiot! You used too much of the 1997 Chardonnay in the sauce.. the quails eggs could not withstand it!” echoed down Bond Street. Or it might have been the tv video promo clip from the last Six Countries Rugby match . I double checked my invitation just now, to make sure I really had been Claridge’s guest. I didn’t want a repeat of last Summer, when I had asked a friend to book us into two hotels on the way down to the South of France.”You do know they are three stars” she’d rung back to say.”

“That’s them” I had replied, thinking she meant the hotels. It wasn’t until we got there, that I discovered too late she had meant they were three MICHELIN stars!

I am still paying for those meals.


COPYRIGHT.Peter Rosengard for Rosengardworld2001