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eating out

Daniel, New YorkPetrossian, New YorkFiskekrogen, GothenburgBali By The Sea, HonoluluWolseley, LondonBluebird, LondonThe Leatherne Bottel, Goreham-On-ThamesBrunos, PattayaEki, Tokyo

Some of these places are amongst the world's Top 50. Some aren't.
These are restaurants where I ate memorable meals in the last few years.
Often it was the company as much as the food. Occasionally, the sheer awfulness.

 
MEMORABLE MEALS

Alain Ducassse, Paris, France
Bali By The Sea, Honolulu, USA
Bambuddha Hut, Ramsgate, UK
Banyan, Bangkok, Thailand
Biscotti, Bangkok, Thailand
Bluebird, London, UK
Bofinger, Paris, France
Bombay Brasserie, London, UK
Brasserie Lipp, Paris, France
Browns, London, UK
Bruno's, Pattaya, Thailand
Casa Pascal, Pattaya, Thailand

 
MEMORABLE MEALS

Cipriani, Lisbon, Portugal
Daniel, New York, USA
Daphne's, London, UK
Eki, Tokyo, Japan
Fiskekrogen, Gothenburg, Sweden
Fook Lam Moon, Shanghai, China
Fgn. Correspondents, Hong Kong
Goya, Madrid, Spain
Ivy, London, UK
Jiang-nan Chun, Singapore
La Brasserie, London, UK
Poissonerie, London, UK

 
MEMORABLE MEALS

Laris, Shanghai, China
Leatherne Bottel, Gorham, UK
Le Caprice, London, UK
Le Cirque, Mexico City, Mexico
Le Colombier, London, UK
Masala Kraft, Taj, Mumbai, India
Melisse, Santa Monica, USA
M on the Bund, Shanghai, China
Moose's, San Francsico, USA
Nobu, London, UK
Normandie, Bangkok, Thailand
Patricks, London, UK

 
MEMORABLE MEALS

Petrossian, New York, USA
Prado, San Diego, USA
Sala Rim Nam, Bangkok, Thailand
Savini, Milan, Italy
Sirocco, Bangkok, Thailand
Sketch, London, UK
Spago, Las Vegas, USA
State Guest House, Beijing, China
Toy's, Baan Amper, Thailand
Villa Christina, Zakynthos, Greece
Westin brunch, Shanghai, China
Wolseley, London, UK


Alain Ducasse
Paris

Plaza Athéné Hotel
25 Avenue Montaigne
Paris 75008
France

Phone: +33 1 5367 6500

Email bookings

Website


In the 70s I lived in Paris and came to London on Tuesday mornings. By going back on Thursday evenings I kept ‘non-resident’ status and avoided tax on foreign earnings.

Instead of being careful with the money this saved me I blew it at weekends by eating in all the best places. Amongst them was the restaurant at the Plaza Athene, one of the most elegant rooms in Paris. It's now one of three run by Alain Ducasse, the others being the Essex House in New York and Louis XV in Monte Carlo. This year I didn’t eat at either of the others but I managed to dine at the Plaza Athene.

I was invited by a friend, Thierry Gerard, someone I knew in London in the 80s - a wonderfully optimistic writer of film and TV scripts which were forever being rejected. Now, he’s come into a fortune, but not from selling a script. He won the lottery, a huge American one, and he isn't holding back on spending it either.

“I’m seventy-five,” he explains. “It would be impossible to blow it all even I live to be a hundred.”


At the Plaza Athene nothing had changed except the chandeliers which were now incorporated into 'a gouache of ten thousand hanging crystals'. But there was an air of pretention I didn't recall from previous visits. The staff semed a touch smug, but I couldn't put my finger on it really. Just a feeling.

Never mind, this was Thierry's evening and he insisted on ordering for both of us. It was his quid pro quo for standing me dinner and he gave me no choice in the matter. He chose oscietra caviar with langoustine, saddle of lamb, a cheese selection (possibly the best I’ve ever had) and a magically good rum baba - all of it exquisite to the last mouthful. But oh, those wines…
Pouilly Fume, Cuvee Silex, 1998, and Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 1989.

Thierry paid the bill and I didn’t ask how much. But considering the incredible bottle of Bordeaux we’d drunk it must have cost him over a thousand pounds.

I found myself thinking, "Maybe Thierry's money isn't going to last quite as well as he thinks."


Bali By The Sea
Honolulu

Hilton Hotel
2005 Kalia Road
Honolulu
Hawaii
USA

Phone: +1 808 941 2254

Online reservations

Website


When we walked into ‘Bali by the Sea' it was empty, something Yo always hates.

"Let's go to the Italian down the road," he suggested.

We'd been there the night before and it was fun, with great pasta and jovial good-looking waiters. But because this room was interesting, we stayed. It was unusual, with extravagant fabrics and soft-furnishing but no glass in the windows. A sea breeze instead, and the sound of waves from the beach outside.

The wine-waiter made a good start by suggesting Californian Gerwurztraminer, a wine that's steely and dry in Alsace, but in America is usually sweet.

"But not this one," the wine waiter promised.

He was right. It went so perfectly with the yellow fin tempura that I thought we were in for a culinary evening we'd talk about for weeks. But emboldened by his success he then decided to give us a masterclass in American reds.


"They're all too fruity," I grumbled. "Out of balance. Not enough tannin."

"Not if you go up enough in price," he insisted.

But the prices he wanted us to go up to were absurd. Better to stay with what I knew from France.

The evening finally burst into life when Yo started telling me about his most recent client. Prior to refurbishing the man's apartment he'd had to demolish it. He now proceeded to demolish the man's Thai boyfriend too. Then he told me about pee mapraw.

"Coconut ghosts," he explained. "Ladyboy prostitutes who work under the palm trees on Pattaya's seafront."

The next day I'd almost forgotten the food and wine but I could clearly remember the atmosphere of the room and the enjoyment of sitting there late into the evening with Yo.

The gossip, the breeze, the sound of the waves, and finally the Armagnac.


Bambuddha Hut
Ramsgate

14 Harbour Street
Ramsgate
Kent
England

Phone: +44 (0) 1843 586 865

Email reservations

Website


Bambuddha Hut serves Nonya cuisine, a style developed by Chinese living in Malaysia; spicy, sharp and surprising. In the hands of an expert it's truly delicious and Alec Ewe is just such an expert.

Eighteen years ago he was my boyfriend and couldn't cook at all. Nor did he need to - our relationship consisted almost entirely of eating out at the best places. He had an excellent palate. One night at the Inn On The Park I ordered 1934 Epenot Pommard, telling the wine waiter to decant it and hide the label. Then I asked Alec to taste it carefully and tell me what he thought.

“How much did it cost?” he asked.

“That's irrelevant,” I told him. “Judge it on taste alone".

"But I'm Malaysian," he complained, "wine isn't part of our culture - to assess its deliciousness I need to know what value YOU put on it.”

I frowned, so he grudgingly took a sip.


"Tastes of bananas," he said

I was incensed. I'd just paid £300 for the wine and he refused to treat it with proper consideration.

But the next day, when I looked it up in a wine book the first comment I saw was ‘hints of bananas’.

Alec runs Bambuddha Hut with his partner Jo, who's from Holland. The Malay/Chinese food is superb - sea bass barbecued in banana leaves, Nonya chicken with ginger and brown bean sauce, jasmine fried rice with tiger prawns.

When I raved about the place, friends asked, “Is it worth driving there from London?”

It is, providing you have somewhere to stay afterwards. Or you can do as Yo and I did - drive down for Sunday lunch, then stroll along the beach for an hour to work it off.

In our case with Alec and Jo and their two dogs.


Le Banyan
Bangkok

59 Soy 8
Sukhumwhit
Bangkok
Thailand

Phone: +66 (0) 2 253 5556

Online reservations

Website


It was a shock last year to discover I'd reached the ancient age of 66.

On my birthday, to calm myself, I decided on a treat. Yo and I hot-tailed it to Bangkok to a place we'd been recommended - Le Banyan, a French restaurant that specialises in pressed duck.

The previous time I'd eaten pressed duck was at La Tour d'Argent in 1978. It was memorable for the arrival of a gaggle of French studs accompanying Liza Minelli who was dressed in a topless evening gown. What might have started a rumpus in New York hardly caused a ripple in Paris, so somewhat disappointed Liza's party settled down to their dinner. Ten minutes later the calm was shattered by a piercing scream. Lisa, as she'd lent over to blow into her soup spoon, had let a bare boob fall into hot consommé.

At the Banyan tree, there was no Liza Minelli to contend with, just a bunch of mafia types. As we finished our oysters one of them let out a thunderous belch.


Bruno, the owner, was mortified.

"Follow me, sir."

He led us to the other end of the room where we sat next to the silver duck press, a gleaming piece of culinary engineering.

To retain its blood, the duck to be pressed is first strangled (not at the table) and its legs removed. Once that was taken care of Bruno did the rest in front of us.

He sliced the breast, placed the pieces in a pan of red wine and put the carcass in the press. The juices that came out were added to the pan together with Armagnac, then some butter to thicken it.

Delicious, but hugely filling. And when we'd got through it, the legs arrived, crisply grilled.

Talk about full. But at least my birthday had been correctly honoured.


Biscotti
Bangkok

Four Seasons Hotel
155 Rajadamri Road
Bangkok
Thailand

Phone: +66 2 250 1000

Bookings by phone only

Website


I can’t think of anywhere where Italian food is better than Biscotti, not even in Italy.

Last year the best meal I had there was when Yo and I went to Bangkok for some shopping and called Tom Foley and his friend Kim to join us for lunch.

"Something light,” we told each other, but at Biscotti that can be difficult.

Tom and I planned one glass of wine each but when the waiter arrived we heard ourselves saying, “Really, we might just as well share a bottle.”

Even though Kim and Yo were on soft drinks our bottle of Pinot Grigio disappeared in a flash, so when the food came (some posh pasta, a salad of soft-shelled crab, a risotto with foie gras) we ordered a bottle of Chianti to keep things going.

Tom’s father is a lord. And when Tom was younger he chose the robes he would one day wear for his inaugural speech in the House of Lords. And waited. _____


Twenty years later his father is still in good health and hereditary peers have been abolished. So Tom has to content himself with lengthy and amusing monologues over lunches and dinners.

Today's was about an ex-pat US doctor with whom he's developing natural medicines. "He's come up with a mosquito repellent you can spray on new-born babies."

It seemed a strange thing to do to a new born baby but then I remembered West Nile fever.

"Perfect for the US," I said. "You'll make millions."

We celebrated his forthcoming wealth with Biscotti's best brandy while the others shared a passion fruit frappe. Then we celebrated a few more times.

Tom and Kim only had to take a cab to their flat, Yo and I had to drive to Pattaya, hence Yo's teetotal stance.

He said I snored like a pig all the way.


Bluebird
London

350 Kings Road
London SW3
England

Phone: +44 20 7559 1000

Online reservations

Website


I've known Bruce McIlwaine nearly ten years and think of him as my Bluebird friend. There's something about the place that suits us. It's long been my favourite Conran restaurant, buzzing in the evening but quiet at lunchtime, perfect for a good long talk.

Bruce says I'm the only gay he's ever liked. I tell him he's the only chauvinst homophobe I'm prepared to put up with. Yet when we last lunched at Bluebird I found he also knew Francis, the frilliest of all my friends.

Thirty years ago they both worked in banks in Tokyo and Francis went riding at weekends with Bruce's first wife. Moreover, it seems likely it was Francis who goaded her into leaving him.

She's long gone now (and so's the second wife too), leaving Bruce with a host of chauvinist tales to tell over Bluebird lunches. More often than not we have a pagoda of fresh crustacea washed down with sauvignon blanc. Today it's Bluebird's fish pie with Chilean merlot. (Not one of my grand wine days!)


When he was 12, Bruce's mother took him into her bedroom and sat him down. "I'm not your mother," she told him. "I'm your grandmother. Your elder sister is your mother - she got pregnant when she was 15 and we had to keep it quiet."

No wonder Bruce has so much trouble with women.

Four years ago we had lunch at Bluebird after he'd married his third wife over the road at Chelsea town hall. But even with me as best man the marriage has gone down the tubes.

Now he's on the loose again and on the day of our lunch had a new problem to contend with. Around 4pm two young women turned up. Not only did they both lay claim to his affections, they were sisters. And neither knew (until that moment) of the other's involvement.

Another fine mess. But he had plenty time to solve it. Bluebird lets you stay till 6pm. For an old-fashioned, really long lunch, it's London's best.


Bofinger
Paris

5-7 Rue de la Bastille
Paris IV
France

Phone: +33 1 4272 8772

Reservations by phone only

Website


Bofinger is two things. Firstly - a tourist trap stuffed with out-of-towners who've heard it's the oldest and coolest restaurant in Paris. Secondly - the oldest and coolest restaurant in Paris.

Half the people eating there are name-searchers. The other half are names.

Isn't that Johnny Halliday?

Isn't that the French Prime Minister?

Isn't that his mistress?

It's that sort of place. Out-of-date, ancient, irreconcilable with modernity, yet loved by all. (And it's pronounced boh-fang-jay.)

The food is classic, the service stuffy, the décor just what you'd expect from a restaurant in the oldest arrondissement in Paris, a place that has been going since the French revolution. Specialities are choucroute, onion soup and foie gras - that's how traditional it is. And In 1864, the year phyloxera decimated France's vineyards, Bofinger installed the first beer pumps in Paris.


I went last year with Philipe Boland. Forty years ago Philipe was the booking agent who secured a week's residence at the the Bilbouquet Club for a group I managed in the 60s - Diane Ferraz & Nicky Scott.

Philippe has a wooden leg. He's also gay, and he rather fancied the band's drummer. One night the group played on this weakness by tempting him into the hotel bar and getting him so drunk he had to stay over.

Philippe didn't get what he'd hoped for, but the group did. At 3am they crept into his room, stole his wooden leg (lying next to the bed), then went down to the lobby and rang the fire alarm.

Ten minutes later every guest in the hotel was outside on the pavement, except Philippe, who was crawling round the floor of his room searching for his leg. That we're still friends is amazing.

Anyway, he took me to Bofinger – as classic a French restaurant as this is a classic rock'n'roll story.


Bombay
Brasserie
London

145 Courtfield Close
London SW7
England

Phone: +44 20 7370 4040

Email reservations

Website


The Bombay Brasserie was the first of London 's up-market Indian restaurants.

Going for more 20 years, it still has the best atmosphere - tinkling pianist (but not too loud) great cocktails in the bar (Bombay Bellini being the best) and a spacious eating area with a big airy conservatory.

Every year I eat many good meals here, amongst them in the 80s, with Wham!, when we hit on the idea of making them the first Western pop group to play in China. And in the 90s with Brian Somerville, the publicist behind the Beatles at the peak of their success, who dropped his glasses into an urn of mulligatawny while I was interviewing him for Black Vinyl White Powder.

This year's best was with Martin Lloyd-Elliot, my favourite psychologist. His clients are mainly pop and rock stars struggling with the problems of fame and success.

"And one of them," he tells me on the way to dinner, "is the boyfriend of a politician who hasn't yet come out."


Like most Indian restaurants in the UK, the heat of the dishes is modified for local taste, but less than most places. Anyway, many classic Indian dishes aren't hot at all. Like sev patata puri, a starter as good as you'll ever taste. No matter that you can buy it in the streets of Mumbai for a few pennies, at the Bombay Brasserie it won't give you the runs.

Under the influence of food and drink Martin Lloyd-Elliot becomes delightfully indiscreet. Over giant prawns, baby lamb, curried duck and stuffed parata he reels off the secrets of his consulting couch. All hair-raising stuff - and the fact he won't put names to stories makes them all the more titillating.

To lubricate these tales we put away two bottles of red, the first being, from India, and surprisingly OK. Then the big revelation of the evening. An Indian sparkling white as good as anything being produced in California.

No, I take that back, the big revelation of the evening was Martin's final story. But that's something I can't repeat.


Brasserie Lipp
Paris

151 St Germain
Paris VI
France

Phone: +33 1 4548 5391

Email reservations

Website


The Brasserie Lipp has been there almost a million years. It might even be the first restaurant in Paris I ever ate at.

Today it remains as always, unchanged and unfaultable. Even though it allows no booking and one always has to queue, it's a cheerful queue that somehow never takes more than ten minutes to get to the front of. There's nowhere else in the world I'm prepared to wait like this but since even my poshest French friends don't seem to care I just have to grin and bear it.

Last March I went with Fred LeClerc, a time-warped American Frenchman.

"The whole point of this place," he told me as we were standing in line, "is its sheer old-fashioned Paris-ness – it's the original template for all other brasseries throughout the world."

Fred is American really, but had a French grandfather who gave him his name and passed on the language. In the 60s, when he was forty, he walked out of the boardroom of American big business.


"I just couldn't be bothered anymore."

He threw away millions in share options and settled for a severance allowance.

"I was going to write poetry," he said, "but I never quite got round to it."

Fred's such a connoisseur of life his days get lost with reading the papers, seeing friends, eating out and talking knowledgeably on everything under the sun. He's now in his early eighties, as unchanged as the Brasserie Lipp itself.

I had navarin d'agneau; he had a cassoulet.

I described the Thai political scene and he explained the complexities of the Parisian mayoral system.

For desert we both had tarte aux pommes and talked about American poets - from Whitman to Ginsburgh and Ferlinghetti - then ordered Pernod.

Around us the Brasserie Lipp buzzed efficiently - like another era - a film-set of le Paris ancien.


Browns
London

Brown's Hotel
Albermarle Street
London W1
England

Phone: +44 20 7493 6020

Email reservations

Website


In the 70s I managed a punk group called London. They trod in dog shit outside my apartment before coming upstairs and putting their feet on the coffee table.

After six months I discovered I was being had - they were all as posh as could be. The singer, Riff Regan, turned out to be called Miles Tredinnick, and his father was something high up in the Royal Air Force.

Since then Miles has become a TV scriptwriter and he recently emailed me to say he had an idea for a play.

“Along the lines of ‘Jeffrey Barnard Is Unwell’," he explained, "a series of anecdotes about your life, and you'll be played by a well-known actor.”

At first I wasn’t sure about it but when Miles suggested lunch at Browns it began to sound pretty good.

Although its decor is hopelessly out of date (a sort of prehistoric green), Browns has become the bastion of posh politicians and aging film stars. _


A hundred years ago this was the place where posh people had their naughty weekends. But the important thing about Browns is they do an awfully good lunch.

There's meat on the trolley and a pukka wine list. In a little under four hours we demolished a shoulder of lamb, a bottle of Monrachet, two bottles of Margaux and eight glasses of 1947 Armangac.

I can’t recall what we said about the play but the meal was most enjoyable and with regular lunches to discuss its progress, perhaps the play should be kept for writing rather than performing.

In the 80s I had a similar experience with Graham Chapman. For two years we had regular lunch meetings on the pretext of writing a musical based on the Jeremy Thorpe case (gay Liberal Leader in court on conspiracy to murder - brilliant story and should be revived).

If Miles is silly enough to get his play about me finished, we might revisit the Thorpe story to justify continuing our lunches. Hopefully at Browns.


Brunos
Pattaya

Chateau Dale Plaza
Thappraya Road
Pattaya
Thailand

Phone: +66 38 364 600

Email reservations

Website


Bruno's had a reputation as the best restaurant in Pattaya. I used to go there a lot but nowadays you're more likely to find me in Au Bon Coin or Mata Hari, two of the restaurants that have eclipsed it. In all of these, I can live by the sea in Thailand yet eat oysters from Sydney, foie gras from Gascony, and lamb from New Zealand.

In 2008, when Bruno's was still at its best, an Italian Michelin-starred chef come to cook for a month. He made some amazing dishes, like black angel hair pasta with lobster for just $6 US. On the first night of this month of feasting I went with two local friends, Hugh Spring and Michael Lowe.

Hugh arrived with a bottle. "A Hunter Valley masterpiece," he said proudly. "Smuggled by the Thai navy."

Hugh often gets angry about corruption in Thailand. "A permanent rip-off by people in high places", he says, "depriving ordinary Thais of their share in the country's wealth."

Fortunately, when it comes to good wine he sets aside his principals and buys from a posh naval smuggler.


Bruno's owner, Fredi, sometimes lets special customers do things like this, so he didn't charge us any corkage. Which was shrewd. For having helped Hugh drink his priceless (smuggled) bottle of red, Michael and I felt duty bound to match it with a couple of equally good bottles from the wine list.

Michael had just had an operation on his prostate. He told us he had a catheter coming out of his woodle with a collection bottle. Hugh said, "The wine's wasted on you. You're pouring it in at the top and it's flowing right out the bottom. Why not pour it back in the carafe for Simon and me to drink?"

While Michael considered this bizarre proposal I ordered another bottle of the wine we'd moved on to. And as always with us, the cost of the evening rose.

It's as if, despite Thailand's restaurants costing half of the equivalent places in Europe or America, we feel it our civic duty to get the bill as near to London or New York prices as we can

Daft, isn't it – but very enjoyable.


Caprice
London

Arlington House
Arlington Street
London W1
England

Phone: +44 20 7629 3329

Reservations by phone only

Website


I first ate at the Caprice in the early 60s. It was the restaurant actors went to - Noel Coward, Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood - anyone in a current West End play was likely to be there.

At that time it was decorated with plush burgundy banquettes in velvet and had little candelabras on the wall. It was all but impossible for someone who was no-one to get in; and that was me.

At the time I was working in the cutting rooms at Elstree as an assistant editor so I got the studio secretary to phone and make the booking.

"For two very special people," she told the Maitre'd, intimating it might be for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who were working in the studios at the time.

In fact, I was taking my boyfriend for a birthday treat and we ended up being seated next to Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright both of whom nodded nicely at us as we were shown to our table.


Today the Caprice has no plush velvet. It’s slinky and sleek with black and white photos and discreet pools of light on each table. At the end of the 70s it was taken over and revamped by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King and during the 80s it became THE restaurant in London for media people and faces.

Partly because of the amosphere and partly because of the food, I ate there two or thee times a week for nearly ten years. But my only visit this year was when Yo and I were in London in May.

In 20 years the place is unaltered - the decor, the atmosphere, the food, the service and the front-of-house staff. In other words, it’s as good as anywhere can be.

We both ordered the same thing – oysters followed by rack of lamb. The cocktail piano tinkled, we chatted and laughed, the food was superb, the evening perfect.

That’s the Caprice for you. Any time we make it to London we know it's there waiting for us. Most reassuring


Casa Pascal
Pattaya

485/4 Moo 10
Second Road
Pattaya
Thailand

Phone: +66 38 723 660

Email reservations

Website


Casa Pascal was once one of Pattaya's best, but it's standards have faded badly.

Pascal himself is capable of coming up up with food of real brilliance, but he rarely does these days. Still, a few years ago, when it was running better, the restaurant provided me with one of the best meals I've had in this town.

It was at its Sunday brunch - lobster, oysters, salmon, steaks done to order, a selection of Thai food, deserts and good cheese, complete with a glass of Proseco, all for 850 baht (a little over £15).

One Sunday in 2007, Yo and I went with my brother-in-law, Reg. We were joined by Michael Lowe (whose apartment Yo was decorating), and Hugh, our voluble Australian friend. Michael was discussing the electrics Yo was installing in his flat and wanted to draw a plan of them on his napkin.

"Give it a bloody rest," Hugh groaned, snatching the napkin and saving Yo the tedium of a working lunch.


But within seconds Hugh moved from saviour to villain. He started talking about golf. Earlier in the week he'd played with Michael and Reg and they began to re-hash the game. Lunch was heading for my list of all-time boring occasions.

Then came a lifesaver.

At the next table were a group of Koreans, members of the Seoul Opera who the night before had given a concert at the Royal Cliff Hotel. Suddenly they decided to sing for their supper (lunch, actually!)

It was magic. Thirty minutes of arias from six feet away. Relaxed and well-fed they sung with a sense of pleasure which projected itself to everyone in the restaurant.

By the time they’d finished, golf was forgotten and the talk moved on to more sensible subjects, like sex, and good food, and 'how about we order some more wine to go with the desserts'.

One of the year's great lunches!!


Cipriani
Lisbon

Lapa Palace
Rua Pau Da Bandeira
Lisbon
Portugal

Phone: + 351 21 394 9494

Online reservations

Website


Estoril hadn't lived up to expectations.

On the second day of our holiday the concierge at the Hotel Palacio looked meaningfully at Yo and me and said, "I think your type would be more happy in LIsbon. Stay at the Lapa Hotel."

We weren't sure what aspect of our character he'd presumed to have understood, but now, looking at the dingy area of Lisbon he'd directed us to, we began to worry that the hotel would turn out to be a cheap orgy house.

We were driving through a slum built on a hill, but as we came to the top of the last narrow street we realised that what the concierge had recognised in us was a lust for pure luxury.

In front of us the Lapa was perched on Lisbon's highest hill, a sybaritic palace, a lookout tower for the whole city, with luxuriant terraced gardens falling back down on the opposite side of the hill to the one we'd just crawled up in our hired Renault. It was everything we could have hoped for but inside there was better to come.


We walked into a cool marbled lobby. On the far side, under an awning of gold and white striped canvas, was a terrace that looked over Lisbon as far as the eye could see. It was laid out with an Emperor's feast - an orgy of food of every conceivable type.

The tables beckoned temptingly. White tablecloths and crystal wine-glasses sparkled in the sunshine. Handsome waiters stood by waiting for the nod from us to prepare a place.

We started with Muros de Malgasco, a vinho verde, accompanied by a skewer of roasted scallops with three huge crayfish lying across them. Then we had sea bass in a crust of salt and lamb from Tras Os Montes with a soft Portugese red - Casa Ferreirinha 1994.

There were desserts too - naughty, sticky, honey-coated, cream-covered, and totally delicious. A lunch of pure decadence.

Made all the more so by the thought of the cool room and crisp afternoon sheets that awaited us.


Daniel
New York

60 East 65th Street
New York
NY 10021
USA

Phone: +1 212 288 0033

Online reservations

Website


I ate here with Kurt Loder. For years Kurt wrote for Rolling Stone but now does news for MTV. He’d just given my American publishers a great quote for the front cover of I'm Coming To Take You To Lunch, so I owed him one.

There was plenty to talk about but that was difficult because we made the mistake of choosing the tasting menu.

“Which one?” the waiter asked.

“Is Daniel Boulud in the kitchen?" I asked. "Because... if he is, ask him to create the tasting menu he himself would most like to be served.”

It was delicious, but had all the faults a tasting menu always has - too many dishes to remember and too many interruptions as they came.

Foie gras terrine with Sauterne jelly. Peeky toe crab with Granny Smith apples. Butternut-Kabocha soup with huckleberries. Paupiette of sea bass. Broiled squab breast. Grain-crusted venison.


Now, I can't remember the taste of any of them. But I do remember that their deliciousness pushed me to a rash choice of wine and the evening sank into a sybaritic mist of self-indulgence.

We were eventually lifted out of it by Daniel Boulud coming to our table to see if we’d enjoyed ourselves. "We have," I told him, and Daniel seemed pleased to hear it.

Some people are scornful of his restaurant being awarded two Michelin stars, but I don't see why. This place beats Sketch (its nearest equivalent in London) hands down for a comfortable relaxing atmosphere. Sketch is far too stiff.

For me Daniel is amongst the best in New York - both the food and the feel of the place. But don't choose the tasting menu - it's just too intrusive.

Tasting menu or not, if you’re going there you'd better be ready to cough up at least a thousand dollars. Quite a splurge!


Daphne's
London

112 Draycott Avenue
London SW3
England

Phone: +44 20 7589 4257

Online reservations

Website


Daphne's first opened in the 60s.

Daphne was an inventive cook, a sturdy woman who wore a monocle and raced cars. Somewhere along the line the restaurant changed hands and Daphne disappeared.

For a while in the 90s Daphne's rose to be London's top celebrity restaurant, even outdoing San Lorenzo. But now it's less frenetic and more comfortable. Because of its large airy skylights it's particularly suited to lunches.

At the back is a glassed-in terrace and it's here that the poshest lunchers gather. Daphne's food is impeccably contemporary – extra virgin olive oil all over the place, the fish as fresh as can be, the tuna barely seared, the prawns with a touch of Thai spice.

And there's champagne everywhere too – usually pink and consumed by people who make their own money. Last year I ate a Saturday lunch with Ministry of Sound supremo James Palumbo and his young lady sidekick Taptin who's from Thailand.


Their's is a weird relationship – tied to each other for life, it seems, but not an item in your usual sense. (Taptin even has approval over his girl-friends.)

James was in huge good form. “Would it be a good idea,” he asked, “to invest in a top-end apartment in Bangkok? We were thinking of something around a million pounds.”

(In London thse days that doesn't get you much. But in Bangkok it can buy you a palace.)

“Why not?” I said, “If you've got a million to throw away, go ahead and do it. What sort of property is it anyway?”

It turned out to be a penthouse on the twenty-fifth floor, overlooking the river, with its own Olympic-size swimming pool and some fifteen or so ensuite bedrooms.

“For Taptin,” James explained. “A little something for her retirement.”

That's the Daphne's lunch crowd for you.


Eki
Tokyo

Four Seasons Hotel
Pacific Century Place
1-111-1 Marunouchi
Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo
Japan

Phone: +81 3 5222 7222

Online reservations

Website


For me, Eki is currently one of the world's top 50 restaurants, impeccable in every way, the cuisine a perfect fusion of Japanese and French, the service a perfect balance of subtle and indulgent.

Yo and I were in Tokyo for only two days and doubted we'd get a booking, but the restaurant's high prices make it more popular in mid-week when most of its customers can charge it as a business expense. So on Saturday evening, although we called at the last minute, we managed to get a table.

It's in the Four Seasons hotel in Maranouchi, a little hard to find, tucked away in a vast shopping plaza. Even as you enter it oozes perfection - the elegant understated décor, the perfect low key lighting, the equally perfect low-key staff, yet none of it intimidating - like being gently massaged in a marvelous health club.

The tables are laid with knives, forks and chopsticks flying out sideways from the plates even further than the grandest European restaurants.


The dishes are French or Japanese or a combination of both - kobe beef carpaccio, zuwaigani crab cakes with spicy Italian sauce. Every dish was mouthfuls of magic. And the wine waiter was like meeting a friend - quietly talkative when we wanted him to be, nowhere to be seen when we didn't.

It's extraordinary. If a restaurant aims at this sort of thing and gets it wrong, even slightly, the whole thing ends up stiff and uncomfortable. But when a superstar place like Eki gets it right you enter another world. You find yourself sitting and eating and talking on a different level. In one sense, acutely aware of your surroundings, in another almost oblivious to them.

Even the arrival of Ozzy Osbourne and his entourage did nothing to disturb the peacefulness. In fact the beauty of the place seemed to have a medicating effect on Ozzy who behaved perfectly.

For Yo and I this was the last day of a three week trip eating our way round the world. It couldn't have been a better finale.


Fiskekrogen
Gothenburg

Lilla Torget 1
Gothenburg Place
Sweden

Phone: +46 31 10 10 05

Online reservations

Website


Just Yo and me for dinner when we went to Fiskekrogen.

We were in Gothenburg for the christening of the first son of one of my ex-boyfriends, Donvaon. Yo was to be the godfather.

We arrived in Gothenburg the day before the christening and went off to see what was on offer. Fish was what everyone said we should have and Fiskekrogen the place to have it. Pretty pricey, but worth every penny (or whatever it is the Swede's have a hundred of in every Kroner).

The impact of the place was unique - an old building from which nothing had been taken away yet contemporary in a way only the Swedes can accomplish - original wooden ceilings set off by sheets of thick coloured glass - traditional yet intensely modern. Worth coming just to see the place.

The wine list looked good too. I ordered a bottle of Chassagne Monrachet and the waiter suggested Swedish caviar to go with it.


"Not very delicious," I told him after I'd tried a few mouthfuls. "How comes it's the same price as Oscietra?" (which I'd also noticed on the menu).

“It comes from tiny fish”, he explained. “The small amount you have comes from about twenty of them - all done by hand.”

In that case the price was hardly surprising – what with Swedish labour costs and twenty fish to be stripped of their ovaries for each plate eaten. I mean, with caviar it's just one big sturgeon and 'slooshh', out falls enough for fifty helpings. Anyway, for the next course I gave up on fish and had veal osso buco while Yo had sea bass.

At the next table an annoying group of wine buffs were drinking their way through some Burgundy, ostentatiously shaking and sniffing their glasses at each sip. It was so annoying I got tempted into quelling them by ordering the best Romanee Conte.

Oh, these spontaneous reactions! Even now I'm afraid to tell Yo what it cost.


Fook Lam Moon
Shanghai

Shangri-La Hotel
33 Fu Sheng Road
Pudong
Shanghai
China

Phone: +86 21 6882 8888
ext.6490

Online reservations

Website


The Shangri-La hotel is on the ‘wrong' side of the river, but that's a plus. It means the picture window in the Fook Lam Moon restaurant (a Chinese as posh as they come - exquisite décor, perfect silverware, bone china, glassed-in wine room) looks across to the 'right' side of the river - old Shanghai.

If the setting is perfect, the food takes it even higher - salt-roasted prawns, succulent soft-shell crab, rice baskets of crispy duck skin. Yet I got so lost in conversation I hardly noticed it.

I was with a Chinese man who for fifteen years had been the manager of a local punk-rock radio station. His tales of how he'd coped with the Chinese government before they ‘loosened up' were riveting.

"We had a spy amongst the radio station staff - an informer who was leaking internal memos to the secret police - but we couldn't decide who it was."

Finally they realised it must be the person most above suspicion.


"In the CIA," he explained, "if a spy is needed for a specific job, they find someone already in the right location - the head of Coca Cola in Moscow, the chairman of Ford in Caracas. But the Chinese use the reverse method."

A Chinese spy will be trained in a specific job with a view to infiltration. For instance, a spy destined for a punk rock radio station will be given a university education in the subject. Because of this it eventually became obvious to my friend who their spy was.

"He was the person with the greatest knowledge of punk music."

But in the end they decided not to get rid of him.

"We enjoyed his record collection too much."

This story took my mind off what I was eating, so in the evening I went back again by myself with a book and was reassured.

The food was as fantastic.


Foreign Corres. Club
Hong Kong

2 Lower Albert Road
Central
Hong Kong
China

Phone: +852 2521 1511

Reservations by phone
(for members only)

Website


There’s no way the Foreign Correspondents club in Hong Kong is going to get into a list of great restaurants. The bar and restaurant area is just a big untidy room with wooden floors and clattering chairs. But this is THE place in Hong Kong for newsy media-oriented expats to meet.

On this trip I met Neville Sarona, Hong Kong's most feared criminal barrister, the son of 1920s British pop singer, Leslie Sarona. On night's off Neville croons like his dad with a local jazz band, a great big smile on his face. Just a pussycat really! And then there's the bar-owner whose grandfather designed the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln. Now that's quite a calling card!

But the principal reason the FCC lept into my top 12 meals is because of Phil Whelan, a broadcaster with a talk show on Hong Kong radio. I’d just been on his show for an hour and we’d talked about everything from Wham! to Van Gogh, from the origins of rock to the beginnings of democracy in Hong Kong. And when it was over we still couldn’t stop talking so we went off to lunch.


But it wasn’t just Phil that put the lunch into my top dozen, it was the lamb vindaloo.

People often refer to vindaloo as a Madras dish simply because it’s hot. But a vindaloo doesn't necessarily have to be hot at all, and it doesn't come from Madras.

Vindaloo is a Goan dish and the name comes from 'Vigne d'Alho', a Portugese stew of ‘wine and garlic'. A correct Vindaloo is made principally with dried chilis, not fresh, and it’s this that gives you that next morning feeling of ‘fire around the bum’, a distinctive effect of dried chilis (fresh chilis being more likely to give you fire on the lips).

Some recipes for vindaloo use no chilis at all but only black pepper, which at the time the Portugese first came to Goa was a commodity more valuable than gold. But the real point is this - the vindaloo I had at lunch with Phil Whelan was world class.

And memorably fiery at the point of exit next morning.


Goya
Madrid

Ritz Hotel
Plaza de La Lealtad 5
Madrid 28014
Spain

Phone: +34 91 701 6767

Internet reservations

Website


I first ate here with Ray Singer 30 years ago when we were touring Europe doing deals for records we’d produced.

The hotel was so stuffy you had to wear a tie to walk in the garden and the restaurant was staffed by decrepit waiters in moth-balled dinner jackets. We twice caught our waiter nipping from a flask and when he flamed our crepes Suzette he poured the sauce over the tablecloth and set it alight. Another waiter rushed up with a fire extinguisher creating an exciting ending to a dull meal.

Earlier this year I went with Pepe Morillo who did marketing for EMI Spain in the 60s. We met back then when I came to Madrid with a new record by the Yardbirds.

After I'd played it he said, “I’m no good for judge music. I like sailors. I think the same way the sailor thinks.”

It was an odd thing to say, but after a moment I realised he meant salesman.Trained in marketing he felt unable to comment on A&R matters.


When I informed him of his mistake Pepe was mortified, but later when he'd got to know me better and his English had improved, he admitted he really did like sailors - and soldiers too - and airmen and policemen - in fact any man at all who wore uniform.

Pepe has a thrilling giggle. It soars gloriously but sometimes gets out of control. Since it's also wildly infectious I was worried our meal at the Ritz might take an awkward turn. But in the event, it was fine. At least no-one set the tablecloth on fire.

Actually, I’ve never been convinced by Spanish food. Although it's now come to be highly regarded, I still find it bland and oily. But for many years I’ve been a fan of the greatest Spanish wines.

The Ritz has them. And that’s what made the meal so good. Two elderly but magnificent brick-red Riojas – Rioja Alta 1970 and Marques de Rical 1958.

Not cheap. Not even reasonable. But accompanied by Pepe’s giggle worth every last peseta.


Ivy
London

1-5 West Street
London W1
England

Phone: +44 20 7836 4751

Reservations by phone only

Website


You can never go wrong at the Ivy; always star-studded and bustling, but never too loud to hear yourself talk. The menu runs from sausages to sauteed foie gras but my absolute favourite is baked cod with sticky toffee pudding for desert. But it's not really about the food - it's the place. It's about being there.

I've been there so many times that one meal fades into another; a continuous, long, happy memory. But one meal last year remains more in mind than most.

It actually started out at L'Escargot. Yo and I were lunching with Donavon, one of my exes, who these days divides his time between Sweden, where he lives with his girl-friend, and London, where he manages Boney M (still going strong after all these years).

Donavon is quite a character - slim, flamboyant and black - and he loves to dress up. I once met him on his way to a fancy-dress party dressed from head to toe in skin-tight black leather.

"An oil slick," he told me, before I could ask.


Yo and I got to L'Escargot early and were waiting in the bar when Donavon turned up looking as if he was about to walk the catwalk for Jean Paul Gautier. He was decked out in what looked like a metallic space-suit, purchased, he told us, the previous day from Versace at Harvey Nix for an obscene price.

Unfortunately Donavon's grand entrance was spoilt by someone else arriving in exactly the same outfit, which made the two of them look like they were taking time off from rehearsals for an episode of Dr Who.

Donavon stormed right out. Yo and I followed him and after a few phone-calls on the pavement the Ivy worked one of those miracles they sometimes pull off for old friends - a table for three in half-an-hour despite being fully-booked for six months ahead.

For the inconvenience he'd caused Donavon treated us to a gigantic number of oysters and an abundance of champagne. Which is why, though forgotten in detail, the meal remains so exceptionally jolly in my memory.


Jiang-nan Chun
Singapore

Four Seasons Hotel
190 Orchard Boulevard
Singapore

Phone: +65 6734 1110

Online reservations

Website


Singapore is awash with great eating places.

Jiang-nan Chun is the most upscale one serving traditional Cantonese food. If there's anyhing fusion about it it's just the sheer Western luxuriousness of the place.

For dinner there was me and Yo and Allan Soh. He was my boyfriend years ago but now is a best-friend to Yo as well as me.

Allan ordered us a banquet - lobster, duck noodles, three different fish, two huge crab, fried rice with baby squid the size of your fingernail, venison from Malaysia, speical guinea fowl from Fukkien province. The list was endless.

As we ate Allan regaled us with stories of his father's funeral. Chinese custom has it that the band in the funeral procession plays the deceased‘s favourite song. Allan's father's favourite was Jingle Bell Rock. And if that wasn't enough, he was a philanderer and had two separate families – a Chinese one (Alan's side) and a Malay one.


The two sides were about to fight tooth and nail over the will but it was unseemly to do so until the funeral was finished. Both sides had cars and speedy drivers waiting for them but for the moment they stood waiting at the graveside, apparently mourning, but actually tensed and ready to leave the second the first handful of earth was thrown over the lowered coffin.

In the middle of the ceremony Allan's older brother was taken short with the Singapore runs. There was no cover except for one tree which had the thinnest of trunks and very little foliage near the base.

Allan's brother had to climb to where the leaves became more luxuriant. As he sat perched in the tree the funeral finished and the rest of the two families high-speeded to their lawyer's offices leaving him trouserless and paperless.

Fortunately our meal gave us no such problems. We left in good humour and good health.

Bowel-perfect, so to speak.


La Brasserie
London

272 Brompton Road
London SW 3
England

Phone: +44 20 7584 1668

Online reservations

Website


In the sixties I once ate here with Ike and Tina Turner. Tina found a dead caterpillar in her cauliflower au gratin and leapt onto her chair screaming as if she'd found a live mouse - a foretaste of the dramatic stage star she was to become later in life.

Fortunately the standard of cleanliness has moved on with the times and caterpillars are nowadays banned from the establishment.

The Brasserie is the most French place in town. Open from breakfast to late evening, you can breeze in at 4.30 in the afternoon and still get a full lunch.

Like any good Parisian brasserie it has oodles of fresh sea food laid out on ice – sea bass, lobsters, jumbo prawns and oysters. And it serves beautiful lamb flank with heaps of flageolet beans. Or cassoulet. Or saucisses de Toulouse.

Last year I ate there with Candi Staton, whom I was managing, when she was in town to do a show with Nile Rodgers and Chic.


As we came in the door Adam Faith was just leaving and gave me a nod. "Hi Simon, I'm just off." He'd had a by-pass not long before so I guessed he'd been nibbling at something healthy. Though not healthy enough, because next day he had a heart attack and died.

I liked Adam. For years he ran his financial consultancy from the cafe at Fortnum & Mason, arriving every morning at ten and staying till four. I often popped in for a cream tea just as we was leaving. "Hi Adam". "Oh, Hi Simon, I'm just off." Only this time he really meant it.

I had the seafood platter, French style, oysters piled high on ice with prawns and cockles and crab. Candi had plain grilled sea bass and her daughter, Cassandra, with whom I have a running waistline competition, had a steak, similarly plain. Mainly Cassandra likes dessert and she followed her steak with a correctly crunchy tarte aux pommes.

I was too full to eat one so I teased her and called her a fatty. I didn't tell her I was taking one home in a box for later.


Laris
Shanghai

3 The Bund
Shanghai
China

Phone: +86 21 6321 9922

Reservations by phone only

Website


Laris is at Three on the Bund, a historical building from Shanghai's colonial days now converted into five restaurants, an art gallery and two bars.

The art gallery is well worth a pre-dinner visit and the night I went it had an exhibition by contemporary Chinese artists working in wood.

Laris iteself is a classic modern dining room and a seafood bar with small private dinning cubicles. I was taken there by Will Hua, typical of the new type of Chinese entrepreneur, an expert in product flow.

At 29 Will is the youngest Chinese marketing director of a major European company. He also consults for American corporations and runs his own company providing guides for visitors.

At most of the high-priced European restaurants, it's these young, upwardly-mobile Chinese who fill the tables, and at Laris someone more mobile than us had arrived first and usurped our booking.


We were told we would have to wait or sit at the bar. We chose the bar and watched the parade of dishes that left the kitchen for the dining-room.

After a while Mr. Laris himself appeared and told us his food represented 'freedom from ethnic labels'. He claimed to be the creator of some of the world's most beautiful dishes. Considering the thousands of other good restaurants in the world I thought he might be overestimating himself. Anyway, for my starter I chose rock oysters, plain and simple.

Seeing his disapointment, I made up for it by moving on to one of his trademark dishes - seared scallops on a parsnip mash topped with oyster lemon foam.

The word 'foam' was hardly appetising. Even so, I pushed Gilette from my mind and focussed on the flavour. If this was one of the world's most beautiful dishes it deserved my attention.

As far as I remember it was OK. And it was certainly pretty. But I haven't the faintest recollection how it tasted.


The
Leatherne Bottel
Goring

The Bridle Way
Goring-on-Thames
Berkshire
England

Phone: +44 (0) 1491 872 667

Email reservations

Website


This is the most idyllic outside eating within driving distance of London.

It's on the Thames at a turn of the river in the countryside at Goring in Bucks. The riverside tables are on an un-raised terrace where the river flows at your feet. Ducks swim to the edge and climb out to inspect your shoes.

In front of you is water. On the far bank there's nothing but fields with not a building to be seen anywhere. On a sunny day it's as perfect a place as I've ever encountered - huge sunshades with spacious tables and comfortable chairs. Pure peace.

Last summer Yo and I went there with Tim Gee. We made a wrong turning on the way, got hopelessly lost and found ourselves forty miles away with thirty minutes until last orders which are at a quarter to two.

The roads were empty, the countryside beautiful and our rented car was a Mercedes CLK, so I went at it like a rally driver. Tim read the map and Yo hung on for dear life.


We arrived elated, as if we'd won some big event, but grumpy for having had to rush. What could the chef have to do at 1.45pm that was more important than cooking for us? But once they'd taken our orders and put some champagne in front of us our adrenalin started to drain away. We calmed down and began to relax. They'd even given us the best table, right by the water.

At the Leatherne Bottel the food has a Mediterranean touch - 'duck confit on lentils', 'tuna nicoise', 'fish with girolles' - so we chose a red from Provence.

There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the river flowed gently, ducks climbed out of the water to hunt for food round our feet. Last orders may have been a little early but no-one was rushing us now. We felt ashamed for having been edgy earlier.

We ordered cheese and another bottle of wine (with Yo holding back so he could drive us home). Then some Calvados.

The place is faultless, it really is. It's just those damned last orders.


Le Cirque
Mexico City

Camino Real Hotel
Mariano Escobedo
Mexico City D.F.
Mexico

Phone: +1 55 52 27 7200

Email reservations

Website


Le Cirque is in Mexico City's leading hotel, Camino Real, a classic of contemporary Mexican architecture.

It contains 400 works of art including a Tamayo mural at the main entrance and a sculpture by Alexander Calder dominating the lobby.

I ate there this year with Jorge Galvan, one of world's most interesting people, introduced to me over thirty years ago by Kit Lambert, the Who's manager, just after we'd eaten in this same restaurant (only then it was Fouquet of Paris).

Jorge was born of an impoverished urban family and got into every bit of trouble a kid could get into. At 16, realising he was gay, he began working the streets as a transvestite prostitute, then as a pickpocket.

He ended up in a high-security jail where he was abused and raped.

Later he was moved to an open prison where he managed to study law and got himself a degree.


Released, he started defending people who came from his own sort of background, charging them nothing, while slowly building a practice as a divorce lawyer.

"It was mainly American women. Their husbands had persuaded them to marry in Mexico saying it would be romantic. But the real reason the men did it was in case they one day wanted a divorce. Mexico's divorce laws are hugely biased in favour of men."

Thirty years ago, Jorge did something else that changed his life forever, he had a sex change.

So I wasn't eating dinner with Jorge at all, but with Juliana, an elegant sixty-year old woman, married (to another lawyer) and with two adopted children now grown-up and married.

As for the food, I almost forgot... We ate superbly. Although Le Cirque is a branch of the New York restaurant of the same name, I found the food way better in Mexico. If it's on the menu the night you're there try the rack of rabbit.


Le Columbier
London

145 Dovehouse Street
London SW 3
England

Phone: +44 (0)20 7351 1155

Online reservations

Website


Le Colombier feels more like Lille than London.

For the last few years this has been where I usually eat with Larry and Suzy Ashmore. Larry does movie scores. People like Miklas Rochla phone him from Los Angeles, hum a few bars of music and come to London three months later confident that Larry will have turned them into a movie score for which he (Rochla, not Larry) will win another Oscar.

Although Larry's now in his seventies, he's as much in demand as ever. But his biggest talent is for turning an ordinary meal into an event.

In June (as Le Columbier efficiently served us with Rotie de Lotte, Toulouse Sausage with Lentils and Rabbit with Cider Sauce), Larry recalled a trip to France.

"Suzy and I wanted to stop for lunch at a famous Michelin starred restaurant. To get there in time we had to drive flat out for three hours and we finally arrived with Suzy bursting for a pee."


Larry went to the table while Suzy sprinted for the loo, which was a strange one - dead in the centre of the room, like a cupboard jutting out into it. But inside, Suzy found the dreaded French footprints.

"I've had so many problems with them in the past I decided the best thing was to take off all my clothes."

She stripped off her dress and knickers and hung them on a hook on the door, but as she did so it swung open.

"I was standing there without a stitch of clothing, as if I was on a small central stage in the middle the restaurant. But worse than that, the damned door opened outwards."

To shut it again she had to step out of the toilet and grab it, which she did - stark naked.

"To huge applause from all the customers," Larry added.

(Le Colombier's loos, by the way, are clean and totally embarassment-proof.)


Masala Kraft
India

Taj Mahal Hotel
Apollo Bunder
Mumbai
India

Phone: +91 22 6665 3366

Email reservations

Website


Ahmit Ganesh is a friend from the fashion business, a super guy, bubbling with energy.

In March I was in Mumbai for the day so he whisked me off to dinner at ‘Masala Kraft’, the Indian restaurant in the Taj Mahal Hotel.

His whole family was there - thirty of them, a merry bunch, none of them averse to washing their food down with Kingfisher beer or Indian champagne. I can’t begin to tell you all we ate because it was more than fifty dishes, none of which bore any resemblance to dishes found in most Indian restaurants on Britain.

The truly memorable thing about the evening was Ahmit’s Mum.

Ahmit’s Dad died in a railway accident when he was nine and his mum brought up seven children on next to nothing. She’s called Leela, which means the Goddess Durga, a warrior lady who rode bareback on tigers. That’s Ahmet’s mum. She rode the dinner table too, feasted by minions.


Everyone there apart from me was either her child or grand-child or one of their spouses. Nobody could eat a thing till Leela had tasted it first. Keema and korma and curry and kebab - lamb tikka, prawn puri, chicken biryani and goat vindaloo. Never in my life had I seen someone eat so much, though from her ample proportions she seemed to have plenty of room for it.

Even more impresive, she laughed without stopping the whole evening. It was neither false boisterousness nor silly giggling, just genuine good nature. She was on a constant high about everything going on around the table. And everyone else laughed with her.

Her good-naturedness and substantial body-size cried out for her to be used in a food advertisement, Mama’s Favourite Chipatis or Auntie’s Special Dahl. I was surprised one of her sons hadn't fixed it for her and turned her into a media star.

I went to bed tipsy and overfed. But next day my mind was still swirling with good humour from the previous evening. Not something that happens too often.


Melisse
Santa Monica

1104 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica
California
USA

Phone: +1 310 395 0881

Online reservations

Website


Yo and I got to Melisse via the bar of the hotel Casa Del Mar. An elderly American couple, Joe and Barbara, latched on to us and insisted we join them for dinner.

Melisse is modern fusion-cum-French cuisine done with great seriousness. But the meal started stiffly. Yo and I aren't used to being picked up by elderly couples so to keep things moving we focused on the food – seared foie gras with roast peaches for me, followed by rabbit with cous cous. Yo tackled lobster a la nage.

A Californian pinot noir loosened things up and when Joe and Barbara started talking we began to realise why this straight-looking couple from Texas had made a bee-line for us and hijacked our dinner plans.

Their son Carl had been a green beret (or something like that), jumping into war zones by parachute during the Gulf war, going behind enemy lines, killing the enemy with a quick slit of the throat. A member of the most highly regarded forces in the US.


He was mid thirty-ish and unmarried so when he got killed in action his possessions were returned to Joe and Barbara

In a box they found a collection of love letters written to a Filipino boy he'd met in Saudi Arabia.

"When the boy went back home to the Philipines, Carl wrote him a letter every day," Barbara told us. "But he was afraid his letters might be opened by the military censors so he never dared send them."

"Isn't that just too terribly sad," said Joe.

It was. And since Barbara and Joe had never known Carl was gay there'd been the shock of that on top of their grief for his being killed.

Their mood was rather bearing down on us so Yo and I struggled to get them back to the subject of food.

Dessert. Sticky toffee pudding for four. Almost as good as the Ivy.


M on the Bund
Shanghai

5 The Bund
Shanghai
China

Phone: +86 21 6350 9988

Online reservations

Website


What embarrassment! I was giving a talk in Shanghai but arrived in Hong Kong minus a visa. I got it next day but reached Shanghai too late.

Michelle Garnault, who'd fixed the talk, suggested dinner with some people who’d hung on waiting. They needed entertainment so I told them about US lecture tours.

Michelle plied me with wine. Each sip was a summons to the wine waiter to top up my glass. He was attractive so I sipped frequently and my stories kept flowing.

When I finally stopped, people started chatting. A man said he wrote children's books.

“How long do they take?” I asked.

“Sometimes just a day,” he admitted. “Children's books have more pictures, bigger print, less pages.”

I sipped my wine and the waiter appeared - like rubbing a magic lamp to get a pretty genie.


A New Zealand couple told me they owned a book shop then said it was bedtime. The wine genie came and went. The children's author left to watch rugby on TV. It was already midnight but I thought I'd only been there ten minutes. I slid up table to join a PR guy and an Oxford professor, an Indian.

The genie poured more wine and the PR guy talked about schooldays. I sipped and was poured even more. The professor grumbled about racist Britain.

“They don't see me as British.

”But you're not,” I said. “And you’ve got an Indian accent.”

Offended, he left for bed. This must have taken two hours for it was now 3am. "Did I eat anything?" I asked Michelle.

"Crispy pig," she told me. Gosh - what else had I forgotten?

The genie was still ebbing and flowing. No doubt about it, M on the Bund is a brilliant place.


Moose's
San Francisco

1652 Stockton Street
San Francisco
California
USA

Phone: +1 415 989 7800

Online reservations

Website


We'd just driven back from a day in the Napa valley. I wanted an up-market joint in Little Italy with comfort and obsequious service. Yo disagreed. He wanted something contemporary with a bit of life.

We walked around looking until, too tired to object, he pulled me into a place I simply didn't want to enter. It was everything I hated – big, brash, welcoming, bustling, fun-filled and with live music.

But the music was jazz, and it was good. The place was so packed we had to sit on stools at a small high table. In the event, it was the best seat in the joint.

The restaurant was awash with chatter and music, too noisy to talk constructively to the waiter, so I yelled at him to bring some wine and today's specials - wild mushroom soup and pistachio-crusted lamb chops.

Half-an-hour later, with food and wine inside me the jazz seemed to rise to a new level.


“What d'you think of our band?” someone asked me.

“It's great,” I told him.

There was a lull between numbers and I asked the waiter, “Was that the boss?”

“No," he told me, "It was the mayor of San Francisco.”

Wow! I'd have liked to said more to him. He's somebody I really rate. Never mind, the jazz band was wailing again.

Yo was embarking on a huge chocolate pudding. I can't recall what I had for desert but I remember the band playing How High The Moon.

I ordered some brandy, I didn't want to leave, but Yo insisted.

So next time you're in San Francisco and think you're too tired to go out, whatever you do, don't succumb to your hotel coffee-shop.

Go to Little Italy and find Moose's, overlooking Washington Square.


Nobu
London

Metropolitan Hotel
19 Old Park Lane
London W1
England

Phone: +44 20 7447 4747

Reservations by phone only

Website


The afternoon we went to Nobu was one of those crazy lets-throw-some-money-away occasions. Well to be honest, at Nobu, it has to be, doesn't it?

It was Donavon and Anna and me and Yo. The last time we'd done one of these mad lunches had been at the Michelin tower in the middle of summer when we'd sat on the terrace till 5pm and knocked up a bill of thousands (well – about a thousand).

This time it was Nobu in winter. We were planning to be more abstemious, but Nobu has a way of making the money flow as freely as the wine I thought the chap at the next table was Chuck Berry but Anna and Donavon roared with laughter and said I was out of date. It was Morgan Freeman, an actor I'd never even heard of.

But I knew the faces of the New Labour MPs at the big table across the room from us and I was puzzled…


I mean, everyone knows MPs aren't paid enough to eat at Nobu. Visible corruption, that's the difference with these new MPs – no shame.

And then the food... Because our meagre portions of black cod made us feel saintly about the small quantities we were eating, we were tempted into an over-supply of wine. It flowed endlessly, as did the conversation, the jokes, the laughter...

...and finally the money - straight out of our pockets and into the till.

It's a delightful place, Nobu, but it can't be recommended if a set budget is in mind. You could easily take a weekend in Paris by Eurostar for the cost of a lunch here.

But even in Paris, you won't get anything more delicious than 'black cod in misu' or 'king crab claw with butter ponzu sauce'.


Normandie Grill
Bangok

Oriental Hotel
Oriental Avenue
Bangkok
Thailand

Phone: +66 2 659 9000 ext. 3380

Email reservations

Website


I once stayed in the Oriental for three months and ate lunch at the Normandie Grill every single day, alone with a book, or with my laptop, or just thinking, gazing down on the river-traffic twelve floors below – ferries, barges, river-buses.

It's impossible to tire of the perfection of the place - the view, the decor, the exqusite service. How can one not enjoy eating lunch knowing the Thai Prime Minister is in a far corner solving a crisis with the leader of the opposition when the press think they're not even talking to each other?

Last year I was lunching there when Anthony Wieler appeared from nowhere like something out of a Graham Greene novel. "Good heavens Anthony - where have you popped up from?"

"I was over there in the corner Lunching with the King's private secretary."

It's strange how Anthony knows everyone in Thailand. He doesn't even live there. His real expertise is Nepal whose language he speaks excellently.


But Anthony's that sort of person. Related to the British royal family, educated with members of the Thai royal family and called uncle by anyone of any status in Nepal. The Normandie Grill is full of people like that each day.

It's also famous for it's superbly trained staff. The day I met Anthony I was lunching with Bruno Forrer who used to be the manager. "One night we had Terence Stamp at one table and Malcom Forbes at another. They both took a fancy to the same young waiter and I had to discreetly fire him, right there in the middle of dinner. He was causing too much tension. I mean, it was his fault. He must at least have fluttered his eyelids at them."

Sounds tough, but that's the Oriental for you - perfect management plus perfect service. The hotel has been voted the world's best year after year after year. And the Normandie Grill, the best European restaurant in Asia.

It's my favourite lunch place in the world with its view of the river and everything that makes the East the East.


Patrick's
London

Stratford Road
London W8
England

Phone: +44 20 7937 6388

Reservations by phone only

Website


Originally this restaurant was called Stratford’s. It’s now called Patrick’s, after the new owner, but hasn’t changed a bit.

It serves mainly fish and is decorated in a way that reminds me of a seaside tea-room.

But the fish is anything but seaside tearoom standard - its superb. And so is its clientele. Totally varied - some, in their nineties, turning up for champagne lunches, which go on for a long time with a great many bottles, others popping in for Patrick's astonishingly good value lunch of the day, hardly more costwise than a Macdonalds meal but on a par foodwise with Sheekey's or Scotts and all the other top fish restaurants in London.

However, the reason the restaurant had to make it into my top dozen or so meals of the year was because is where Yo and I went with a few friends for lunch after our civil ceremony.

There was Donavon (my ex) and his wife Anna, and John Bryan, whom I met on the very same day I met Yo, seventeen years ago.


Donavon was meant to have been one of the witnesses at the ceremony but arrived late because he and Anna took their son to a nursery on the way. We used the Brent town hall gardener instead, which wasn’t quite the same.

With Donavon it’s hard to be unforgiving and besides, he was so upset. He'd even brought rice to throw over us after the ceremony (so perhaps it's a good thing he came later after all). Anyway, he was forgiven and the lunch was as merry as originally intended.

Fabulous fish and lobster, oodles of champagne, delicious desserts and lots of amusing chatter. Then brandies till we dropped. Which we did around 5pm.

That was pre-Patrick. We were worried standards might slip when Patrick took over but far from it. The food is better than ever, the charm of the place the same, and added to it that there is now the charm of Patrick too.

Patrick's is one of the most welcoming and best-value restaurants to be found anywhere in London.


Petrossian
New York

152 West 58th Street
New York
NY
USA

Phone: +1 212 245 2214

Reservations by phone only

Website


This is a caviar joint. It's also the place where Vicki Wickham and I most enjoy having lunch together whenever I'm in town.

Petrossian does superb main courses at most reasonable prices - seared salmon steak, calf's liver that melts in your mouth, roast organic chicken - so if you want to, you could eat here more comfortably and cheaper than most other places.

But that's not the point. This place is intended for eating caviar.

Mostly it's announced on the menu in ridiculous size portions, like two ounces, but ignore it - this isn't a place for economy, it's for indulgence. Slightly better is the $199 caviar sampler, Sevruga, Oscietra and Beluga - 25 grams each with a vodka chaser.

But for me, anything less than a hundred gram serving is not worth wetting your lips on.

One day last spring Vicki and I breezed in a little late. Not very; just after 2.30.


“Can't eat” the waitress said. “Kitchen's closed. Chef's left for the afternoon”

“But all we want is caviar” I told her, “why do you need a chef for that?”

“Oh dear,” the waitress wailed, “who's going to open the tin?”

And she was adamant – no chef, no caviar.

In England that probably would have been the end of it, rules are rules. But I had a better idea. There's a small counter at the entrance of the restaurant where caviar is for sale to take away. So I ordered the restaurant's afternoon tea complete with a pot of lapsong souchong and a couple of cucumber sandwiches Then I went to the counter and bought us a 250 gram tin of oscietra.

To eat it we used our teaspoons.

But don't get the wrong idea about the place, it's not usually so obstructive, it was just a bad choice of waitress on the day.


Poissonerie
London

Sloane Avernue
Chelsea
London
England

Phone: +44 20 7589 2457

Reservations by phone only

Website


Years ago this was the first restaurant in London to let you watch them prepare the food. There were three tables and a bar, and behind that was an open kitchen. It was the best seafood in London, and still is.

In the 60s I used to come here with Harry Scammel, the heir to a fortune made from lorries. Scammels were three-wheeled tractors that towed thirty-foot trailers and could pull them round in a U-turn right in the middle of the High Street. For fifty years they were the standard inner-city vehicle for heavy goods, even Harrods used them.

As a result, Harry wasn't short of a bob or two for Saturday lunch.

My bobs or two came from premature success in the music biz.

Together, we came here week after week for Saturday lunch, always promising to eat with restraint but never quite managing it; rolling home round five in the evening in need of a belated siesta to ready ourselves for Saturday night on the town.


And what did we eat? Twenty types of fish, oysters, mussels, lobsters, crayfish – with an excessive amount of wine to go with it.

Nowadays the open kitchen has disappeared and the original room has been quadrupled in size, but the same owners are in residence. The seafood is as fresh and perfect as ever, and whenever I'm in London it's a place I go regularly.

Last summer I ate there with Mikail Topalov. His company puts satellites into space and his son was in a group I managed. Mikail comes from Moscow and tends towards showing off. To go with our fish he ordered Le Monrachet, the best white wine in the world.

It was stunning. As was Mikail's unstoppable volubility, which seems to go better with reds than with whites.

Thinking back again, maybe I prefered the meal I had with Yo a couple of weeks later.

Shellfish platter with a bottle of house.


Prado
San Diego

1549 El Prado
San Diego
California
USA

Phone: +1 866 368 3773

Online reservations

Website


Prado is in San Diego. You'll have to forgive it for that, but once you get there it's quite pretty - a Spanish colonial house in well-tended gardens. But the inside is vile. Wrought iron artefacts and chunky furniture made of ancient wood, like the torture chamber at the Tower of London - not at all conducive to elegant eating.

I was there because of Jenny Lornstein. In 1966 she was the secretary of a man who hired sound equipment to me for a Yardbirds tour. We've occasionally kept in touch, and in LA on a Friday, with nothing to do till Monday, I decided on the spur of the moment to drive down and see her.

I should have known better! Someone I'd last seen as a sexy adrogenous eighteen-year-old willing to give me a blow-job, whom I now was meeting as a blue-rinsed sixty-year-old grandmother, was never likely to be anything but a nasty shock. And worst of all - she'd embraced religion.

Luckily, though, she'd also embraced alcohol.


With skilful additions to her wine glass and conversation that took us as far away as possible from the pleasures of God, I got through what might otherwise have been a difficult evening. It was my fortitude in the face of religion that made this meal so memorable. And I wasn't much helped by the food which was trash Americana.

Actually, my pork osso buco, though vast, was quite tasty. But why couldn't they call it by its name? Or even perhaps, 'SPECIAL pork osso buco'? Oh no! In keeping with the 'torture chamber' feel of the place, the menu garotted my eyes with the following...

“Knuckle of pork slow-roasted from three to four hours in adobo liquid featuring tomato, onion, thyme, beer, orange juice, and garlic among other things, then served over sweet potato-plantain mash, sautéed fresh white corn, tomato, zucchini, and cilantro and served with a tangy, avocado-tomatillo sauce."

Oh pleease! And what colour briefs was the chef wearing when he cooked it?


Sala Rim Nam
Bangkok

Oriental Hotel
Oriental Avenue
Bangkok
Thailand

Phone: +66 2 437 6211

Email reservations

Website


Simply the best possible place to bring a first time visitor to Bangkok, this is the Oriental Hotel's Thai restaurant by the river.

You sit at softly lit tables under tropical stars and rustling trees watching the passing river traffic and being served in that exquisite manner than only Thais can do.

This is royal Thai cuisine - unbelievably pretty on the plate. Though if your guests are not Thai, and if you don't ask especially, it might come a little less spicy than it should.

To match it is the Oriental's wine list from the Normandie Grill, probably the best wine list in Asia.

Despite this being the most superb setting and the food exquisite, it really won't cost you an arm and a leg, not, that is, unless you go mad on wines. One way to avoid doing that is to stick to cocktails which are better here than anywhere else in Bangkok. And the colours complement the food much more prettily than wine.


Last year I paid several visits to this riverside hideaway the most memorable being when Yo and I entertained my sister and her husband, Susan and Reg. Yet it wasn't quite the success it should have been because midway through dinner my sister fainted.

Waiters came running and she was carried to a wooden sala - a gazebo - where she was laid on a royal couch. Girls in sarongs arrived to watch over her - to fan her and apply cool cloths.

Reg and Yo and I went back to our table and ate. It was superb - the food, the atmosphere, the passing riverboats, the diligent waiters - a flawless evening. Except for poor Sue.

Shameless, weren't we? But it would have been silly to waste it! Besides, Susan was being royally looked after.

An hour later, of course, she was feeling perfectly well and rather hungry. So on the way back to their hotel, we stopped the taxi and gave her a midnight snack of duck noodles from a hawkers stall beside the road.


Savini
Milan

Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle
MIlan
Italy

Phone: +39 2 7200 3433

Email reservations

Website


Wonderful, classy Savini, in Milan's cathedral square – thick red carpets, cut-glass chandeliers and food that's classically Northern Italian. I first ate here with Ray Singer in 1966.

We were in Milan selling dodgy recordings to a local record company. On one of them, a cover version, we'd not been able to get the middle-eight quite right so we copied it from the original recording and edited it in.

The tempo was fractionally different and made a slight bump going into the edit and again coming out. We negotiated this difficulty by clapping the record executive cheerfully on the back as the track hit the edit.

"Great track, isn't it!"

Then another slap on the back as the edit section ended.

Two hours later we had a cheque, and that evening we gobbled it up at Savini. Last year, nearly forty years later, I went back again with Luciano Sotti, a painter of friezes and ceilings.


Years ago at a party for a pop group, I paid Luciano to decorate a room like the Sistine Chapel. The pop group got out of their heads and wrecked it with a food fight - a wonderfully blasphemous evening.

“Try the risotto al salto,” he told me. “It's grilled like a pancake.”

Frankly, I didn't like it as much as a regular risotto, but the rack of lamb that followed was exquisite. So was the Barbaresco Sori San Lorenzo, a wine I'd had only once before.

Best of all were the desserts. Savini is the place to revisit Italian classics. Tirimasu and zuppa Inglese get a whole new meaning, especially with a few glasses of Amaretto.

I got so pissed I invited Luciano to come to Thailand and paint murals on the walls of our new house. When I phoned and told Yo he didn't seem too happy. It didn't fit his minimalist ideas.

Never mind. Luciano was pissed too. Next day he couldn't remember a thing.


Sirocco
Bangkok

63rd flooor
State Tower
1055 Silom Road
Bangkok
Thailand

Phone: +66 2 624 9555

Online reservations

Website


This is the new Bangkok. The expensive Bangkok. Sirocco is on top of the State Tower at the river end of Silom Road, the most glamorous place imaginable. Sixty-five floors up you come out of the lift and into a lobby that leads to three restaurants and two bars. It's now the venue for an annual food festival which brings together as many as six Michelin starred chefs.

Of the three restaurants, Sirocco is the al fresco one, garnering breezes when at ground level it would be impossible to eat without aircon. A place for wealthy sons take mothers on birthdays, or lovers to go for their anniversary. But I ended up with Ed Shinklater.

Ed's a New Yorker. A soft-spoken intellectual whose presence reminds you that America is still one of the world's great centres of art and literature. He can do a monologue so stunning it's a pleasure to remain silent for an hour, or he can be a perfect listener.

The dinner, he said, would be on him. A big U.S. corporation had just agreed to fund an arts exhibition he was promoting.


They must have funding our dinner too because Ed started us off with truffle consomme and a bottle of Corton Charlemagne.

Before the main course Ed insisted we share a black pepper crab casserole, “to completely disorient the palate before we start the main wine”.

For our main courses there was a- tagine of chicken for me and white snapper with lentils for Ed. And then the big surprise. The sommelier bought a bottle of decanted Mouton Rothschild 1970, ordered by Ed ahead of time. Perfection beyond belief. We sipped and reminisced.

“What happened that year?” Ed asked.

“Let It Be,” I told him, “the Beatles last album."

"National Guardsmen shooting students at Kent State University," Ed said.

But really, nothing happened in 1970 that was more important than the production of the bottle of wine we were drinking.


Sketch
London

9 Conduit Street
London W1
England

Phone: +44 870 777 4488

Online reservations

Website


The food is by Paul Gagnaire and the place conceived by Mourad Mazouz, owner of Momo, London's home of Moroccan camp. But while Momo is positively thrilling to walk into, Sketch is rather gloomy. And not at all camp .

Sketch is reputed to be London's priciest restaurant – a set lunch with some house wine can cost a hundred pounds - but I was there with Hassan al Khalifa, a charming chap from Bahrain who's philosophy is very much ‘in for a penny, in for a pound'. We chose the tasting menu – supposedly a snitch at ninety-five pounds for a dozen or so courses followed by six deserts.

What followed was a parade of dishes with exquisite taste but tiny proportion. The difficulty being; while my mouth was still reveling in duck foie gras papillote I was being told that what was now in front of me was chestnut veloute with beetroot jelly. And by the time I was ready to eat it I'd forgotten what I'd been told. In the end, I decided tasting menus are just too annoying. The waiter's non-stop intrusions kill conversation, and the endless different flavours stop the wine from settling into a balance with the food.


Earlier, when we'd arrived, to get some wine on the table quickly we'd ordered Puligny Montrachet. This gave us some breathing space to talk reds with the sommelier who got us into a discussion on whether the Malbec grape could ever be the basis of a truly great wine.

‘Yes', he said, and to convince us suggested a bottle of Finca el Retiro – Argentina's best.

We took his advice and I enjoyed every last sip, but I still think I'm right – it was good but not 'great'. Not really ‘serious'.

To follow we had d'Yquem, which was serious and great, as were the deserts, all six of them, though I only remember Campari jelly with apple sorbet.

And the price? Six hundred pounds, but that's not what made it memorable, nor was it the food. It was a magnetic androgenous girl downstairs in the bar with such an intoxicating smile that I stayed drinking with Hassan till two in the morning. Completley mesmerised.

Strange thing being gay.


Spago
Las Vegas

Forum Shops
Ceasar's Palace
Las Vegas
Nevada
USA

Phone: +1 702 369 0360

Online reservations

Website


I'm not a fan of Vegas, least of all of Caesars Palace, but Yo wanted to see the place and Caesars is as good an example as any of what it's all about.

We ordered a posh room and found it consisted mostly of a giant Jacuzzi with the bed, almost an afterthought, pushed away in a corner.

Not being gamblers, the main attraction of Vegas was shows, but on the first day we also took a helicopter to the Grand Canyon where it plunged into ravines and shot over towering cliffs blasting Ride of the Valkyres through our headphones.

“I'm scared,” Yo shouted over the noise.

“Don't be silly,” I yelled back. “This is America. These things are well regulated – safe as houses.”

But later over lunch the pilot told me, “We had three go down last year.”

We hadn't planned to see a show that night but on a sudden impulse we booked seats for the Folies Bergeres.


Surprisingly it was terrific, but when I went to the bar for two margaritas they had no cute tringular glasses with salt round the top. Just clear plastic cups.

"Is there any choice?" I asked.

"Sure", the barman told me. "A pint or a half pint."

On our last afternoon we went to Spago trying to pass two hours till we left for the airport. Unlike the LA branch, Spago in Las Vegas is not indifferent to classy decor, it was impressively stylish and subtly lit. But we still expected the food to be no more than average and were wrong. What we'd intended as a time-passing meal became one of the feasts of the year - white bean crostini with truffles, brochettes of poached Maine lobster, risotto of duck confit, roast ribs of beef.

We gorged ourselves thoroughly then went on to dessert, forgetting the time and missing our flight to LA.

For Spago, I suppose that's quite a compliment.


State Guest Ho.
Beijing

2 Fu Cheng Road
Beijing
China

Phone: +86 10 5859 0188

Reservations by phone only

Website


At one time or another this place has seen every conceivable head of state - alive, dead, deposed, assassinated or still serving.

Last year it saw me. And it was an extraordinary evening.

There was a truly bizarre bunch of people – a Chinese cabinet minister, a faith-healing Buddhist doctor, the head of the State record company, a princess from Tonga, the son of a British lord who ran Friday night at Heaven, a hot-shot fast-talking lady banker from Taiwan – I mean… with all those people plus a heap of drink, how could it not be worth remembering?

In fact this place is famous for recreating great banquets.

In 1993 it created the Feast of Complete Manchu-Han. Both Chinese and foreign guests were invited, and everyone was dressed up in Qing Dynasty costunes – one man was the emperor, there was his empress, the court officials and even a few concubines.


The banquet consisted of 130 dishes, some hot some cold and it took six eating session to complete. Three whole days of dinners and lunches with everyone having to dress up for each of them and play their part in the charade.

The food included bear paw, tiger's kidney, roasted deer, root of ginseng, hump of camel, sharks fin soup, softshell turtle and many types of fish skin.

By contrast, our meal consisted of only twelve course – a weird mix of Chinese and European – pickled fish lips and chicken's knees followed by seared tuna – river snails Schechuan style followed by filet steak – that sort of thing.

Plus a huge amount of wine.

For extra entertainment, the Hong Kong doctor gave an exhibition of faith healing. Not surprisingly, it worked for those who thought it would and didn't on those who didn't!

Who'd have thought it?


Toys Seafood
Baan Amper

Beach Road
Baan Amper
Sataheep
Rayong
Thailand

Phone not listed

No reservations

No website


On Sundays, film and TV stars come from Bangkok - even politicians – in chauffeur driven Mercedes, carrying bottles of Johnnie Walker Black and Chivas Regal.

They sit on plastic chairs at creaky tables on rotting planks resting on stilts above the sea. And the roof is nothing more than a rusting sheet of corrugated iron.

Toy's is in Baan Amper, a small village whose only industries are fishing and restaurants. The place next door is favoured by one of the royal princesses, and a restaurant further along has its tables on the sand at the sea's edge.

But Toy's is the one with the in-crowd. The food is marvelous, the fish alive until cooked. And you can have it anyay you like - grilled, steamed or deep-fried - served plain or with Thailand's famous three-flavours-sauce – garlic, onion and chili. Or try sweet-&-sour fish Thai style, not so much a sauce as a hot fruit barbecue slung over the top of a fried garoupa or snapper.


If you want shell-fish, there's oysters from Rayong and magnificent prawns. But my favourite is the rock lobsters, known to Thais as gahng. Slit them in half, grill them lightly, dip them in lime and chili fish sauce and.... Perfection!

When I'm in residence in Pattaya I come here over and over again, usually for Sunday lunch. And this is a place to bring your own wine because there's no corkage charge.

Last year I came with Gerry Downes, my wine-buff friend from Manchester. He'd arrived a week earlier with two bottles of '64 La Tour that he'd bought in auction at Sothebys. He said we should drink them at the best restaurant in town. I chose Toy's.

We ate oysters, sweet cockles, lobster with lime sauce, steamed sea-bass with lemon grass, six small soft-shelled crabs and two enormous hard-shelled ones. We gazed at the sparkling sea under the clear blue sky and were taken to heaven by the wine.

And we were given a bill for twelve quid.


Villa Christina
Zakynthos

Limni Keri
Zakythos
Greece

Phone: +30 2695 049 208

Online reservations

Website


Eating at Villa Christina isn't open to just anyone.

Bobbi Marchini runs a fine, secluded hotel of chalets and apartments in a wooded enclave on the island of Zaykynthos, but she doesn't cook for guests except when they're friends. And then… Well does she cook!!!

Thirty years ago I was in Australia producing records. One of the people I produced was Bobbi, a little girl from Tasmania with a big belting voice like Aretha. In the studio we got on extraordinarily well, and a couple of times extended this to having dinner. On one occasion we took our getting-on even further with a rather fine kiss. But it stopped there. And we've stayed lifelong friends.

On my final day of three staying in Bobbi's hotel, during which we'd eaten out every night and consumed prodigious amounts of champagne, Bobbi decided I needed a royal send-off and that Sunday lunch would be at the Villa Christina. It would be a Zakythos speciality - coq au vin.


These days, finding a good cock isn't easy, and coq au vin can be made of nothing else. It takes five hours in the pot and a chicken will fall apart. Luckily Zakynthos has the finest cocks ever seen - huge sturdy beasts, five times the size of the chickens they service.

Around breakfast time Bobbi went out and purchased (or poached) one of these fine birds, and finding strength in a glass of leftover red, wrung it's neck, gutted it and readied it for the pot.

What came out five hours later was a masterpiece. Had Michelin been in Zakynthos that day, Bobbi would now be starred and listed. We gobbled it down to the wishbone accompanied by the last of the weekend's champagne (not as meagre as it sounds - we still had four bottles) yet still made it to the airport in time to catch my flight.

Apart from my own unassailable charms, I'm not sure what else Bobbi is susceptible to. If you can find out and give it to her, you too might be invited to partake of the finest cuisine Greece has to offer.


Westin brunch
Shanghai

Westin Hotel
Bund Centre
88 Henan Central Road
Shanghai
China

Phone: +86 21 6335 1888

Reservations by phone only

Website


I walked into the Westin and was confronted with a sight of sheer kitcsh madness. The hotel had an atrium of five floors. On one side was a magnificently vulgar double staircase, like those that descend to dining-rooms in ocean liners, except that this one descended from five floors and was made of glass, lit up inside and changing colour every ten seconds - red, blue, purple, green, orange.

The other side of the atrium had four levels of seating, like the seats of an opera house - stalls, grand circle, balcony, upper balcony. Usually these were four restaurants - a ground flooor bar, the first floor coffee shop, an Italian restaurant on the second, a Chinese restaurant on the third.

But for Sunday lunch they'd been turned into a vast communal eating area where the new business elite of Shanghai sat with their families - champagne on the house. Behind laden tables they sat staring through the fronds of fifty-foot palm trees (all fake, of course) towards a show taking place on the glass stairway.


On the first floor landing was a string-section of slender Chinese girls dressed in white chong-sum. On the landing above were other members of the Shanghai symphony. In front of them was a diminutive Chinese tenor in an ill-fitting grey suit singing opera the like of which could not be bettered anywhere in the world.

His voice was Pavarotti or Domingo but he didn't have presence. To be a first-rate star of opera you need to be Italian, not for operatic training but for swagger. The Chinese simply don't have it, but my goodness the sound was wonderful.

The setting was magnificent too, as much as any great opera house. And although it was all in appalling taste, aren't most opera houses too? I mean, all that velvet and gilt!

What's wrong with flashing coloured glass stairways, fifty-foot faux palms and the nouveau riche in all their finery?

This is the new China. In the street outside, people are begging.


Wolseley
London

160 Piccadilly
London W1
England

Phone: +44 20 7499 6996

Reservations by phone only

Website


For years Chris Corbin and Jeremy King made going to the Ivy and the Caprice the best eating experiences in London. When they sold those two restaurants people thought an era was over, but they've now come back with another one.

Yo and I went to Wolseley with Tom Foley and his dazzling friend Islée, from South America. She's a banker, a devilish beauty and a fund of information on every subject in the world, from the insurance of Chinese aeroplanes to what underwear her current men friends are wearing.

Last week Islee is as likely to have been at a Rolling Stones concert in Rio as at a Prime Minister's meeting in Cambodia. She makes my own schedule of world-wide travel look hopelessly childish. I felt like a dull stay-at-home.

Islée was such a distraction that any serious analysis of the Wolseley as a good restaurant was impossible. The place sparkled, the waiters were efficient and the food arrived quickly.


But to be honest, it wasn't that good. My confit of duck wasn't remotely crisp and Yo, who'd ordered his lamb crispy and well done got it flamingo pink with the outside fat looking like a translucent sponge.

We hardly noticed. Or at least, we didn't bother to say anything. For at the centre of the evening was Islée. She even kept the impossibly voluble Tom Foley from speaking for a full two hours.

The architecture and lay-out of the Wolseley is most unusual - almost cathedral-like, with small unexpected corners and several small mezzanines. It was built as a show-room for Wolseley cars in the 1920s but the night we were there it was a show-room for Islée.

She stole our eyes and ears and completely seduced us. In other words, she rescued the restaurant from complaints we would have made had she not been with us.

Next time she probably won't be, so I hope they get things sorted out.