MICHAEL WINNER, who likes to attract the attention of tardy waiters by wildly waving his napkin, is becoming better known for his acerbic restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times than for the films he directs. Woe betide any hapless matre d' who can't instantly give the demanding Mr Winner the booking he wants - or doesn't instantly recognise him when he trumpets his way into the restaurant, elegant partner on his arm. He pulls no punches in his frequently cutting descriptions of food, decor and fellow diners. We asked restaurateurs who have suffered the Winner treatment to turn the tables and review his films.
Stephen Bull, proprietor, Stephen Bull's bistros
Winner on Bull: 'Hanging on the walls were a number of horrid photographs. They looked like a job lot from Frame Express. I guess Stephen Bull gave the decorator pounds 1.85 to do the place up and was given back change.'
I think history will be kind to Michael Winner, who is clearly evolving as a person and as an artist as time goes on. His oeuvre had largely passed me by. However the gaiety of a nation has been immeasurably increased by by his endearing wish to share with us details of his houses, his love life and even his underwear.
The action in his film of Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval is set in an English seaside town's operatic society and follows the melancholy, timid Jeremy Irons as he rises from spear carrier to hero. The plot is as flimsy as Irons's Yorkshire accent but is given substance by the ferocious character acting of a familiar cast - including Anthony Hopkins in pyrotechnic form as a manic Welsh producer and Prunella Scales simmering impressively as his disappointed wife. There were some satisfying farcical moments - including a joke involving a tug-of-war with Y-fronts by Jenny Seagrove and Scales in a boarding house restaurant - one of Mr Winner's favourite themes.
Alastair Little, chef-proprietor, Alastair Little restaurant
Winner on Little: 'Worthy of a Michelin star.'
I was shocked by Death Wish III. And I am not an easy person to shock. I could barely watch it without feeling nauseous. People tend to judge a restaurant by its mistakes - I will be charitable and assume that Death Wish III is Michael Winner's worst film to date and not indicative of his work (I really enjoyed Death Wish, it had plot, humour and believable characters.)
Death Wish III has little humour, even of the black kind, to make the film more palatable - it is an over-rich diet of maudlin patriotism, rape, pillage and violence. It lacks moral fibre, is brutal with the flavours, heavy handed with the seasoning, and the flambeeing of an old lady is excessive. It has virtually no redeeming features. Charles Bronson waddles through the action with dubious hair, and Gavan O'Herlay plays a suitably sickening villain.
The culinary equivalent of this film I can only describe as a salmonella-ridden dish served up in a greasy spoon. If I prepared a meal as bad as this I would put my head in an oven.
Geoffrey Gelardi, general manager, Conservatory Restaurant at the Lanesborough Hotel
Winner on the Conservatory: 'What I go through. How I suffer. Vanessa had asparagus soup. I tasted it, or rather non-tasted it. The flavour was nil. Guessing things would be in need of help I went totally mad and ordered a bottle of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1961 for pounds 499.'
Oh how I suffered] The moment that I heard the Tales-of- the-Unexpected-Meets-James- Bond music accompanying the opening credits of Dirty Weekend, I knew I was in for a dire evening. Guessing things would be in need of help, I opened a bottle of pounds 499 Chateau Lafite- Rothschild 1961 and settled down with my hot dog and popcorn.
This far-fetched story was about Bella, one of life's victims, who is jilted by her boyfriend, and then tormented by obscene phone calls. She decides she has had enough, and spends the weekend in a senseless orgy of violence, sex and murder, using hammer, knife, and finally graduating to a gun and wiping out three men in an alley.
I longed to keep my finger on the fast forward button. To coin one of Mr Winner's own phrases, 'it was so awful as to be indescribable'. One day Michael Winner's audiences, like Bella, will wake up andsay they've had enough.
Tim Herring, proprietor, Julie's Bar and Restaurant
Winner on Julie's: 'Pleasant without reaching any serious culinary standards. My beef stroganoff was pretty revolting, the butterscotch crepes could generously be described as adequate.'
I did not expect to like Michael Winner. Everything I had heard suggested it would be one of those evenings that leave a bad taste in the mouth. But in the end I was pleasantly surprised. I started with the Death Wish, which came wrapped in a delicate, innovatively dark filo of sex and violence, smothered by an over-rich and authentically bloody sauce. My companion had the Death Wish II - a mistake, as it was strikingly similar to mine, only more pretentious and expensive.
For the main course we both had - how could we resist - the Death on the Nile. One word of warning - it does take at least 90 minutes to cook. We washed it down with some yummy draught Kia-Ora. A mistake to go for 'surprise du chef' Dirty Weekend for afters.
The bill, with as much whining as we felt like, came to pounds 10. That's about 2 1/2 p for every dead body - a bargain.
British Rail's On Board Services Division
Winner on BR Catering: 'The dining car had First Class written on everything from seats to menu but of course it wasn't. The lamb was shrivelled, the strudels ghastly.'
Ask people to name a Michael Winner film and they will almost certainly mention Death Wish. Watching it, we realised that is what you need to sit through it.
We boldly entered the viewing room, brushing aside any attendants who dared to ask us who we were. After all, British Rail catering is as infamous as Michael is famous. But after only 15 minutes we were waving our napkins in the air in true Winner fashion - not to attract attention of any put-upon waiting staff, but in surrender.
For starters, Charles Bronson's life is ruined when his cutesy all-American family are brutally attacked by New York hoods. The main meat is then served up: in just a few days this middle-aged man, who has never before experienced inner-city crime, is mugged no less than five times. This miraculously turns our hero, previously a Korean War conscientious objector, into a fierce fighting machine with the abilities of a top SAS paratrooper. For dessert, Bronson, now hip and single, takes to wearing some of the most tasteless Seventies clothes seen on screen since The Persuaders.
The whole thing is served up on a bed of purest corn. This is fast-food film making and you can almost hear Winner crying 'You want muggers blown away? YOU GOT IT]'
WE WOULD like to make it clear that Mr Michael Winner did not direct Death on the Nile as we suggested on 21 August. Nor did Mr Winner write that Alastair Little's restaurant in London deserves a Michelin star. Mr Winner says that he thinks absolutely nothing about Alastair Little's food.