I was saddened when I heard of Michael Winners death this time last week. Many will only remember him for his silly, catchy insurance commercials but he led a life many of us would envy.
Never took himself seriously (he describes himself on Twitter as ‘I am a totally insane film director, writer, producer, silk shirt cleaner, bad tempered, totally ridiculous example of humanity in deep shit’), spoke his mind, fought for what he believed in but didn’t expect any reward. For example, Winner established the Police Memorial Trust in 1984 following the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984; a charitable organisation who’s objective it was to erect memorials to UK Police officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty so we could remember their sacrifice. His work for the charity resulted in an offer of an OBE and a Knighthood, both of which he turned down. I have to admit I’ll always admire someone who does good but does not seek the glory.
His restaurant reviews were what really entertained me. Winner was outrageously outspoken, but all he ever did was offer his honest opinion, despite any deals, backhanders or politics that may have prevented some other critics from being truthful. Some people liked his style, some didn’t and he received criticism for not being a ‘proper’ food critic. What is a ‘proper’ food critic anyway? This attitude highlights a big problem with certain restaurateurs, especially those who have earned many accolades.
There is an opinion that certain people are not qualified to enjoy certain food. Following on from this, some Michelin star chefs who find it difficult to control their egos following the bestowal of various coveted awards respond to any complaints with the ‘Its not me, its you’ attitude.
Of course, Mr Winner’s pen cut through the portentous BS and got straight to the food which, in some cases made him unpopular and even got him banned from some restaurants.
To my amusement, Mr Winner responded to being banned from various places by saying that if he wrote a bad review, it means he didn’t like it and if he didn’t like it, he doesn’t want to go back. Quite true, and restaurateurs who ban the authors of bad reviews are really quite petty, wanting to get the last word in after everyone’s stopped listening like a small child who’s been told off. Completely pointless unless you are trying to make yourself look stupid and spineless. Better to fix the problems and ask the reviewer back, that way food and service would improve and you’d get a good review. Its amazing how many restaurant owners put their own ego over good business practice though and this is the main reason Mr Winner, like many other food critics earned enemies in the restaurant world.
But if a restaurant provided great food and great service, he made sure people knew about it through his reviews and twitter account which was followed by nearly 39,000 people.
Winner’s refusal to order if the waiter did not have a notepad and pen struck a particular chord with me because, of the many times I’ve ordered food and the member of waiting staff has memorised my order, there has always, without fail been a mistake. The last time this happened to me I was uneasy but didn’t say anything, and as predicted there were several mistakes made when the food arrived. Next time I may adopt Mr Winners’ law and insist that everything is written down, better still, I’ll just get my iPhone out and email the order direct to the kitchen!
I’ll miss his extravagant restaurant reviews, with their cutting honesty and shameless namedropping. I’ll miss his tweets and accounts of a larger than life, showbiz life style and his highly amusing exchanges with his twitter followers, all in good humour; he once called me a ‘cynical arsehole’ for suggesting that an Indian Restaurant that had delivered food to his house that day would carry on delivering food to him for free after he encouraged all his fans to go there and mention him. In fact what he was doing was giving them a boost, letting his twitter followers know how good they were for no reward, just because they provided great food and service and had looked after him.
I don’t think anyone else will emerge that writes quite like Winner, so thanks for the food tips, rants and amusing tweets. You’ll be missed by many.