"Excuse me!" I shouted downstairs to the receptionist. "There are two people in the lounge here with a drink. Can you tell me what year they arrived?" At this the manager, who had been having a long conversation about wine with a customer and ignoring me, came running. After that the service was good. I was at the Langley Castle, a tarted-up old 14th-century pile in Langley-on-Tyne, Northumberland, with my secretary, Mrs Lagoudakos, for one of my Police Memorial Trust Ceremonies nearby.
The North is peopled by delightful residents, but the food is generally Langley Castle-style. Grandly described hors d'oeuvres were six bowls of dried-up sausage and tinned dubious, followed, believe it or not, by a heavy sorbet. The duck was over-cooked strips, the apple tart so solid you needed a power drill to break the pastry. When the charming, efficient young waitress said, "I hope you enjoyed your meal, sir", I replied, honestly, "The service was excellent."
This was more than I could say for Prima Pasta in Brighton. There, after eating a historically bad pizza, I waited so long for coffee that I went to the restaurant next door, got some and brought it back. This greatly amused Lia Williams, star of my film Dirty Weekend, which was shooting there, but made the waiters glummer than ever.
To balance the bad news with good news, let me recommend Lainston House near Winchester: excellent food, beautifully decorated 17th-century house, with super-attentive staff. And set on the grandeur of the South Circular Road in Richmond a real find, Crowthers, with extraordinarily good food at bargain prices, and run by two of the nicest people in catering, Shirley and Philip Crowther.
I'm glad to see The Sunday Times is taking up the cause of unhappy eaters. I'm still besieged by them wherever I go, telling me their horror stories. Quite the silliest letter that resulted from my entry into food-critique was from Sir David Napley to The Times. This followed my displeasure at the ambience and food in L'Ortolan, a restaurant that has Sir David as chairman of its holding company. He proudly announced that business had gone up since I knocked the place. But when I offered £1,000 to charity if he could prove this, there followed a dull and continuing silence. That's probably what some restaurateurs wish would come from me. They won't be that lucky!