Published 27 February 1994 Style Magazine 35th article
Perfect setting: Vanessa Perry, left, Roger Moore and Regine at the Saanenhof
Why, I wondered, were all the Swiss drivers coming towards me waving their hands up and down from their windows? They seemed anxious. I sailed on through the picturesque village of Enney only to find the reason.
Two Swiss policemen with a radar trap beckoned me to stop. I have a simple way of dealing with situations like this. I fail to understand everything. The policemen, speaking German and French, wittered on about radar, driving licences, speeding, all quite clear. I smiled and said, "I'm terribly sorry, I don't understand." They must get fed up soon, I thought.
But my luck was out. An English tourist, stopped also for speeding, came up and translated. "Ah, you want 180 Swiss francs!" I said, producing 10 Swiss francs and some £50 notes. "We keep your driving licence, you go and change money," they said. "My driving licence is in the Palace Hotel, Gstaad," I replied sorrowfully. "We'll keep the girl," they said, looking at Vanessa. "I think we can do a deal," I nodded. But they thought better of it and escorted us down cobbled streets and into a pretty square to a bank where I handed over £90 in newly changed Swiss money, shook hands, and off they went.
My lunch date, Roger Moore, the son of a policeman, listened unsympathetically. He and his lovely wife, Luisa (one of my favourite people), took us to The Saanenhof, one of those outwardly simple Swiss chalet-type restaurants with wooden walls and ceilings, hard wood chairs and long tables, which mask a remarkable standard of cooking and a major international clientele. It was the sort of place where, if you didn't have a title on the way in, you got one at the door. At our table was the King of Spain's cousin and the nightclub owner and now one-woman show singer, Regine, and various other people I should have known. The food was terrific. Only the Swiss could make a carrot and orange salad taste historic. I was recommended the saucisse de veau roesti. Roesti is a kind of hashed brown potato, but better than I'd ever tasted. A jolly lunch with the international set that live in the lovely chalets around Gstaad.
The next day I went on a tour of my own making and ended up in Montreux. In an old part of town we passed the Brasserie College, a distinctly picturesque but downmarket caff in one of those lovely French-style buildings with shutters and wrought-iron balconies. I went in, loved the look of it, and stayed. This was the "real thing"! Wooden tables, old advertising signs, a juke box, a pinball machine, net curtains and an owner-server. There were newspapers for the customers to read. The food was ghastly beyond belief! Vanessa, who's half vegetarian, got tinned beans and one tomato cut in half, I got nasty boiled potatoes and a selection of sausages and gammon, all boiled and all revolting. I, too, had tinned beans. It was called Plat Bernois P Mature, whatever that means. That'll teach me to leave my Swiss Michelin Guide at home.
In the evening we needed something superb and got it at The Chesery, an old-style chalet with a roaring log fire which the glitterati of Gstaad have now adopted. Loup de mer was served in a vast shell of white, apparently the salt and whites of eggs which it was baked in. So large was the fish, they served us the top half first, and then offered the second which there was no room for. There followed a brie stuffed with mascarpone and truffles. The Chesery has taken over from The Olden, a lovely and genuine old chalet hotel with Swiss music playing in the dining room. There the Le Cave restaurant is still first-class and looks like something out of The Sound Of Music, with alpine flowers painted on china in frames all over the place.
I was amazed to find on my return that the two stone I have lost had not gone up by one pound. I do hope I don't need new scales.
Earlier this month we had lunch at Alastair Little's restaurant in Frith Street. Eyebrows first knitted when studying the menu. It was almost impossible to escape haricot beans, or red meat or offal. Eventually we started. The grilled tuna on haricots looked pretty, but was it supposed to be stone cold? When my husband tried to tackle his boeuf bourguignon it was mostly too tough to eat. My tripe just passed muster, but another half an hour cooking might have helped it to be more tender and thickened the juices. Those taking the set lunch were also having trouble with their main course Southern fried chicken. The amount winging its way back to the kitchen should have been most disconcerting for the chef. The service was generally very pleasant, but the two waitresses were overstretched and several tables became distinctly restless. After an hour and a quarter the four men next to us had only had their starters. Perhaps Mr Little should keep a closer eye on his kitchen and recruit another waitress.
Jennifer Belcher, New Malden, Surrey
In complete contrast to Barry Ziff's Quaglino's new year's eve disaster (Restaurant Watch, February 13), my partner and I had a wonderful evening. We paid £65 each for the 7pm sitting. I really do think that we had the best deal. Not only did we eat the same menu as guests that paid £100 each, we were able to leave our table at 10.30pm to dance until midnight to the jazz band in the bar area. At midnight we had plenty of room to celebrate and I thanked Sir Terence for a fantastic evening. Quite honestly, who wants to be sitting at their table at midnight anyway!
Joanna Symes, London SW11
I recently had the misfortune to dine at a restaurant called Ruby In The Dust in Islington. The meal was, to say the least, disappointing. I began with nachos which were pitiful, and seemed to have come straight out of a packet. They were followed with some of the most hideous and sloppy pasta imaginable. The service was indifferent and, at around £20 a head, I shall not be going there again.
Richard Anyamene, London W14
It is with great disappointment that I left a London restaurant feeling ripped off. As a party of six, we wanted somewhere lively and casual that would give us value for money. We chose Foxtrot Oscar. I have to say that the food was lacking in both imagination or presentation. The service also left a lot to be desired. It lacked both organisation and experience. We were cramped on two small pub tables which we were asked to vacate as soon as we had paid our bill as another party were waiting, although we still had half a bottle of wine to finish. All in all a most disappointing experience. Sorry Foxtrot Oscar, but I have had far better pub meals at a fiver a head.
S Eastgate, Telford
Myself and my wife and daughter recently made a real restaurant discovery. We dined out last week at Number One in Hammersmith, where we enjoyed a perfect meal cooked by the restaurant's young Thai chef. The food, which is French with a hint of Thai, was exceptional, and the service was exemplary.
Professor Nicholas Wright, Richmond, Surrey