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Put out to grass

Published 7 August 1994
Style Magazine
58th article

The Hamlyns and a nonpartisan guest (Vanessa Perry)

If there is such a thing as a great national scandal regarding the giving of knighthoods, it is that my friend Paul Hamlyn does not have one. I am not being partisan in this, he has quite simply performed services for the nation far beyond those of most dimwits who get knighted when they should get knotted.

It was he who, almost single-handedly, popularised publishing in this century by printing books ever so cheaply and getting them into places they had never been before, like Marks & Spencer et al. He sold out his publishing enterprises a number of times for ever and ever more millions, and poured masses of those millions into a variety of charitable causes, running today a substantial charity organisation. He is also a very nice chap with two splendid restaurants.

One of these is Bibendum in his Michelin building in Fulham Road, where he has two partners. The other is in the Chateau de Bagnols, a rambling castle of incredible beauty dating from the 13th century, set among the Beaujolais countryside in southeastern France, near Lyons. It is perhaps because Paul is a socialist that he never got what he deserved, but he does have a private jet for 10 people and in this we flew recently to the chateau. It is a creation of art undertaken largely by Paul's wife Helen, who was at school with me and survived. Paul was, by coincidence, at the same school, but much earlier than Helen and I. Considering the school was vegetarian and during the war served grass from the cricket pitch to help the war effort, it is surprising any of us lived, let alone to own or write about restaurants. The grass, of course, was vastly indigestible. As children we all got ill, but we produced the best milk in Hertfordshire.

But back to the Chateau de Bagnols, which Helen rescued from a ruin and spent four years and many millions (how many they will not reveal) restoring brilliantly, uncovering wall-paintings from the 15th to the 18th century and generally doing such a remarkable job that at least she got a title, being awarded the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.

The chateau has eight suites and 12 rooms, each one a museum masterpiece. Mine was quite the finest hotel accommodation I have ever been in, an enormous sitting room with 17th-century wall-paintings and a poetic, yellow-silk-hung four-poster in the bedroom, set off by grisaille wall-paintings. Nearly everything in the place is designed by Helen, from plates and cutlery to towels, to brass lights and excellent, strange floor-uplights which look like they come from King Arthur. I immediately bought 25, all of which came back in the private plane! Mrs Hamlyn is delightfully eccentric, because when I dared to ask why there were no cotton-buds or sewing kits in the bathroom she said: "I don't like the look of them. If you need something the ladies will do it." I thought of ringing the staff to clean out my ears, but then decided, narrowly, against.

The view from the chateau is over vineyards to the Monts de Beaujolais with the odd pigeonnier dotted about in old stone. As the sun sets on this, guests repair to eat under the lime trees by candlelight, which is like something out of a Fellini movie. The chef is Philippe Lechat and, as you would expect, with the unbelievable care that is taken with everything else in the place, the food is good, too. I had cold marinated vegetables with local crayfish, then I nicked a bit of Sir Norman Foster's foie gras with pear marmalade thinking, as I did so, what's a supra-modern architect doing in an old dump like this? Then I had pigeon with rice and mushrooms, but awfully good, and finished off with so many desserts it's a miracle I could stand up.

The public rooms of the chateau are not quite Versailles but not far off either, although mostly of an earlier period. Thank goodness there are still loving husbands left prepared to indulge their wives in such extraordinary enterprises. It's surprisingly cheap, considering! About £400 to £600 a day should see you in and out for two, for everything. It's only open from end March to mid-November. It may not be profitable for the Hamlyns, but for me it was a gas!


As a fellow Style & Travel columnist it could be perceived as a little unprofessional to knock another columnist, but I really must object to some of Winner's recent comments. Last week he slaughtered Kartouche and recently he did the same to the Waterside Inn at Bray. Could it just be an unfortunate coincidence that on both occasions Michael Winner's dining partners included Marco Pierre White? It is common knowledge that Marco does not appreciate the talents of Michel Roux, and also documented that Torquil MacLeod, general manager of Kartouche, and Dean Malouf, assistant manager, left the Canteen which Marco co-owns with less than generous praise from Marco. Disregarding the above, I and many other people I know have always had excellent meals both in Kartouche and at the Waterside.
Antony Worrall Thompson, London SW7

I have dined several times at Kartouche and found the food to be excellent. Why Michael Winner allows Marco Pierre White to use him as a sounding board confuses me. Most of the staff at Kartouche are ex-Canteen which, coincidentally, is their nearest competition. As for the experience being similar to dining on the Titanic, I only wish Michael Winner had experienced dining on the Titanic.
Richard Horwell, Richmond, Surrey

I do feel that some clarification is necessary concerning Michael Winner's review of Kartouche. He depicts the manager, Torquil ("Need I say more?" MW) McLeod, as an amateur hooray. McLeod had no influence over his name; however, he has had considerable catering experience. He was our highly regarded manager at Foxtrot Oscar for four years. He then managed 190 Queen's Gate for a year before opening and managing the Canteen ("Which I now use use as a yardstick for everything" MW).
Michael Proudlock, Foxtrot Oscar, London SW3

How sad that such a celebrated and respected food critic has to resort to cheap, playground jibes about the manager's name, Torquil. I also pity Winner's dismissive review of the pictures depicting "Knives, forks etc" which were taken by one of the world's most talented photographers, Bob Carlos Clarke. Torquil was headhunted by Marco to launch the Canteen, and Clarke was responsible for the entire concept and title of Marco's best-selling book. Both have subsequently fallen out with Marco. Michael Winner is living testament to the cliche, you are what you eat he had the pork which he found "fatty and horrible".
Piers Adam, Kartouche, London SW10

If your letter-writers really think that I am so docile as to speak with the voice of Marco Pierre White, they really are dotty. My humble opinions are my own! Kartouche was awful!
Michael Winner

I love restaurants, but deplore the number of waiters who seem to be trying to provoke customers into behaving like Michael Winner. The other day, at 190 Queen's Gate, my husband ordered a New Zealand sauvignon. After some delay, a chardonnay from the same winery was thrust under his nose. Asked if it was all right, he replied no; he had asked for the sauvignon. This produced a snarl, a thickening of a previously barely noticeable French accent, and: "Very well, sir, but they are the same, you know." Not being as practised as Mr Winner, he was left speechless.
Dr Pamela Taor, Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex