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Paying the price

Published 15 January 1995
Style Magazine
80th article

Enlightened view: Michael Winner at the Hotel Splendido, overlooking the Bay of Portofino (by Vanessa Perry)

My bill for 20 days over Christmas and New Year at the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados, was £30,913! That's £1,545.65 a day! If I was not going to describe for you, next week, the delights and non-delights of my stay, I would have asked for a discount on principle. I think we should all ask for discounts anywhere, including restaurants, we spend a lot of money. You can't lose, can you? I used to do all my Christmas shopping at Underwoods. They looked very snooty when I demanded a discount, but they gave me a few flowered toilet bags of perfume to keep me quiet.

I tried for a discount at Marks & Spencer when I was buying clothes for a star on a film. They refused. "That's not chopped liver," I said pointing. "That's Anthony Hopkins."

Eventually, weary, their manager gave me some freebies too. Jeremy Irons tells the story of how I once got three free shoe brushes and some polish when buying him some stuff for a movie. It was Sophia Loren who taught me the value of asking for a discount. She always did it firmly but with great charm and, after the shock of it, they always gave her one. I still wear a gold Patek Philippe watch (marvellously vulgar!) that I got at 60% off thanks to Sophia.

One of my favourite shops abuts the terrace restaurant of the Hotel Splendido in Portofino. I have never had anything off food or hotels, but I did, unaided, get a few pennies off there. Marisa, the lady who runs it, has many charming topless photos of herself in the changing room. As you go to your car, she pursues you holding shirts on a hanger, extolling the virtue of her goods. Perhaps it's because grandfather owned a chain of clothing shops that I admire her initiative. At another, excellent Orient-Express Hotel, the Cipriani in Venice, the shop is full of boring, solid stuff with the company logo on it. I must remember to ask James Sherwood to juice it up a bit.

Some restaurants have shops attached. I went to one the other evening. Kaspia is buried away in an ultra-posh mews in Mayfair. The shop sells caviar and vodka and you walk through it to get to the restaurant. My bill was £415.50 for three with no wine!

In case you're halfway out the door to go there - and it is very good - let me clarify that 125 grammes of osietra, which is what you need for a decent portion, and it's not even the best caviar, costs £103.50. They throw in some blini too. I had 30 grammes of caviar more. If I'd had beluga, rare now because the Russians have polluted so many of their rivers, my portion would have cost £250!

Kaspia is classily decorated with old china in cabinets and, as well as caviar they do a just-all-right borscht and, at the cheaper price-level, fish cakes for £14.37. Michael Caine took me there first and the place was empty. When I went back the service was unbelievably surly. Again it was empty and the waiter grudgingly showed me to a revolting, tiny table. "The reason there's nobody here," I said with great charm, "is because when it's empty you show people to lousy tables." Then I sat where I wanted. There's a new manager now and probably a different waiter, because the other evening it was crowded.

I knocked back a cherry vodka after some of the best desserts I've had for quite a while and observed the table opposite. There was my friend Cherie Lunghi looking fantastic as ever, with David Emanuel and about six others.

As I kissed Cherie goodbye I whispered, "I've been trying to figure out who on this table is paying the bill?"

"You", she said. I fled.

Another place I was surprised to find full, only because it was a Sunday and it's normally quiet, was The Room at the Halcyon. "What's going on?" I asked in amazement.

"It's our French singer," said the manager. "Where?" I asked, looking under my table. "She starts at eight," was the reply. But by nine she hadn’t. "We've lost the microphone," the manager said. "It would happen on the night you came. It's somewhere in a taxi."

Eventually it appeared and Cecile (or was it Celia, they seem to alternate?) sang very well and not too obtrusively. She even gave me a curtsy and a smile as I walked out. I wonder who they’d have singing in Kaspia? At their prices anything less than Pavarotti would he ridiculous.