Published 22 January 1995 Style Magazine 81st article
With the Hon Owen Arthur, Rocco Forte and Joan Collins at Sandy Lane (Vanessa Perry)
George Forte, an assistant manager of the Sandy Lane hotel, and Miss Verbal Muzak were both extremely unhelpful on the night of my dinner-date with Raquel Welch.
You would think I was trying to get, at two minutes notice, the best table in the most fashionable restaurant in the world, not a corner table in a Barbados hotel, still quiet before the Christmas rush, in a dining room that ended up only 20% occupied. After the most unbelievable time I have ever had in my life, and only thanks to the intrusion of Franklyn Browne, the genial, wrestler-shaped maitre d' at the Sandy Bay restaurant, things were finally resolved. Mr Browne is senior management material. Mr George Forte is a local chap, not related to Sir Rocco. Miss Verbal Muzak (real name Charmaine) is the newly appointed restaurant greeter who blows in like a hyped-up air hostess as you admire the sunset, mouthing nonsense such as "l hope you will enjoy the Sandy Bay restaurant to-night." Sick-bag time.
But what of the food at the Sandy Bay restaurant, which I so fiercely criticised last year? Well, they have a new chef, Hans Schweitzer, a serious Austrian from the respected Midsummer House in Cambridge who won a Michelin star for his place in Germany. They have a new Swiss food and beverage man and a new English wine supremo and assistant chef.
Either God moves in mysterious ways, or Sir Rocco took me seriously. The result is improvement that I am sure will increase. It rose from a weak meal with the unbelievably youthful Raquel, through a number of guest complaints, to increasing praise as the heavy-hitter season wore on. I still think Hans should simplify his menus. The descriptions are less flowery than last year's, but still reminiscent of nouvelle cuisine at its height. I understand he cooked sensible food in Cambridge. Not for nothing is barbecue night still the most popular at Sandy Lane.
I had written that the downstairs Italian restaurant was gloomy, the food reasonable. It has now been completely re-lit and re-decorated and features very jolly murals of octopi and naked girls rising from seashells. They have a new chef, too, and it's up in my rating from reasonable to good. My final specific complaint was that the breakfast scrambled egg was left to congeal in the heated tureen until great hardened blobs appeared. Now the tureen has gone and eggs are all done to order by a smiling lady chef.
The lunch at Sandy Lane has always been fine. The local ham, chicken and pork are excellent and the sea-side buffet, which the guests descend upon like locusts on heat, is generously adequate. It was pretty funny, though, the day Rocco (untitled as he then was) flew in with his family. The buffet suddenly enlarged. improving beyond belief.
The desserts, which had been clinging to the end of the food buffet, were promoted to their own long table at the side, the hot and cold food increased dramatically, and there were two fresh roasts instead of one. I told Rocco the guests overwhelmingly requested he fly in and out every day.
But lest there be any doubt, let me say with immense certainty that Sandy Lane outshines all the other so-called luxury hotels in Barbados by a million miles. The pina coladas and banana daiquiris at its beach bar are taste sensations. And the staff get the Winner Award as the best in the world. They are genuinely charming, cheerful and efficient. Rocco should get that pompous, surly, snobbish lot he employs at the Plaza Athenee to fly out and learn from the residents of this friendly island.
To celebrate his knighthood, Sir Rocco and the very lovely Lady Aliai hosted a tented, beach party where Mr Schweitzer exceeded himself and produced the best meal I have ever eaten in the Caribbean. I spoke on behalf of the guests to congratulate Rocco on his elevation, even though some of the "Sirs" he joins are as ropey a lot as you could find. I suggested Rocco was knighted for his services to the Sandy Lane buffet.
Joking of course. Or was I?
I read with amusement your reader's letter of January 1 regarding the Canteen restaurant, Chelsea Harbour, London. My company is situated in the same complex as the Canteen and I have been to the restaurant several times; from my experience your reader's comments are typical of the service one gets there. On one occasion, I went there with my business partner and we received the next table's starters and they received ours. After swapping, one of our starters was still wrong and had to be sent back. On another occasion, I went there with my future wife to celebrate our engagement and, after ordering a bottle of Dom Perignon, waited for 40 minutes for this to be served. It arrived just after one of our starters, one of which was you guessed it wrong! The prices at the Canteen might be reasonable but at what cost to one's well-being?
John M Holder, London SW10
It is often the case that in fashionable restaurants there is a distinct absence of side plates. One is offered bread rolls and butter and expected to manage. This trend seems to be becoming increasingly popular. One often finds that the table is covered in breadcrumbs by the time the main course arrives. Can we restaurant-goers please call for a reintroduction of side plates immediately?
David Chawla, Hampton Hill, Middlesex
We would like to reply to the Kaufmans' letter of January 8. Most of our customers are delightful and enjoy themselves at Chinon that's why we are still here. Mr and Mrs Kaufman have, perhaps, forgotten how to enjoy a restaurant. The matter of one item being unavailable on the day they came was blown out of all proportion, and they complained to the waitress in an patronising manner. I was unwilling to let this display of arrogance to pass unremarked. The customer is not always right at least not in 1995!
Barbara Deane, Chinon, London W14
During the festive season, my husband and I accompanied my family to two dinner dances. My parents have, for the past few years, enjoyed a memorable New Year's Eve at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. This year was no exception. Both the food and the service were of an extremely high standard and I'm sure that we will be booking to see in 1996. However, our Boxing Day dinner dance at the Ashdown Park Hotel near East Grinstead was a disaster. The food was poor; we were served a chargrilled steak which was so tough we could not cut it, let alone eat it; the vegetables were practically stewed; and the dessert was ice cream which had melted by the time we received it. The service was also poor. We ordered two bottles of white and two bottles of red to eat with our meal, plus champagne to start. The champagne, which my husband and I had ordered as a surprise, was indifferently served and the red wine never reached our table. Our party was made up of six at a cost of £75 per person much dearer than the Grand's event.
E Fairley, London SW19
Last year I wrote to Restaurant Watch complaining about the poor seating arrangements and service I suffered when I had tea at the Dorchester. Last month I received an invitation from the Dorchester to be their guest. The service was impeccable and no fault could be found. It just shows that improvements can always be made, if things are pointed out to the organisation.
Margaret Bochen-Haack, Gillingham, Kent
I would like to recommend the Lebanese restaurant, Alwaha, in the Trocadero building at Piccadilly Circus, London. The decor is beautiful and the food is, in my view, the best available in Britain today. If any of your readers visited Ajami in Beirut before the troubles in the Lebanon began, they will find the food at Alwaha comparable. Some readers may have suffered in the past from supercilious waiters who are barely civil. The Lebanese are probably among the most courteous people in the world, and the staff at Alwaha are no exception. The restaurant also has a coffee shop, where one can eat the plat du jour quickly and cheaply.
Nicholas Bark, London W5