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Putting on the Ritz

Published 2 April 1995
Style Magazine
91st article

Lost identity: Michael Winner's DIY passport (Nick Mead)

I was five minutes from Heathrow when I discovered I'd left my passport at home. l searched desperately through my briefcase. I had two old passports, both with amazingly beautiful pictures of me; three credit cards; a photo of me and Mrs Thatcher and a photo of me and the former police chief of New York; two driving licences, both current, one I thought I'd lost; a copy of my Edinburgh Festival Celebrity Lecture printed up by The Scotsman and a rather old British Film Institute booklet about my work with my photo on the cover which Charles Bronson always said looked like Sean Penn.

That would have to be enough for a trip to Paris to host the opening of a Drag Queen restaurant for Channel 4's Eurotrash. The Air France chap here didn't give a damn. "They probably won't let you into France," he said encouragingly. At Heathrow's first line of control the passport-checker said "Good morning, Mr Winner". I offered up no passport. The same at Air France's check-in before you got on to the plane. In flight I made preparation for my assault on French immigration. The steward told me what "I'm terribly sorry . . ." was in French. "You go before me," I said to Vanessa, "Then at least half of us will be through and he'll feel silly holding up the other half. Get first in line," I continued. "A lot of passengers behind us will make him keen to keep things moving."

I slid my old passports under the glass window. "Je m'excuse profondement . . ." I said. The immigration officer looked down. "Je suis un metteur en scene anglais, mon passeport est it la maison . . ." I rambled on, preparing to produce the coup de grace, the photo of me and Mrs Thatcher. The immigration official found this all extremely boring. With a tired wave he bid me through and out of his sight.

You may remember my terrible experiences staying at the Plaza Athenee. This time I'd switched to the Ritz. What a difference! They were actually cheerful and polite! Even though it's posher by far than the Plaza-At. "Could we have your passport, please," the manager, Franco Mora, asked me. "Haven't got one. And last time I was here." I said jovially, "I had no money and no credit cards. Everyone was very charming." "I hope we'll be as welcoming," said Mr Mora, and he showed me to a lovely sloping-roofed suite overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

It was pret-a-porter week so English model girls kept saying "Hello". I didn't personally know them, but it was a pleasure to say "Hello" back.

Even though the Ritz wasn't perfect (well, nothing is other than me) I am prepared to make a definitive statement. Anybody who can afford it and stays anywhere else in Paris is mad. There are very few hotels in the world where you are enveloped in an aura of timeless super-excellence. The Ritz is one of them. We had a lovely snack lunch in the downstairs bar. I had goujons of sole and Vanessa had some sort of Ritz special sandwich that was historic. I couldn't stay for dinner because I had to go to this Drag Queen restaurant, but I walked round the unbelievably opulent halls and corridors in my old jeans and falling-apart shoes and entered the main restaurant and the Ritz Club just long enough to see how the rich live.

"An honour," I said only somewhat sarcastically as I wandered out of each. I well recall Christmas lunch at the Ritz some 20 years ago. A string orchestra played while old women sat alone or with lady companions and waiters hovered with white gloves. Like a Fellini movie. It's even better now.

My final visit to the bar restaurant was, sadly, the only disaster. A lone teapot was plonked on the table. I couldn't get anyone to add anything to it! I finally got the maitre d' (not the nice, smiley one who'd been on earlier) and told him, "When people ask for tea they normally get milk or lemon, or both. At least they're asked which they want." It then took ages and another impassioned request before I got some milk. Abandon an Englishman next to his getting-cold Earl Grey and you're really in trouble. Henri Chebair was the man who did it! Perhaps he had a different training to everybody else!

Ah, I hear you say, but what about the Drag Queen restaurant? That is another story for another day.


Last night my wife and I visited a restaurant called Chinon after reading about it in one of your amusing articles. The food was first class, but the woman in charge had a definite attitude problem. It became apparent when I made the telephone reservation and her manner was brusque and unwelcoming. This was confirmed when, on leaving, I mildly and helpfully (I hoped) commented that the window cleaner had left out a section of the picture window. Her subsequent insulting remarks left me stunned and speechless.
Leonard Eden, London NW1

Michael Winner is right, but barricades are not enough. We must take to arms and fight back. As if the loss of the original Wheelers was not a loss too many to bear, now Walsh's. Not only are we robbed of our culinary jewels, our treasure of simple pleasures and tastes are torn from us. Winner must direct us all as the cast in Death Wish 6. Psychotic knife-wielding delinquent revolutionaries are destroying the fabric of society with undreamed of taste sensations. We will completely lose control. The message must go out, Save Our Soles. Perhaps soon we will see the following news item: "Chef found hanged in sole riots. 1,329 prominent and influential diners questioned but released before the main course. Police spokesman says: 'He got his just desserts.' " In loving memory of Wheeler's and Walsh's, Sole Mornay, Florentine, Meuniere, Colbert and plain grilled, to say nothing of Capri.
Philip Cohen, London W1

Would you be kind enough to publish a list of restaurants that Michael Winner has not yet visited, so that their owners could bar him and the rest of us mere mortals could eat in peace, in the knowledge that he is not going to disturb us. Incidentally, if he knows anything about classical cuisine, he should know that it is Sole Caprice that he describes in his article (19 March) and not Sole Capri, as I'm sure any decent chef could tell him.
Barry C Hill, Old Malton, North Yorkshire