Published 20 August 1995 Style Magazine 111th article
Dishing the dirt: Michael Winner at the Temple Restaurant (Vanessa Perry)
I find Egon Ronay's Cellnet Guide highly irritating. It shows you what is where, but the opinions are flawed to the point of fractured. None more so than its write-up of what is laughingly known as the Temple Restaurant in Bishopstrow House, Warminster. I was travelling back from the west and noted Ronay's praise. "Garden views accompanied by inventive modern cooking by Chris Suter." I'll have a go, I thought. The hotel is a pleasant, unspectacular ivy-covered thing built in 1817. The dining room defines boredom. It was Sunday lunch. but only eight other people were there and the garden view was of a rather suburban outdoor swimming pool.
The first thing I noticed was the plates were dirty. I ran my fingers over the white surface and felt little bumps. Wetting a napkin. I rubbed and they disappeared. Then I saw a visible bit of dirt and prised it off. I showed it to the lady in charge. "Look," I said, "that's dirt." "We polished them this morning," was the reply. "We have a reception this evening." This didn't seem to me to be much to do with anything. The plates were taken away. There was no bread or butter, but I was told it was on its way. "From Alaska?" I thought as we waited. It was all right, but rather oddly the bread plate was removed during the first course after I'd declined more bread. I might, after all, have decided to have some later!
Vanessa's asparagus soup had far too much pepper in it, so she left a lot. I had potted smoked Wylye trout with grilled Grannary (misspelled) toast, which tasted of nothing. I left most of it. The service was interminably slow, even though there were only 10 people there. The roast beef and Yorkshire pudding were totally ghastly. Heavy, tough, horrible. A long time in the deep freeze, I thought. The horseradish sauce was put on the courgettes! Vanessa had breast of East Knoyle chicken scented with sherry vinegar and tarragon. "Something about it reminds me of aeroplane food," she said, accurately. I left a large amount of my main course, so did she. Not much of anything was being eaten. For dessert I had warm treacle tart and vanilla ice cream. Very hard pastry, no taste of treacle. I left most of that and ate the ice cream. Vanessa asked for "selection of fine British cheeses. Supplement £2". There was a long wait for bread. "They're preparing it in the kitchen." Eventually some soggy walnut bread arrived. The cost of this fiasco was (including petits fours at £2.80 extra) £20.80 for me and £22.80 for Vanessa (ex service). If you add 10% service. that's more than the Dorchester Grill, where everything is superb. I checked and was told Mr Suter was in the kitchen. He didn't come out. I don't blame him. There was nothing inventive, or modern, about the cooking. It was tired and dreary. On my Sunday lunch rating, this is 1 out of 10. Some miles away at the French Horn, Sonning, the room was packed and diners were enjoying a terrific time. But the Ronay guide won't even put the French Horn in! They've been asked again and again to do so, both by me and Marco Pierre White, but in their ignorance they don't think it's worth an entry.
My only excellent food in the West Country was at a cafe-looking basement in Bath called, quite descriptively, the Hole in the Wall. Indeed, it was the only really good food I got. I'd just spent, or rather not spent, a fortune opposite, buying some 18th- and 19th-century tiny wood-carved and decorated shoes used as snuff boxes. As usual, I had no money, but John Croft didn't mind. "Send a cheque when you get to London," he said cheerfully. He recommended the Hole in the Wall, which, by coincidence, this newspaper's more serious and expert food connoisseur, Mr Adrian Gill had recently visited. It has a three-course lunch for £11.50 and belongs to Chris and Gunna Chown. She was there being charming and discreetly helpful. The sweet pea soup was country-delicious. Pan-fried cornish haddock with fresh samphire was soft and lovely, a real taste Vanessa's cinnamon biscuit of rhubarb and apple with elderflower custard was historic. My iced armagnac prune and hazelnut ice cream was disappointing. But overall, wonderful food and unbelievable value. My faith in the area was more or less restored. Although I still think anything west of Fulham is dubious, to say the least.
I was surprised as I lay in bed at Ston Easton Park a couple of Sundays ago to find it was Michael Winner's target choice (Style, August 6). My husband and I were there to celebrate his birthday and, by chance, chose the same four-poster stateroom he occupied a few weeks ago. It is true that that particular bedroom has a bathroom which is not the largest, although perfectly adequate. It must be said that genuine Palladian gems did not come equipped with sufficient space for bathrooms as we would always wish. Again, it is true that the Ston Easton tea is truly an amazing experience. We had ours in our room and could not finish it, although we had had no lunch that day. It was superb and very good value. All in all, Ston Easton got off lightly in comparison to some, but then it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find much to criticise. Our excellent dinner was splendid. Had Mr Winner gone by car, instead of helicopter, the staff would have washed his car windows before breakfast, as is done every morning. Surely this is exceptional service?
M M Davies, Bath
I am an avid reader of Mr Winner's column but occasionally have to look at it twice. Last Sunday (August 6), I read his article and then my bank statement. My statement read £450 O/D, as it usually does, and he revealed that he had spent £1,500 on a helicopter ride. I would love to have £1,000 in my bank account to cover the overdraft! With two small children and a husband who brings home £200 a week, the prospect of this is unlikely (unless I win the lottery). However, as long as I can still find £1 for my Sunday Times, I can read his reviews and dream of what I may do when my ship comes in! Keep up the good work.
Hilary Deadman, London
Mr Watts (Letters, August 6) has it all wrong. If money is no problem, a £100 meal and a £400 bottle of wine can be everyday and dull. The fun is when you can't afford it and run up an overdraft to pay for a memorable experience. Even if the meal is rubbish and the wine mediocre, these occasions become a talking point for years. If the overdraft can stretch to it, I recommend a bottle of vintage port for another £400 to follow the wine. I'm assuming the quantities stated are for, maximum, two people and preferably one.
Larry Zafer, Dubai, United Arab Emirates