Published 12 November 1995 Style Magazine 123rd article
Reason to be happy: Michael Winner and Adolf Blokbergen (Laurence Marks)
I bet you've never been to Cully. It's a little, old town nestling by Lake Leman in Switzerland, very pretty and a few miles from Geneva airport going east! I sometimes take the lake road on my way back from Gstaad because anything is preferable to a motorway. Particularly if I'm driving on it. But I found Le Raisin, a small hotel and restaurant, through checking the Michelin Guide, invariably reliable, unlike our Egon Ronay Guide, and went there with my friend, the television writer Laurence Marks. Michelin gives Le Raisin one star. We wended our way from the higher road, looping past vineyards which sloped down to the lake with high, snow-topped mountains on the other side. Definitely picturesque! The town of Cully is small, time has passed it by (always an advantage), with red-tiled roofs, white and coloured buildings with green shutters, red shutters and so on. There are lots of trees and the view over Lake Leman is stunning. The hotel itself has beautiful old wooden doors with a cast-iron display of grapes and vines above. It faces a small square with an ancient stone fountain. The restaurant is extremely spacious, posh, peasant-style, period provincial in the best sense of the word. Comfortable, large wooden-backed chairs, tables sizable and well apart, a view of the lake. The guests were locals on a Sunday-lunch outing. They didn't know who I was, my resounding fame not having spread to Cully, so I made myself known, as they say, to the owner/chef, Herr Adolf Blokbergen.
The food is exceptional. If you have a moment, go there. Between us we had scallops on couscous with curry sauce, red mullet with soya sauce, lobster risotto, and some very good local wines. I wrote down the names, but my writing is so appalling I can't read a word of it. I think one was a 1993 white Vignereine St Saphorin Pino Goit, which I am sure means not much to anyone! It's the sort of restaurant you're delighted to find, everything's good, you have a terrific time, and a lot of you then say: "What's he doing writing about foreign places?" But some of you, the intelligentsia, write in and say: "I went there and thank you very much for telling me about it."
Meanwhile, back in London, the bills are still pouring in for my birthday lunch and the price looks like rising to £500 per person. How a poor boy from Willesden ever got involved in this I can't imagine. There's no question, with old age comes incontinence and, in my case, largesse not seen before. Still, everyone seemed to like it! I forgot to mention that the birthday cake was by Jane Asher. I do think her cakes are awfully good. They're old-fashioned, simple, and they work. The elaborate designs, whatever you want - and I'm told some people ask for things that are rather naughty - are well done. Mine was chocolate, with layer and more layers of good chocolate cream filling. And they seem to last for ever. I hate anything beyond a day old, but Jane Asher's stuff just goes on and on.
I got a lot of presents, but would the person who sent an Armani scarf and didn't put in a card, own up. And there's a bottle of Bollinger which came from where I know not, and a card which looks like Peggy and someone. I ﬁnd this happens at Christmas, too. You get cards signed squiggle and squiggle. Or with great clarity, Fred and Helen. Who squiggle is or who Fred and Helen are, I seldom know. But I have found an excellent thing to do with my celebrity Christmas and birthday cards. I keep them, cut the addresses off, and give them to charities who write in for something to auction. A Charlie Bronson original combined with a Diana Rigg and a Michael Caine plus a few more, are greatly appreciated!
So, I drove up to the Ritz in Piccadilly, actually to the main entrance in Arlington Street. The doorman didn't even look in my direction, even though I was parked and ready to get out. This'll be another Winner-going-mad session, I thought. But just in time he spotted me and thereafter was extremely polite and efficient. I was at the Ritz to test them for my Sunday lunch ratings service, but as there's no more space I shall reveal the outcome, in great detail, I assure you, next week.
I bet my 60th birthday bash was more fun than Michael Winner's. The formula was simple. Hire a Mississippi-style river boat, cruise in and out of the Thames locks; hire a jazz band to play on deck and arrange plentiful quantities of pink champagne, salmon, duck, salads and desserts. The other ingredients of the perfect day were 30 lovely friends and relatives and a shrewd, beautiful wife who dreamed up the entire event and kept the cost down to £0 per person.
Andrew Bainbridge, London W6
At least a photograph cannot lie (Winner's Dinners, October 29). Mr Winner is pictured in front of a Tom Merryfield original which only he could describe as a cheap print. Of the many famous guests that the Oxford Union has entertained at Whites, he is the first to embarrass his hosts, intimidate the staff and behave like a baboon.
Michael White, Whites Restaurant, Oxford
My friends and I have dined at Whites on numerous occasions and have always met with unfailing charm and courtesy, whether accompanied by generous parents or, as more commonly happens in these days of student poverty and appalling hall food, eating from the superb-value set menu. I have yet to encounter a meal I have not found delicious, and must extend my sympathies to Mr Winner for never having enjoyed the sublime experience that is a Whites pudding, although, since he was three-quarters of an hour late, perhaps the responsibility for this lies with Mr Winner and his Oxford Union companions, not Mr White's waiters.
Priyanka Pandey, Brasenose College, Oxford
I was comforted to read (Restaurant Watch, October 29) that Mezzo did not extend a warm welcome to the Breckmans and their dog. Had they done so, I would have cancelled a reservation made for November 18. We will, of course, now be able to take the family cat secure in the knowledge that she won't encounter any inquisitive hounds.
Sue Small, Altrincham, Cheshire