Published 21 January 1996 Style Magazine 133rd article
Yes, prime minister: Michael Winner with Barbados's Owen Arthur (Vanessa Perry)
I still have some niggles about the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados. I wouldn't be me if I didn't tell you. But I have never seen such improvement in a hotel within a one-year period as at this beautiful place, which has been my Christmas/New Year home for the past 15 years. Two years ago I rather tore into the Sandy Lane. While overall it was a great experience, I politely pointed out the food in its main Sandy Bay restaurant was dire. In the Italian eatery below, it was gloomy and, at best, adequate. The dress code was daft beyond belief, and so on. Some guests, who spent their time on the beach saying much the same thing, wrote crawling letters of hotel-support to this page, perhaps to ingratiate themselves with management? But those in command listened to MW and smartened things up no end. Last year they had a new chef, a new under-chef, a new food and beverage manager, they'd redecorated part of the gloomy downstairs room and generally perked up immensely. This year the changes have come to near-total fruition. The food is ﬁne, the downstairs dump is now totally renovated. New tables and chairs have been put in, lovely, jolly undersea murals added and the buffet-serving area transformed. "Entirely due to you," the current chef, Hans Schweitzer, said as we admired it. The staff was always great, except for the only Italian with no charm I have ever met. He head-waitered the downstairs Italian place and he's gone. Mino, a warm, nice chap from Rome, has replaced him. Who says it's a disadvantage having Winner on the loose?
Herr Schweitzer even gave me some truly memorable food. Although it did vary! His cold grapefruit and guava soup was delicious. Deep-fried shrimps with vegetable chips and three sauces - sweet and sour, tartare and tomato - were superb. In the downstairs Italian, Max the chef served some of the best spaghetti and tomato sauce ever. I felt confident enough to have my friend Owen Arthur to lunch - and he's prime minister of Barbados!
What then do I have to grumble about? First, the hostesses. Last year I complained about Miss Verbal Muzak. This year she has been replaced with two! They were wisely kept away from me, but the word on the beach was dire. "Why," I asked the manager, Richard Williams, have them at all?" Lord A (it's very posh at Sandy Lane come Christmas) was going to his table when one hostess said: "I see you know where your table is." "I should do," replied Lord A tartly. "I've been going to it for 20 years!" And as he was leaving at 10pm came the brilliant remark: "Enjoy the rest of the day!" Another distinguished aristocrat was appalled at having these ladies continually interrupt his dinner with: "Are you enjoying your meal?"
The dress code is still a mess. First, denim of any kind was not allowed in the evening, even in the casual downstairs restaurant. But much nastier, cheaper material was. Then just jeans were not tolerated. "This year," I said to Mr Williams, "I have studied the guest reference book and your daily newsletters. I cannot find the word jeans!" Mr Williams looked glum, even though I meant it as praise. Later, the distinguished aristocrat's two extremely elegant sons appeared in the lower, casual place. An under-head waiter said: "I won’t serve you, you're not well-dressed enough!" They wore nice trousers, not jeans, designer T-shirts and waistcoats. Too good, I would have thought. The lady-wife of the distinguished aristocrat came roaring down. She is one of my favourite people, but not someone to cross. "We don't serve guests in T-shirts," explained the under-head waiter. Lady-wife checked the room. "You're serving ﬁve of them already!" she said. Mr Williams was duly called and lady-wife gave her views most clearly. Next day on the beach, the distinguished aristocrat, who brings a large family each year, was heard to mutter: "Any more of this and I'll go somewhere else."
When, last year, Sir Rocco Forte left his own hotel on New Year's Eve to attend my private party in a restaurant, a newspaper later asked him why. "Because I don't go to the Caribbean to dress up," he replied, sensibly.
Mr Williams should stand on his sweeping beach, face a wondrous Caribbean sunset and repeat: "I must fire the hostesses and revise the dress code." Then he can think on how well he has done overall. Even if his hotel doesn't serve real parmesan cheese. But that story is so hilarious I shall relate it to you some other time!
Oh dear, Mrs Silver! You seem to have been unfortunate at Leeds' newly opened restaurant, Rascasse (Letters, January 7), but where is your sense of charity, fair play and nurturing of the entrepreneurial spirit? Two friends joined my husband and me recently in a sampling of the restaurant, the launch of which I had eagerly awaited. I admit service was not, at first, apparently brisk and only five or six tables were occupied. Therein lay a serious problem. The restaurant is a striking conversion of a warehouse, dramatically situated in the newly gentrified canal wharves of Leeds. The decor is minimalist, and its smooth blonde wood, with the odd touch of strong colour and severely ascetic table settings, reminiscent of 1960s Scandinavian style, leave the self-conscious feeling acutely and undesirably exposed. What was normal waiting time for the delicious, very freshly cooked and elegantly presented first courses seemed longer in this ambience. I fear that Rascasse might prove too sophisticated for a city where Tetley's beer and fish and chips still reign, but we shall go back, by which time I hope that the place has been furnished with the bustle and bright conversation that it now lacks.
Mrs P M Warrington, Shepley, Huddersfield