Published 28 January 1996 Style Magazine 134th article
When it comes to the brunch: Michael Winner and Vanessa Perry (Gordon Jackman)
I have had two meals in succession at the same place that were the worst, most awful, inedible, terrible rubbish I have ever eaten. And yet I intend to go back there! The place was Concorde, an aeroplane I greatly like and run by an airline, in this case British Airways, with the most marvellous staff and terrific service. But my God! What are they serving? I know you can't expect good food on an aeroplane. I know you have to make allowances. I know there are no chefs, just reheating people. But, nevertheless, on the scale of aeroplane food, Concorde creates a new category, well below the bottom. The journeys I took, London-Barbados-London cost, for one person, £4,630. For that, chaps, you should do a lot better.
My ﬁrst encounter was with "Brunch". The menu said: "Sit back and enjoy what is quite simply the ultimate in travel." Travel, maybe, but you needed a power drill to get into the so-called scrambled eggs. The grapefruit and orange slices were okay. The bacon, mushroom and tomato were beyond belief. I put the bacon in my mouth and thought I'd never get rid of it. There was some kind of bun, which tasted horrid. What was it, I wondered? The stewardess tried to help. "It must be some kind of breakfast cake, between a muffin and something else." she suggested. Adding: "I think they had to rebake it in a different shape." "It's a Hovis loaf with a few almonds on it," said the man sitting in front, turning to join in. I decided it came under the menu description, "a selection of warm rolls and brunch-style candied fruit cake". There was no jam or marmalade with the rolls. Vanessa's pasta tasted like paper. I remember the days Concorde gave us a rather good present of a Christmas cake on the way out - now they give a leather folder. Probably tastes better than the brunch.
On the way back. I read the small print on the lunch menu. It said: "Our menu has been developed in conjunction with chef Hans Schweitzer of the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados." Get your name off quick, Hans! I was served five king prawns with mild spicy avocado dip. So leathery I ate only one. Vanessa ate only a tiny bit of one. Seared sea bass with red onion and coriander butter presented with plantain, mangetout and calypso rice was dehydrated and tough - after a taste I left it all. Vanessa had pasta shells with spinach, mozzarella and pine nuts on a creamy leek sauce. The spinach tasted like spinach. She generously described the pasta as rubbery. It was left, except for a tiny mouthful. There followed three fairly boring English cheeses, but they were far and away the only thing you could eat. And why no desserts? The excellent steward, Gordon Jackman, wisely made no comment.
I was lunching with the impresario Michael White at Wiltons a few days later and he said: "What can they do?" as if to say why complain. "Mind you, I had a very good breakfast on Swissair," he added. "Exactly!" I said. It is possible to be all right. So, if a super-price aircraft, the pride of the fleet, can't manage even all right, where are we? I'll tell you what they could do. They used to serve caviar. Caviar tastes the same on Concorde as in the Savoy. Easy to do a bit of egg and onion and some vodka. Surely for £4,630 they could put that back on. After all, you can take the same round trip to Barbados at the same time of year for £500. At that price, give 'em rubbish! At Concorde price, perk up! I remember quite good food on Air India, Swissair, and even some of the American airlines. At least they have terrific ice cream, chocolate sauce and nuts! Although I do recall on the old TWA from Los Angeles scooping the sauce off some duck and seeing a riot of green mould. A penicillin factory, how clever, I thought. I showed it to the steward. "It's mould," he said. "Well, I didn't think we'd struck oil," I answered tartly.
Maybe Concorde inherited the TWA caterers. Not that there was mould anywhere, but nothing, not even the canapes, tasted remotely fresh. I know it's silly to eat on aeroplanes at all and usually I don't. But I felt this great surge of duty! I decided you would be hanging on breathless for my views of Concorde cuisine. It just goes to show what happens when I try to be helpful.
On New Year's Day I went, with a party, to a concert at Oak Hall Manor, Sheffield Park, East Sussex. The concert was delightful, and there was the added attraction of good food. Melvyn Tarran is a charming host, the historical display of Gilbert and Sullivan is quite a rarity and the programme is enjoyable according to one's taste in music of yesteryear; sophistication not on the scale of the Savoy, but warmth and pleasure in abundance. I thought Mr Winner might enjoy such a place it would be a change from the many humdrum establishments that pass under his critical eye.
Greg Haynes, Brentwood, Essex
Some weeks ago, Mr Winner discussed what was meant by "fresh" fish. My wife and I, returning ashore one wet and windy November evening from the island of Canna, ate at the Cabin Restaurant in Mallaig. This friendly and informal place specialises in fish dishes, being on the quay where the few fishing boats using this small west Highland port tie up. For our main course, we ordered prawns with melted butter, lemon and brown bread. As our starters arrived, the door of the restaurant opened and a streaming figure in yellow oilskins came in carrying a fishbox of prawns. The proprietor, who was serving us, looked up and said: "Right, there's your main course!" The prawns were, of course, delicious.
Bill Yule, Forfar, Tayside
I recently called Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons to reserve a room and a table for dinner, as there was a special offer running and I have always wanted to visit the restaurant. I was asked to pay the full amount of £275 upfront, and told that, if I were to cancel, it would have to be two weeks in advance, otherwise, if the accommodation was not re-let, they would keep the full amount. I phoned a couple of leading hotels and not once was I asked to put down so much money. Do these restaurateurs not live in the real world? I can understand a cancellation period of 48 hours, but two weeks is appalling and money-grabbing. I informed the restaurant that I would not pursue my reservation under these terms. Surely, these special offers are designed to attract the "ordinary public" who, in normal circumstances, might not be able to afford their rates. So, my ambition will not be fulfilled and, as it was for a special occasion, I feel utterly disappointed.
Denise Ware, Lambourn, Berks