Published 17 March 1996 Style Magazine 141st article
On safari: Michael Winner and Vanessa Perry at Mala Mala with bar steward Teddy Moodley, business manager David Evans and white hunter Jeremy Brooker
At Mala Mala, the most famous safari camp in South Africa, they understand things. The first-class visitors have nice little huts with bedrooms and suites overlooking the jungle, and a dignified dining room with a balcony near a flower-surrounded swimming pool. Opposite the main entrance is a separate area for the others. Lest people write rude letters (and why not?), I personally visited the plebeian side, walked among the diners and exchanged many jovial pleasantries. No snob, I. But back to the "select". And a fairly ropey lot they were. Aged Americans talking about Medicare and a South African cleric to whom the disappearance of apartheid was obviously a disappointment. Luckily, I was not asked to mix. You are given your very own white hunter. Mine, Jeremy Brooker, was a delightful fellow, so he, Vanessa and I ate on our own in the thatched room. There is an exterior compound with a camp fire where you usually eat, but the weather wasn't good enough.
At our first lunch, Jeremy showed us the terrace and said: "Do you want to sit out in the wind?" "We're English, we're used to that," I replied, seeing tables were moved to the exact spot l wanted. Thus we settled on the wide, wooden veranda for the first of many excellent meals where I had least expected to find them. Lunch was impala, a lovely deer that leaps all around. It was delicate, not heavy like most venison. For dinner we had venison steak (impala to you). The next day we had venison curry (impala, too!) and, later, deboned leg of venison with marula jelly, which was - surprise - more impala! Since it is unlikely to turn up on the menu at the Ivy, this didn't worry me.
The rest of the food was good, time-warp stuff, which is just what I like. Before cooking got too clever. There was red pepper soup, a brandy-snap basket with peach ice cream and, for Vanessa, who's almost vegetarian, delicious stuffed button-up courgettes with tomatoes, onions and mixed herbs. On the wall was a stuffed sable antelope; I searched the menu but he wasn't on it. Cheese and wine soup, very jolly; nutty baked bananas, ice cream and chocolate fudge sauce - to die for. Marvellous hazelnut and chocolate meringues. superb chicken pie, and then cold sliced impala with salad and, on the final night, impala served with an oyster and mushroom sauce! Thus impala-d, I was served by Teddy Moodley, the superb bar steward, and Belinda van den Berg, who was called the Sable (our bit of the "hotel") hostess. The only hostess I've met who wasn't cringe-making.
A private plane later and I was at Ngala safari camp, about an hour away. This was more nouveau, but still immensely pleasant. Our suite at Mala Mala had been, for one of my intolerably ludicrous demands, fairly basic. The one at Ngala was sensational. An enormous stilted house with wide balconies, a very large living room, a sizable bedroom, everything but a telephone! So if you wanted something, you couldn't ask for it! The bottle of champagne that greeted us with profuse messages of welcome was removed while we had dinner. So when we felt like drinking, it wasn't there! And l behaved so well! The open-air dining room overlooked a river with reeds, trees and bushes. We'd missed sitting next to Oprah Winfrey and Michael Palin, but the almond tart, hard to cut, was totally historic, even though the turkey stir-fry didn't have enough gravy. The cauliflower soup was nice. but not hot enough. The guinea fowl, moderate. The fried camembert, excellent.
Mala Mala wins the food stakes. Ngala wins the shop prize. A store full of good safari gear and animal-embroidered shirts that even I could get into. At Sun City I had called the general manager, Tom Klein, to their shop. "Tom," I said, "do you not understand rich people are big spenders and they tend not to be thin? There is nothing here I can get into." "Look," said Tom, pointing to a very fat Boer holding two shirts. "They are not for him," I said. "Are they, sir?" "For my wife," said the Boer. My case rested. But at Ngala, not a posh place like Sun City, the shop was a triumph. The clothes were so comfy I went back and had a second portion of lemon tart.
Ah, the thrills of jungle life under canvas! The hard sleeping bag on parched earth. The mosquitoes. The red water discoloured by sand. Thank goodness I never got any of that. It was enough that the hair dryer broke down for ﬁve minutes.
Mr Winner seems to have been particularly unfortunate at the Savoy River Restaurant. As a veteran of more than 500 meals in the past decade at the River Restaurant, the food has always been excellent and the service impeccable. There is no such thing as a bad table at the Savoy.
I W Lindsey OBE, London EC1
Having eaten regularly at Cafe Fleur in Harrogate, I was delighted when a sister branch opened recently five minutes from our home. A table for four was reserved to celebrate my birthday. On arrival, the manager pointed to our table saying it would be ready in a few minutes. Meanwhile, two couples entered the restaurant and sat at our table. When we discreetly pointed this out to the manager, he replied that they were already seated and he did not wish to cause a scene by asking them to vacate their seats. When we suggested that they probably wouldn't mind, he said we could have another table in about 15 minutes, and we could take it or leave it. Leave it we did, and headed straight for the recently acclaimed Sous le Nez en Ville, where we enjoyed excellent food and service.
Joanne Lestner, Leeds, West Yorkshire
During a recent weekend in London, my wife and I decided to try Planet Hollywood. After registering for a table, we headed for the bar. A bottle of American beer and an orange juice (more ice than juice) came to £5.75. We decided Arnie, Sly and Bruce had had quite enough of our hard-earned cash, cancelled our reservation and left, without even finding out how much the hamburgers cost!
Alan Armstrong, Ponteland, Northumberland