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Room at the top

Published 15 December 1996
Style Magazine
180th article

High society: Anne-Mette Madsen with Michael Winner (Katja Mikkelsen)

My favourite radio station, Melody, plays the records I used to seduce girls to when I had the energy. Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and so on. They have recently been accompanied by commercials for the Royal Garden Hotel, one for "the restaurant named The Tenth". This is on the top floor and, if you believe what you hear, inhabited by, in order of appearance, a Posh Woman talking about walking her dog, a Gruff Man who didn't care, a Business Type, a rich American conferring with her effeminate Interior Decorator, and an Upper Class Man and Girl talking as if they were in a Noel Coward play. Unfortunately, on the day I went for lunch, none of these people was present. Just a few bored-looking businessmen. By the end of the meal I'd have paid anything to have the Noel Coward touring version and the gay decorator there to liven things up.

The room has one thing going for it and it isn't the food. It has a wonderful view across Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, including Princess Di's palace-pad and a lot of London. With scenery like that, I wondered why the menu had an arty (failed) photo of two forks in yellow and brown on it. I took a very bright lady, Marie Hoy, whom I met in 1970 when she arranged for me to lecture at London University. Then she was a student, now a successful film financier and seller-of.

An elegant and smiling girl, Anne-Mette Madsen (Danish), showed me to a window table, but, before I could dive into the £15.95 set lunch ex coffee inc Vat and service, I was assaulted by the Muzak. After negotiation it was changed for classical piano. Even one of my favourites, The Room at the Halcyon, recently added Muzak to destroy the atmosphere. M Poussin, the manager, looked crestfallen when I said, "Take it off". "Harold Pinter and Simon Gray hate it, too," he admitted. "They're people of culture and taste," I said. "Why not listen to them? What fine restaurant in the world has Muzak coming at people as they eat?" Actually, Chinon does, but it's incredibly good and well-chosen stuff. Martin Hadden, the excellent young chef at the Halcyon, needs no orchestral accompaniment.

To return to the Royal Garden 10th floor. This could be something big. It is not quite offensively decorated in orangey wood, although the tiny dance floor and grand piano are absurd. The food isn't awful, it's just not worth going up 10 floors for.

I had quite a good watercress and apple soup with pork knuckle tortellini to start. Marie had crab and saffron pudding souffle with watercress butter sauce from the a la carte. She thought it was bland. The bread was awful. Marie had eaten swordfish in Los Angeles that was better. My crispy Thai chicken and aromatic rice with coriander salad and chilli dressing took up a lot of words but tasted of nothing in particular.

At 2.10 the terrible music came on again, like a fairground, then stopped after two minutes. Then there was a blast from the speakers for a few seconds, then the piano started again! We came in before one and, at 2.15, we still didn't have dessert; that describes the service. When it arrived, my double-baked lime souffle was pleasant, Marie's passion-fruit tart okay to good. A family from Singapore spent a fortune rebuilding the Royal Garden. Why can't they hire a really good chef? The Halcyon was a restaurant-to-avoid for years, then they brought in young Hadden and all was forgiven.

Looking round the nearly empty room, I asked Anne-Mette who exactly came in. "The Daily Mail and the Evening Standard come for lunch," she said, "Like the managing director, he comes, and Jak the cartoonist comes." I noted Fay Maschler did not.

It's a shame this "new" hotel looks like every other anonymous, airport-lounge type place in the world. The lobby, at least, is vulgar. I enjoyed that. There's a large statue of Prince Albert having a drink at a table above the reception desk and, facing it, an extraordinary life-size edifice of someone in high boots and a gold coat blowing a bugle. To the left as you enter is an arch reminiscent of the Queen Mother's gates in Hyde Park. It's a mad cacophony of oddity that at least catches the eye. Up aloft, dear Anne-Mette deserves better. She should blow up the Muzak machine, go and see the boss and tell him to let Winner instruct them on how to milk a room with a view. But maybe not. Nobody's that daring.