Published 16 February 1997 Style Magazine 189th article
Hot tip: Michael with Sonja (Vanessa Perry)
I have watched the same cabaret at the Sandy Lane hotel for 15 years. The fire-eater and the limbo dancer. I like the limbo dancer. Grown men stand up to see over heads in front as she goes under a burning pole only inches from the ground. A few days after the Irish contingent, Dermot Desmond and J P McManus, bought the hotel a strange thing happened. Enter Sandy Lane's first imported cabaret. An elderly man named Vince Earl, from Liverpool, with a rock band of wrinkled oldies nobody had ever heard of, doling out robust, often unfunny anti-Irish jokes. Were Mr D and Mr Mc exhibiting extraordinary tolerance? The gags, from the Bernard Manning school of comedy, left many guests stupefied. But I must report that a section of the high-payers loved this old-fashioned pub act and took to the dance floor merrily. One night there was a black-tie affair with an elaborate menu. I always avoid these dos.
When I returned from Robert Sangster's annual party, where the principal fun is seeing me doused in foam by his young son, the Sandy Laners were as near open revolt as I have ever known them. The quality of the food, the endless delays in service had them apoplectic. The Sandy Lane is never at its best when they instruct guests to be formal. That is why Sir Rocco Forte once walked out of their black-tie New Year's Eve bash to join my casual dinner party down the road. "I don't go to the Caribbean to dress up," he announced to a newspaper. If only Mr Williams, the manager, could be converted. He still insists on no jeans, even in the casual beachside restaurant. Like all silly rules, it is never kept. There was not one night I did not see someone in jeans, though I never even brought mine from London!
The new food and beverage manager, Ruud van Dijk, came from Holland. I have always had a soft spot for Dutch people, probably because I don't know any. Mr van Dijk was nearly in tears after the black-tie gala fiasco. He assured me he would get the next one right. He simplified the food to a no-choice, well-selected menu, and contented guests pronounced it the best ever, except for serious overcrowding caused by the erection of a tent allowing too many "aliens" in. I was not present there either, but I came later to find Vince Earl, sans jokes, had been much enjoyed. A couple of days on, the Vince Earl comedy hour went down a treat, too. The good old pub act triumphed! Even though the Americans couldn't understand a word of his Scouse accent.
The Sandy Lane beach has always been the best run in the world. First Archer, who went to the great sunbed in the sky, then David were brilliant. This year, for some extraordinary reason, they let David go and took on a man called Mr Brandford who had been in the airline business. I believe in subtlety when it comes to staff matters. "You may have been great in the airline business," I told him. "On the beach you're a disaster." As guests spend most time on the golden sands, management should realise a proper chief of that area is essential.
The loss of Frankie, a wrestler-sized local head waiter, upset me. His successor, a blond young man from Chester called Jenner, did rather well. A good grafter. But he must learn that when he says, "Happy New Year. Lord X. Happy New Year, Mr Winner," it is normal to include the ladies present!
The local staff at Sandy Lane have always been the making of the place. I know of none better. Eccentric they may be, but they are real and affectionate characters. My daily chats with them are a joy. The waitress Jennifer laughed so much when I dictated the maitre d's name into my tape recorder that she cried. Judy is shy and adorable and has a crush on the chef. The greatest, over-the-top character is Sonja. Since our photo she has had her hair cut short and brilliantined so she resembles a podgy Josephine Baker. "We don't see much cash out of you, Mr Winner," she would say as she went off roaring with laughter. Personally I think £30,000 a visit including a 10% gratuity is pretty generous. This year Sonja took things a bit far, referring to me twice as "Winner". I had to upbraid her. Apparently she had just been on a training bash at the Manor hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon. Shows what happens when you send excellent staff to the Midlands. Disaster. But I love them all, so I don't care.
I read with interest Michael Winner's assassination of Au Jardin des Gourmets in Greek Street (Restaurant Watch, January 26). Having been a customer of Au Jardin for many years, I can honestly say that it is one of the most professional restaurants in London. The food is always excellent as, is the service and the ambience. If Mr Winner is so offended by not getting the table that he wants that it influences rational judgment, then he should not be writing this column.
Susan Eyles Slough, Berks.
I am pleased to set Cynthia Patterson's mind at rest concerning the consumption of dolphins at a restaurant in Barbados (Letters, February 9) by informing her that as well as being "beautiful and intelligent creatures", as exemplified by Flipper, dolphins are also a species of fish. The piscine version of dolphins must regret their inability to wear a fixed smile and star in anthropomorphic children's television programmes.
Peter Goodman Brighton.