Published 20 April 1997 Style Magazine 198th article
Get shirty: Michael Winner and Vanessa Perry on the terrace of their suite at La Colombe d'Or, St Paul-de-Vence (Andrew Neil)
I am in an extremely bad mood. I bet that surprises you. In fact, I am close to total hysteria. I care not that I wrote briefly about airlines last week, you can jolly well hear some more!
It started with Northern Executive Aviation, from whom I booked a Learjet return to Nice for £10,332. "What?" I hear you say. "Anyone who'll pay that for a flight deserves all he gets!" I do not subscribe to those sentiments. We would leave Northolt at 9.30am to arrive in Nice at noon in time for a nice lunch on the hillside terrace of La Colombe d'Or. At 8.30 that morning a Mr Swatridge telephoned to say we'd take off 20 minutes late. This did not please me.
"Are you sure?" I asked on the way to Northolt. Yes, he was. At the airport they told me the plane would arrive from Amsterdam at 10am and leave at 11am! Even Valium would not have worked, had I possessed any.
Mr Swatridge disagreed: "The plane will arrive at 9.40 and you will leave at once." He gave later versions of my departure, all inaccurate. We finally took off and arrived an hour late. Not before the copilot offered us a tray of what I will generously call sandwiches. I tried a cheese one, others of meat looking too dangerous to contemplate. I can only report that if a navvy was given this cheese sandwich by his wife to take to a building site for lunch it would be grounds for instant divorce. How dare a private jet supplier, with glossy brochures oozing from the armrests, provide food like that?
Luckily, La Colombe d'Or in St Paul-de-Vence, where Picasso, Braque, Miro, Matisse and others paid for their dinner with paintings that still adorn the walls, was as brilliant, becalmed and historic as ever. I even got good news: my least favourite hotel manager ever, Gilbert Hirondelle of La Reserve de Beaulieu, had been let go!
New owners had bought the place from the bank that had been landed with it. Lunch there showed it back to its old grace and splendour. I lift my fatwa on La Reserve. Under Jean-Claude Delion, who also owns the excellent Residence de la Pinede in St Tropez, all is well again!
As I'd dismounted from my Learjet at Nice the pilot asked: "Would you like to confirm your flight back, sir?"
"Yes," I said, "with British Midland."
A bit of bravado that I followed through, not without casualty! After dire problems with British Airways ground staff at Nice, I forewarned British Midland I was on heat and they whisked me onto the plane smoothly. Once there, however, oh dear. Those nasty, narrow little seats, same in Diamond Class as Economy. And the tray of dinner, beyond belief! A hot bowl with a tinny cover when unpeeled left me confused.
"What is this?" I asked the hostess.
"Fish," she said, "salmon I believe."
It didn't look like salmon to me. It smelt not nice. I asked the man opposite for his view. "Haddock," he said. An elegant lady in front said: "I'm not eating this fish." Then the hostess returned and said she could now positively identify it as cod. There were some odd potatoes and stringy spinach, a rubbery bread roll and a chocolate egg with sickly-goo stuff in the middle. All in all these were the worst tastes ever to insult my persona.
A white-haired gent in front now joined in. "The seats are better on British Airways, but the stewardesses bully you," he advised. I prefer BA stewardesses and food, although the latter is only just on the scale. The British Midland cutlery was so awful I didn't even bother to ask if I could take some. My salad was going brown, the strawberries were soggy, the wine was contained in what looked like an oil bottle. It was Etalon Bordeaux 1995.
"I take it home for cooking," said the elegant lady putting two bottles in her bag. "You're very brave," I replied.
The return flight for two cost £968, which I thought high, but it did get in on time which is more than the private jet managed - there the bill is still under severe "discussion". A millionaire at La Colombe d'Or said he came from Luton on easyjet for £49 a head! "You have to bring your own food," he added.
At least that's one way of knowing you can eat it.
Every time I read Michael Winner's column he mentions expensive wines with funny names. A large number of his readers are not old enough to drink wine, so perhaps he could try milkshakes with his beans and sausages (banana is my favourite).
Emma Lickfold (aged 8), Wedmore, Somerset
As Michael Winner is continually complaining about in-flight service, I would like to give some praise. I flew Emirates economy and it was as good as most business classes. Each seat had a TV and room even for Mr Winner.
M Moore, London W5
Last month my wife and I went to the River Cafe in Hammersmith, London, full of expectation. Our reservation was for 9.15pm. We tried to order our main courses, of which there was a choice of six. My first choice, the duck, was not available; my second choice, the pork, was also unavailable. All that was left was fish, so fish it was. I would have thought that, with such a limited menu, they would take care that everything was available, or is this something one has to expect if one eats late?
Paul Groves, Sevenoaks, Kent