Published 25 May 1997 Style Magazine 203rd article
Gatsby returns: Michael Winner and Vanessa Perry dress for the party
The only letter ever published here that annoyed me appeared in 1994 and came from Mr Peter Robinson. He wrote: "My hope is that Michael Winner will write a piece that is objective, accurate and fair . . . such a piece has yet to be conceived by him." At the time, I had created 63 articles, of which 30 were rave reviews.
Mr Robinson's address was Stow-on-the-Wold. He also said he would like to write a column complaining about hotel guests, so I took it he was professionally employed. I rang the highest rated hotel in his town, Wyck Hill House, and they told me he worked there. This mini event receded into the mists of time. Recently, an invitation came from Lady Carole Bamford to attend a 21st-birthday party for her daughter; she recommended some hotels nearby. Checking up, I saw Wyck Hill House was very close. It stirred a distant memory. I checked. Oh dear, it was Peter Robinson's place. Would I be barred? If let in, would I be poisoned? They took my booking and Colin Heaney, the general manager, wrote a charming letter of welcome, so off we went.
My introduction was poor. It was raining, and Vanessa took a hanger of clothes from the car into the lobby while I opened the boot of the Ferrari. She came out to get more suitcases. The porter stood inside in the warm hall watching through a glass-panelled door.
I went moderately bananas. "Dare I say," I announced in a loud voice that startled a man working on his 1929 Bentley, "that the purpose of being a porter is to help the guests, not stand idly by." Thus the fellow was inspired to action. I must have been in a good mood, because I gave him a £5 tip.
The room was pleasant but odd, saved by a wonderful view of sweeping Gloucestershire countryside, and some very comfortable chairs and a sofa. Otherwise, it was a mishmash of blue drapes and chintz curtains. Nothing matched, and the bathroom was appallingly small. Lady Bamford's party was a triumph, beautifully catered by Mustard, with jolly booths, including a Victorian-type photo place and people doing nonpermanent tattoos. I was totally in the doghouse, because the theme was The Great Gatsby.
"When was that?" Vanessa had asked.
"1930s," I'd replied confidently.
Thus, she was the only girl in a 1930s dress while everyone else was accurately dressed in 1920s gear. I think she looked lovely. I wore a velvet smoking jacket. I looked like the touring version of My Fair Lady, but nobody seemed to mind.
Wyck Hill House is nice, but erratic. We sat on the paved terrace before lunch on metal chairs without cushions. Finally, a waiter appeared and placed cushions on four empty chairs at the next table. He eventually came back and said: "Would you like cushions?"
"I thought you'd never ask," I replied.
When, later, someone came to take an order, the buck's fizz took for ever. Difficulty with the fresh orange juice, perhaps. Certainly the orange muck that came at breakfast was memorably horrific.
Service at lunch was equally leisurely. It took 40 minutes for the first course to arrive. Vanessa's cream of asparagus soup was good, but coldish. The main courses came an hour after we'd sat down. My roast beef and yorkshire was okay at best. Vanessa's chicken was all right - she ate nearly all of it. My chocolate brownies were sickly sweet and didn't taste of chocolate.
The wine service was strange. The waiter poured the Chateau Beychevelle without offering it for tasting, dropping blobs of it on the table as he did so.
The public rooms have a nice, not-done-up feel about them. I've stayed in better country hotels, but this place was certainly not offensive.
Back in London, I couldn't resist phoning Peter Robinson, who had moved to the Hotel La Place in Jersey. "About your letter saying everything I'd written was horrid and unfair: does that mean it was unfair when I raved about Claridge's, Le Caprice and the Canteen because you thought they were awful?" I asked naughtily. "And what about the other 28 places I loved?"
"I think some, not all, of your articles were, er, slightly inaccurate," said poor Mr R, put on the spot. "I still read your column with interest every single week."
"Do you still want to write a column attacking hotel guests?" I asked.
"Definitely," said Mr Robinson. "May I send you a sample?"
How could I refuse? "How would that fit in with your being host at the Hotel La Place?" I asked.
"My article wouldn't be vexatious or waspish," assured Mr Robinson.
Really, I thought. What's the point of it then? But I was too kind to say so.
We recently booked a table for 30 at Salsa, Charing Cross Road, London, to celebrate a friend's birthday. We were assured that numbers weren't a problem, provided we paid a £50 deposit. On arriving, however, we were shown to a table for 25, and told that we would have to squeeze up. This proved impossible as the chairs were already so tightly locked together that we had to climb over them to get to our seats. The evening didn't improve. Service was almost nonexistent, to the extent that we had to write down our orders and take them to the waiting staff ourselves. When the food finally arrived at midnight (we had sat down at 10pm), it was placed indiscriminately in front of us. It was a lesson to beware of places that require a deposit, as this was the only thing that prevented us from walking out.
Jonathan Willis, Stanmore, Middlesex.
I am fed up with the personal attacks and criticism levelled at Michael Winner by your readers. I believe that his weekly reports on the places he and Vanessa have dined provide a valuable service for restaurant-goers. No doubt, the restaurants also value the publicity and prestige it brings them. As for his figure and style of dress, I find him rather cuddly. He may well be a relative, as he looks rather like my old gran. Keep writing, Michael.
E F R Stanley, Wilford, Notts.