Published 3 August 1997 Style Magazine 213th article
Ponder this: Toby Hill, Michael Winner and Melanie Philbey at Provence at Gordleton Mill (Vanessa Perry)
Mr Simon Brown of Edinburgh has hurt me deeply. He wrote to this page saying it was time I ventured across the border into Scotland. The splendid and renowned chef Gordon Ramsay came from there; why could I not go where emanated from? I am wounded because Mr Brown is obviously not a regular reader. Were he so, he would know that I had disseminated my unsurpassed wisdom about restaurants in Inverary, Fort William, Spean Bridge, Ullapool (two different places) and Lochinver, to name but six. As for Mr Ramsay, was it not I who early on visited his current location at Aubergine, and said he would surely get a Michelin star. Now, he has two, and well deserved they are.
Mr Ramsay featured recently when I visited Gordleton Mill, a hotel in Lymington, Hampshire. Apparently, he comes there on many weekends to escape the surface elegance of Chelsea. The restaurant, in the most English of mills, is called Provence. I found this odd. But I was pleased with my welcome. A pretty blonde lady, Melanie Philbey, fiancee of the patron, Toby Hill, was standing in the parking area to greet me. I was met like that elsewhere in Hampshire. It is a courtesy London eateries should accord me. Why should Nico Ladenis not be on duty on the pavement of Park Lane to welcome me, or Jeremy King at Le Caprice or . . . I could go on forever. I hope they all read this and learn.
Melanie led us over a wooden bridge, stretching across a millpond with water lillies, to a setting of extreme beauty. Here I read on the menu that the restaurant calls itself "Gastronomique Francais"> Why, I cannot imagine. I basked in the sun on a nice wrought-iron chair (not plastic, thank goodness) with a striped cushioned seat. We ordered a half bottle of Chateaux Margaux 1966 at £210 plus service. I like that.
Eventually, we entered the stone-floored dining room, with white painted beams. Very pleasant. An announcement read: "All our beef is from organically reared Angus steers under two years old." Obviously, on their third birthday, the poor dears become useless.
I had the set menus at £19.50, commencing with a freebie starter (I refuse to call it an amuse-bouche) of chilled tomato consomme. There were three different types of bread - all warm, all extremely good. I thought my main course of roast breast of guinea fowl with morels, pommes fondantes, foie gras and thyme jus somewhat overrich. Vanessa actively disliked her steamed fillet of local sea bass with scallop mousse, etuve of fennel, caviare and champagne veloute. She thought "the stuff inside the fish" had a strange taste and texture. She didn't think the sea bass was totally fresh. I tasted it and agreed.
A detailed description of 18 cheeses was printed on the menu - a good idea. The ones we ate were delicious. I quite like sickly things, but my creme brulee was too much that way, even for me. The service was highly efficient, but when we went out for coffee by the pond (or was it a river?) they brought the wine, the fizzy and the still water, six little red napkins in a glass, but not my bowl of ice or plate of lemon slices. Naughty. A fly fell in my peppermint tea. Not really Toby's fault, I suppose.
They gave us absolutely exceptional vanilla truffles. I pigged out on them disgracefully. Then I was shown the water mill, now adapted to take seven bedrooms. Inside, it was decorated a bit like a motel. But it is pleasant. Toby and Melanie have nearly raised the money to buy it from a local businessman. I wish them luck.
Talking about meeting, and greeting - as we were - I have a strong complaint about Jerome Poussin, restaurant manager at The Room At The Halcyon near my Holland Park residence. I went in at 12.45pm the other day with my friend Lord Glenconner and there was nobody to greet us at all. As I showed His Lordship to my regular table, Mr Poussin came out of the kitchen wiping his mouth. There were six other customers in the dining room.
"You should be on duty to greet people," I said, severely. "The restaurant's open - your job is out here."
"I was discussing the set lunch," said Mr Poussin.
"Oh yeah," I thought.
A few moments later, his assistant manageress came out of the kitchen. I gave er a blast, too. Then they forgot to serve butter with the bread. I made my feelings known again. For most of my life I would have suffered all that in silence. I'm delighted that in middle age (ha, ha!) I have wised up.
Some 20 years ago, in the days when the better restaurants had dress codes, I visited a restaurant near Hereford. A notice in the car park indicated that gentlemen were required to wear a necktie. This was reinforced at the restaurant entrance by a picture frame in which was displayed a tie, with beneath it, in large black letters, the words "Who Wears Dines". Michael Winner is, of course, notorious for dining tieless. He is often pictured in these pages with the collar of his shirt open and displaying a tangle of chest hair. It occurs to me that restaurateurs who live in dread of his visits may well be advised to adopt the aforementioned device as a deterrent.
Raymond Franks, Thorner, W Yorks.
We stayed at the Ferme Saint Simeon in Honfleur a few days after Michael Winner's first mention of it (Style, June 29). The food, as he says, is excellent, if overpriced, and the staff and management very French. However, our room, was very hot due to the swimming pool in the basement and, with the window open, the traffic noise was unbearable. We only stayed two days. As for the "sea view", this should have read "view of the estuary, oil tanks and mud flats". Did we stay at the same hotel?
Maureen Keywood, Loughborough.
London, we are told, is now the eating out capital of the world. But venture further afield, and, with a few notable exceptions, British restaurants still seem stuck in the 1970s. Surely provincial restaurateurs don't actually believe that steak and chips is an exciting culinary experience?
E Smith, Barnsley.