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Thorny weather

Published 26 October 1997
Style Magazine
224th article

Country grouse: Michael Winner with Peter Crome at Chewton Glen in Dorset (Vanessa Perry)

I found the helicopter flight rather interesting. Vanessa was terrified. We'd set off from the Battersea Heliport in rain and gloom. After 20 minutes, we rose up to be smothered in cloud. The rain lashed against the cockpit. I looked down for a field or town - nothing, just cloud. This went on for half an hour. The journey, to Chewton Glen in Dorset, was only meant to take 45 minutes. That was gone - we were nowhere.

I didn't like to ask Philip Amadeus, the pilot, in case he thought I was questioning his navigational skills. It always worries me on helicopter trips when the pilot looks at a road map, apparently in confusion. They always do.

We started to descend. Good, I thought, we'll be in time for tea. What did I see below? Sea. Nothing but grey waves, no coastline. Did Philip think I'd said, "Normandy, my man!"

"Are we far away?" I asked, trying to appear casual. "We've had to make a detour," said Philip. "The cloud was so low. I couldn't risk hitting the South Downs, so I flew high and when we were over sea I knew it was safe to come out of the cloud."

This cheered me up no end. "Lucky you didn't have the helicopter you ordered," continued Philip through the headphones and microphone. "With that you'd never have made it, you'd have had to land in Sussex." I was expecting a single-engine Jet Ranger, but Philip couldn't find one, so he came himself - he's the company boss - in a very grand twin-engine Agusta 109, which you all know is the fastest civilian helicopter in the world.

I peered ahead. Was that low cloud or the British coast? It was the coast. Philip turned left, if that's the correct aeronautical term, and we flew over neat seaside houses until we reached New Milton and landed on the lawn. There, Peter Crome, the manager, and some porters were waiting. As we touched terra firma, the sun came out. We went in for a nice tea of scones and cakes by a log fire.

Chewton Glen is certainly a class act, probably the best country hotel in Britain. It was my second visit in two years, which speaks volumes. Peter Crome has all the hotel managerial qualities I admire: he's cheerful, considerate, caring and efficient. But I did feel obliged to make a few observations. First, concerning the blini that accompanied the caviare. I had railed against it on my previous visit. Stodgy, large. "It's like a muffin," said Vanessa. It completely outweighed - the delicacy of the sevruga. Why, I thought, when I'm kind enough to make a helpful suggestion, do they not act on it? Why are these awful things still being presented?

There was another boo-boo concerning the caviare. It was offered in 30g jars. A stingy amount. I ordered two for each of us. Quite honestly, 100g is a proper caviare portion, but 60g would do. Instead of bringing two separate 30g jars like they do at the Ivy (where blinis are thin and nice), they brought two heaped up 30g jars, which they assured me included the contents of the-other jars scooped out on top. This is equivalent to delivering a fine, vintage wine already decanted and saying, "We threw the bottle away."

I explained this patiently to Peter. "You're quite right," he said. "I'll tell them for next time." He thought for a moment. "Mind you, I don't suppose there'll be a next time," he added.

Another disaster was the room service. On the first morning, the continental breakfast was lacking croissants or any other type of rolls or bread. The third morning, there was no milk with the tea, and by the time it came the tea was cold. Then I noticed there was no butter, either.

For a first-class establishment, this is ridiculous. I told the restaurant manager, Patrick Gaillard, what I thought in no uncertain terms. He had taken my order - he should have checked the tray. The bill was £2,216.52 for three nights. For that, you expect milk and butter with breakfast. Other than this, all the food was excellent and the staff superior to unbeatable.

Oh, there was something else. I thought my accommodation rather cramped, two small rooms saved by a magnificent view. Peter asked if I'd like to see some other suites. There they were: large, far better than mine.

"Yours is a junior suite," said Peter.

"Junior?" I exploded. "Do I look like a junior?"

"You booked rather late," apologised Peter, "Nothing else was available."

"Throw people out," I said. "Move people around!"

"I couldn't do that," responded Peter.

That's why he's good, but not perfect.


Michael Winner's statement that the best luncheon value in Britain is that provided by Claridge's for the large sum of £29 (Style, September 28) presumes that he has personally checked out all luncheons available in Britain. Assuming recent rumours that God has reappeared on earth in Mr Winner's portly form are unfounded - or as yet unproven - this is patently untrue. I wrote to Michael Winner some time ago, and as I believe he reads all his correspondence personally, he should know that my recommendations still stand: the Zeus and Leandra restaurants in Plymouth both offer an excellent three-course meal for less than £4. The queues at peak times and the tight table spacing prove it. A vigilant check has failed to reveal any Rolls-Royces, Bentleys or Ferraris parked near these restaurants, nor has Mr Winner's whingeing voice of complaint been heard - proof that he has yet to try Devon's bargains.
John Prince Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire

When reviewing the White Horse Inn at Shere (Style, October 5), Michael Winner forgot to mention that the beer is both flat and overpriced - at least it was on August 24 when I visited. A most important omission.
Derrick Scholey Gordonthorpe, Sheffield

Michael Winner should choose a star letter to be printed each week. The writer could then be taken to lunch or dinner by Mr Winner himself. Perhaps I could be the one to start this new trend?
Louise Bartlett Dorking, Surrey