Published 30 November 1997 Style Magazine 229th article
Putting on the Ritz: from left, Giles Shepard, Oliver Reed, Michael Winner, Felicity Kendal and Chris Rea (Ron Purdie)
I was awakened at 7.15am by loud moaning and groaning. Not a companion with food poisoning, but something in the pipes. It resembled the second world war. Here was whistling, a rumble, a sound like an old tugboat motor dying, high wind noises. They came from both sides of my room; stereophonic intrusion. All this in the Pendley Manor Hotel, Tring, described in the brochure as "a setting which speaks of tranquillity".
The peak of non-tranquillity continued until 7.50am, then subsided, but for the next hour strange noises came back, as if a monster, now caged, was trying to fight his way out. Since I had not got to bed until one in the morning and was there to get rest in between days and nights of filming, I was not thrilled. Forced to rise, I now read the brochure further. Craydown Ltd, it informed me, had bought the hotel (built in 1872) 10 years ago and "transformed it to its former glory allowing guests to enjoy once more the distinguished elegance and beauty of the Victorian era".
Earlier, on my way to room 224 (don't say I didn't specifically warn you), the corridor smelt odd. When I asked what it was the porter said "renovation". My door was badly dented and the bathrobe tatty with the right-hand sleeve coming away at the shoulder. The tiles in my bathroom were cracked, the soap was by Burberry's and of a form I imagine they served in the army. The hairdryer stopped after a very short time. Oh well, I said to myself, this is all the elegance of the Victorian era. Outside my windows I could witness first-hand an Audi convention.
Breakfast was ordered at 9.09am and arrived at 9.14am. A world record for a cooked breakfast. I thought it was pretty good. Nine pats of unwrapped butter, a small but nice portion of egg, sausage, tomato and mushrooms, and orange juice that they assured me was fresh.
The general manager, Mr Michael Tadros MHCIMA (whatever that means), was charming and very apologetic about my being disturbed. Well, it wasn't his fault Craydown Ltd thought Victorian plumbing carried its own elegance. The next night I was transferred to suite 110. This was tiny, but with two chocolates on the pillow, which I didn't get in 224. It had small windows with an uninterrupted view of roofs and machinery.
There was no phone in the sitting room. The shower was so low you had to duck to get under it. Mr Tadros had been gracious enough to provide two Havana cigars, which I took and lost; two bottles of wine, which I left behind; a nice display of white roses and a superb bathrobe. My second breakfast was ordered at 8.26am and arrived 14 minutes later, still excellent. I said again: "Are the oranges squeezed here by the staff?" On the first morning the answer was "yes". The second morning I was told: "I can probably get you some fresh orange juice if you like." I said: "Would you, please?"
Mr Tadros was there to see me leave. He was very nice and asked one of his staff to take a photo of him and me. He even sent it to me, but I'd feel a bit naughty printing it here as I have said a few downside things about his hotel. Instead, I offer you a picture of Giles Shepard, the best-dressed man I know and superboss of the Ritz in Piccadilly, with myself and some of the artistes in my film Parting Shots.
Mr Shepard was brave enough to permit me to film in some suites and corridors at the Ritz. Things went rather well, even though an elegant, courteous old Italian couple who spoke no English made it clear they didn't think my electricians could leave a plug in their suite with a wire to some of our lights when they themselves were going out. Not unnaturally, they wanted to lock the door.
I thought the suites at the Ritz extremely elegant and beautifully redone. The views over St James's Park and west down Piccadilly are spectacular. Chris Rea and I, both considerable experts on the subject, pronounced the Ritz toasted bacon sandwiches the best ever. I scoffed two meals in the restaurant, still the most beautiful dining room in London, and the food was far better than on my previous visits. They even offered a choice of five excellent olive oils to go with the bread. The whole place has the air of an enterprise now under control. Giles came from heading the Savoy Group. I credit him with the upgrade. Especially as he never even mentioned the Italians to me.
Your recent letter from A Chertavian concerning the Michelin Guide (Style, November 2) brings to mind my wife's experience in reserving a table at a local Thai restaurant. Booking mid-afternoon, only the chef was available to answer the telephone. His English wasn't too good, but the booking was made all the same. Uncertain of the exact location of the restaurant, my wife asked: "Where are you?" "Me," he replied, "I in kitchen."
Peter Hardy Cheltenham, Glos
You cannot imagine the influence you have had at the Trattoria San Marco. The Monday night after your article "Venetian class" (Style, November 2), people began to arrive with the clipping in their hand. At lunch and at dinner the tables have been full, and the trattoria and Liliana, Tizziana, Maria Rosa and Giuliana are now famous. I have been to Venice many times and know the trattoria well. After many years, it has become mia famiglia. Liliana has asked me to write and send many, many thanks. When you return, it will be as their guest. I suggest you try the veal with wine and herbs. E fabuloso.
Audrey Anderson Venice
Shortly after the publication of Michael Winner's article on the Fisherman's Hut Organic Food Restaurant in Twickenham (Style, October 19), I went with my wife and family to celebrate the birth of my great grandchildren. We thought the food and service were excellent and are now awaiting the next arrival so we can visit again.
Eric Owen, Burnham-on- Sea, Somerset