Published 7 December 1997 Style Magazine 230th article
... past: Michael Winner with ... Black, Alan ..., Don Black and Rima Horton (Vanessa Perry)
I am in a state of considerable overexcitement. Colm Hannon, the new Irish (a good sign) manager of the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados, has just told me the new owners are going to knock the place down. I'd only phoned to confirm my Christmas booking for the 17th year in a row. I intended to make a humble suggestion - that the hotel recognise something all other hotels, grand and mini, take into account: the hair dryer.
For some extraordinary reason, Sandy Lane, which sets me back some £30,000 every year for a two-week stay, has never had a hair dryer in the bathroom. It does have one in a drawer in the bedroom, but it's not the same. Who wants to go crawling about, soaking wet, looking for a spare plug in the skirting in which to put a contraption that dries your hair?
I started by asking if my suite would be even more glamorous after the "renovation".
"It will he larger," said Colm.
"How come?" I asked.
Then Mr H revealed it was all being demolished. When rebuilt, there would be fewer rooms and those left would be much upgraded.
I was so overwhelmed I completely forgot to mention the hair dryer. But I did check that Max, the Italian chef, would be back in the lower restaurant (that needs cheering up decor-wise, if anything does) and that Hans would be in charge of the upper bit. I'm glad to say they will both be in residence.
I find it bizarre reading that you have to book six weeks ahead for the Ivy, three months or more ahead for Aubergine in London, and so on with our "in" places. This is nothing to Barbados. Restaurants there take fax bookings for the Christmas period, which means-that all the good ones are solidly booked nine months ahead. People even leave lists of reservations as they go home early in the new year for a year or more later.
This is too much for me. Knowing I would be turning up that far ahead would completely spoil the fun of it. As in Britain, the restaurants of Barbados have improved greatly over the past few years. Everyone has their own favourites, but I think most would place the Cliff at, or near the top, of the list. This sits overlooking the sea. It is owned by Brian Ward, whose family once had Treasure Beach, an excellent, smaller hotel to which I have directed many happy visitors, including famous artistes du cinema and even an editor of The Sunday Times.
Close by, on an equally commanding cliff top, is Carambola, once also owned by Brian Ward and others, but now controlled by Robin Walcott. At Cliff, you'll find it hard to beat their Caribbean shrimp with green curry sauce. At Carambola, the grilled fillet of swordfish with bajan pepper sauce mayonnaise, served with apple, tomato and blackeye pea salad, is also a delight.
Last year I had an excellent meal at La Maison, hosted by Robert Earl of Planet Hollywood fame. There you sit inches from the sea at beach level. Barbados restaurants tend to change chefs and , owners rather speedily. So I checked with Susan Sangster an expert local resident, and she assured me The Mews in Holetown is still terrific, as is Olive's next door. A new place, the Ile de France, has opened close to Coral Reef, the best hotel of the old days and still nice. But I always notice how the beach there has diminished. Indeed, the ravenous removal of the coral reef to sell in little pieces to tourists has played havoc with the yellow sands. In yesteryear, Mr J Cleese of Weston-super-Mare and I would walk from Sandy Lane past the Coral Reef some two miles away with our feet in the Caribbean sea. No more. The beaches are so slimmed down in many places that they have vanished and you can't get by the rocks.
Inland, when driving your Mini Moke, almost as soon as you left the coast road you used to go through banana plantations and little wooden villages. Now you journey through acres of posh housing estates on your way to the Atlantic side of the island, windswept and severe but comparatively untouched, for a lobster lunch at the Kingsley Club or a stroll round the Andromeda Botanical Gardens.
It's all getting a bit posh for me. You may have more sophisticated people who demand, and get, a better class of catering, but I preferred it when it was less developed, more full of trees and bushes, and the food was dreadful. Ah, we shall never see those days again. But then you could say that about a lot of things.
As a longstanding reader of your frequently infuriating restaurant reviews, I had managed to forget completely that your true profession is that of film director. I was surprised, therefore, to find your name topping the credits for production, direction and screenplay of A Chorus of Disapproval the other weekend. The film was marvellous - a real treat. All I can say, Mr Winner, is please, please concentrate your efforts on your true forte and save the restaurant world, and your many distressed readers, from further suffering.
Lesley Hardman, Glossop
I must say that Michael Winner's recent experience of the Thatched Cottage hotel in Brockenhurst (Style, November 9) could not be more different from mine. The Thatched Cottage is a wonderful place, 400 years old and with just five exquisitely decorated bedrooms (mine had a four-poster). The restaurant is charming, the staff extremely friendly and, despite what Mr Winner says, the food as good as you will find anywhere in the UK (I am from London and have eaten in many of the so-called "best restaurants" in town). In fact, the place is so magical that I was unable to resist proposing to my girlfriend.
Mick Thompson, Addlestone, Surrey
I do so hope, for his peace of mind, that Michael Winner didn't read the article in your pages entitled "Revenge is a dish" about waiters who get their own back (Style, November 16).
Dr Trevor Harley, Perth