Published 25 January 1998 Style Magazine 237th article
A lorra laughs: Cilla Black and Michael Winner at the Sandy Lane carnival (Vanessa Perry)
"If it works, don't fix it," was the sentiment expressed by Sandy Laners as we surveyed plans for the new Sandy Lane that will rise from the rubble. I was there for my 16th year and we all agreed things were going splendidly. If ever a place didn't need demolishing, this was it.
Management and the new Irish owners have other ideas, including putting a penthouse atop each wing, one for Mr Dermot Desmond and one for Mr J P McManus. After all, what's the point of buying a hotel if you can't lord it over the guests? A cynic (I think it was me) said that perhaps they were razing it to the ground because the current structure didn't have load-bearing walls, so it was the only way the bosses could sit atop the Lilliputians.
One element of the rebuilding I found utterly incredible. A great sight from Sandy Lane is the stunning bay in which it sits. At breakfast it is a serious pleasure to look over the expanse of sea, sand and tropical trees that can only be seen well from the first-floor dining room. With imagination bordering on the indescribable, the new plans call for this room to be shut during daylight hours and only used for dinner, when there is no view at all because it is dark. Perhaps the manager, Richard Williams, a Bajan, is so used to the beauties of his own island that he's unaware they are the reason most guests travel to it in the first place. I do hope he reconsiders.
I also found it odd there would be only two-bedroom suites. So the minimal extra size of my accommodation would mean, with the addition of this other bedroom, that I'd have considerably less space to use than before. I can't think of any other hotel that only has two-bedroom suites - most give a choice.
Lest you think I am being picky (heaven forbid) I heartily congratulate Mr Williams and all his staff (well, nearly all), on providing what, in the general opinion of the Christmas heavy-hitters, was the best year ever. This made us even more nervous about the impending changes.
Max Sciuto, the Italian chef in the lower restaurant, was again the hero of the gastronomes. His area was always packed. Upstairs in the grander room, of the 120 seats there were seldom more than 30 occupied. Hans Schweitzer has greatly improved the overall food situation - indeed, he owes his job to the time I wrote about how horrific the food was, and Rocco Forte brought in massive changes. But sadly, the only dinner I ate in the formal room was dreary. Slightly overcooked fish with a yellow sauce with red blobs that consisted of I know not what - nor did I care. And quite the worst tart of something I have ever eaten. On the other hand, the lunch buffet remained excellent throughout, and one day offered a banana strudel that was totally historic.
The beach was saved by the workers. Its new boss, Jason Gonzalez, must have a vocation somewhere, preferably a long way from sea and sand. While Dave and the lads scurried about like good 'uns, Mr G looked soulfully out to sea, ignoring the non-guests sitting on the chairs and people from cruise ships running amok. They'd probably tipped the doorman to let them in - although I did meet a charming, 82-year-old lady from Sevenoaks, who'd come in a taxi from her cruise and was enjoying herself greatly.
This invasion of outsiders meant a distinguished regular guest, who ate with his family in the dining rooms every day and night, found his usual table occupied by day-trippers at Christmas lunch. The maitre d' had the impertinence to tell him he should have booked. He had to wait an hour and was only saved when I vacated my table for him. There's no point in spending millions on rebuilding if you treat people like that.
On the other hand, the management gets top marks for arranging a spectacular arrival by Santa Claus, who parachuted onto the beach, swooping over the hotel and landing at exactly the right spot. The fancy dress carnival on the ﬁrst day of the new year was pretty good, too.
The Sandy Lane personnel remain, without doubt, the most charming in the world. in fact, occasionally they seem to be in another world altogether. I got extremely agitated one lunch time when five requests for peppermint tea went unheeded for 20 minutes. I eventually rose from my seat to tell the no 2 chief, Darnley, that he should be ashamed of himself. That was my only outburst in 16 days of tranquillity. Mr Williams should be extremely proud of his achievement.
After reading Michael Winner's article slagging off the Japanese restaurant Nobu (Style, January 4), I studied the accompanying photo. Seeing the radiantly healthy Japanese with their chubby friend, I was left in no doubt as to who was the food expert.
Clive Cobb Hove, East Sussex
In answer to the reader who complained about the increasingly rigid timing of restaurant bookings (Style, January 4), I'm afraid he has only his fellow diners to blame. Booking tables and not turning up is all too common, and there are many people who book at three or four restaurants simultaneously and decide which one to patronise at the last moment - without, of course, having the courtesy to cancel their other reservations.
Serafina Clarke London W12?
May I put Wendy Rooney's mind at rest regarding her letter (Style, January 4) about a hotel and restaurant in Weymouth? Her complaint was that her own impressions of these establishments ran counter to the findings in the Egon Ronay's Hotel and Restaurant Guide (and also in the Which? Hotel Guide). The 1997 edition of Egon Ronay's Guide - which is, of course, now obsolete - was the last to be published under the old ownership and editorship. The rights to the guide came back to me last October and I have every reason to believe that such discrepancies are very unlikely to occur in the future.
Egon Ronay London SW3