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Swiss roles

Published 15 March 1998
Style Magazine
244th article

Gstaad here: Michael Winner on the Palace Hotel terrace with Peter Wyss and Gildo Bocchini (Vanessa Perry)

The toilet seat was the most awful I have come across. It was of a very cheap, grey plastic. It didn't match anything in the bathroom. On top of it was an advertising plaque for Swiss Clean Anti-Germ Solution. This was red and green with the Swiss national emblem in the middle.

I was disappointed to see this in my suite at the Palace Hotel, Gstaad because this is a very classy place. It was like being given frozen fish fingers at Claridge's - unexpected. Other than that, and the fact that no porters appeared to take our luggage when we arrived, until found and shepherded, everything was good to very good. I did miss Victor Ferrari, who used to be the reception manager. I was told he had gone into pharmaceuticals. There were rather severe girls in red uniforms in his place.

The Palace sits on a small hill, looking down on the chalets of the unspoilt little Swiss town. It has four turrets that spring out of each corner, a typical Victorian folly-type of architecture, which I greatly like.

If you walk through the large, leather-chaired lounge with its open log fire and sweeping view of the mountains, you come onto the rear terrace, facing snow and high peaks, with a hot sun that gives you a tan. Greeting you is Gildo Bocchini, the maitre d'. Gildo has been there 30 years and the chef, Peter Wyss, for 24 years. They are both superb. The terrace is one of the great locations of they world. The Swiss love roesti, basically hash brown potatoes with an egg on top. Not posh, but very nice.

Is there any other hotel where people dress up each night for dinner in fully jewelled regalia? Ladies in ball gowns intertwined with gold, men in suits and ties. It is from another world that has passed to be replaced by horrid, noisy, mass-customered restaurants that dare to think they are "in". If they represent the best of Cool Britannia, God help the world.

A man with slicked-back hair sat alone at a table on my right. Ahead, also alone, a lady in a silver, patterned dress looked at her diamond ring, then tucked into coconut ice cream with chocolate sauce, with a plate of fruit salad on the side.

A small orchestra - piano, violin, double bass - played melodies grossly alien to Noel or Liam Gallagher. I had a small potato with some caviare, then an escalope of veal that looked like meat - it was not disguised some "artistic" nothing. Vanessa had rainbow trout and vegetables. the food is exceptionally good.

There was one problem. Gildo recommended apple pie, which was not on the menu, so I asked for some. It did not arrive. Vanessa's camomile tea came. I had nothing. I called a waiter over and told him, quietly, that I was waiting for my apple pie and that it was customary for the dessert to appear before the tea or coffee. He scurried off and came back with a large plate of sliced pineapple. I pointed out, with extreme tolerance and gentle demeanour, that this did not look like apple pie to me. Eventually, the pie appeared. Jolly good it was, too.

I knew I was in professional hands when Vanessa ordered apple juice for breakfast and got both bottled and fresh. The butter was in little pots and not wrapped. Other than the disgusting toilet seat, the bathroom had almost everything, including Dead Sea salts, but, surprisingly, no cotton buds.

The Palace is great in winter, with snow over everything, or summer, with its enormous swimming pool, the mountains alive with flowers and the chalets groaning under the red carnations lining every window. You expect to see Julie Andrews swinging through with a bucket and strange children. It's not surprising that she used to live in Gstaad, and the streets were alive with posters advertising her forthcoming concert.

I was disappointed to see the town centre pedestrianised. That would have been alright, but not to make way for an exceedingly tacky street market with rock'n'roll music blaring and sausages being sizzled. I retreated, shocked, into Charly's Tea Rooms, which had newspapers on poles and old-fashioned tablecloths. I had green tea and a disappointing mound of strange custard with a cream top. A woman came round handing out sachets of Edelweiss Bonson with Guarana sugarless "natural powder".It turned out to be five little orange gumdrops. I waited for Julie to turn up with samples of genuine edelweiss, but she must have been otherwise occupied. So I left for the supposedly excellent Park Hotel. There, I had probably the worst dinner I've ever eaten. Oh well, not even Gstaad is perfect.


Perhaps Michael Winner would like to pay a visit to the much-hyped Pharmacy in Notting Hill in the near future. Having failed to secure decent service at this ludicrous theme restaurant myself, I would be interested to see if Mr Winner fares any better. During a recent visit for Sunday brunch, I twice complained about the freezing air conditioning above me, only to be completely ignored, despite the fact that my hair was visibly blowing in the breeze. The cabbage we ordered as a side dish failed to appear (our coffee was gratis by way of compensation), while our main courses and Badoit were both lukewarm. We found the latter particularly galling given that at Pharmacy a badly cooked chicken breast with a few soggy vegetables will set you back £14.
Emma Dagg, London SW4

Although I frequently disagree with Michael Winner, after a recent experience at the Waterside Inn I would have thought that being banned from its sister establishment, the Gavroche, was a bonus. The fish en croute looked delicious but when we tucked in there were volumes of skin and loads of bones. The maitre d' did apologise and we weren't charged for it but, as I explained, I would much rather have paid for an edible main course.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire

If Michael Winner ever finds himself in St-Germain-en-Laye in the company of a large dog, he would find a warm welcome at La Forestiere. When I dined there recently the couple on the next table brought a large white poodle. Not only did the dog sit upright at the table, but the chef cooked it a special dish of scrambled egg, which its mistress fed it by hand. It must have given the kitchen the thumbs up, because it wolfed the lot.
Guy Consterdine, Woking, Surrey