Published 23 August 1998 Style Magazine 267th article
Range of experience: Lynda Kettle and Michael Winner at Ty'n Rhos Country House
I have tried to expunge the memory of my stay at Henllys Hall Hotel, Beaumaris, from my mind. I cannot. I've counted sheep, I've counted from 100 backwards - both excellent ways of inducing sleep - I've tried drawing imaginary curtains over the whole experience. Nothing works. It was, as I recounted last week, the lure of a free helicopter ride that got me there. I'd rather have landed on the lawn of Fawlty Towers.
Other zingers that haunt me include the newspapers I ordered not arriving at the room, the "fresh" orange juice which was awful, the toast which was supposedly freshly made but turned up cold, the sight of paper napkins at breakfast (enough to ruin anyone's day), the unpainted piece of hardboard above the bedroom windows with pencil marks on it, the room not being made up in the evening or on our last day, so the unmade bed and mess remained staring at us - all this in a place that advertises itself as "a renowned, fine country house hotel". But I do thank the owner, John Rodger, for recommending me the Ty'n Rhos Country House and Restaurant.
This is a rather grand name for a modest, but beautifully situated, domestic dwelling with a black and white dog. It's near the village of Scion in Gwynedd. Translated from Welsh it means "house in the vale". It's owned by Lynda and Nigel Kettle. Lynda led us into a chintzy conservatory with views over rolling countryside. A lady got off a sofa and said: "Very nice to meet you. I've seen you in my local paper - we're from Pimlico." I'm obviously very big in Pimlico. Don't sneer. Where are you big?
I investigated the garden and the fields beyond, all owned by Lynda, and met some very pleasant black and white cows. Once again, the noise of a bypass intruded on the rural atmosphere.
A three-course Sunday lunch with coffee was £14.95 excluding service. Vanessa, who eats no meat except chicken, got carried away and ate a salami canape thinking it was tomato. This greatly upset her. Then she asked if the chicken was free-range. "It's still running round the back of the house with someone with a net trying to catch it," I volunteered. But lo and behold, a lady returned and said it was not free-range. Odd that, because the menu said: "Local farmers and butchers who rear their own animals with pride and skill, ensure only the best-quality meat is delivered to us." I guess they're all proud and skilled factory farmers.
Vanessa switched to crispy pancake filled with a ragu of avocado, tomato and spring onion to start and fillet of salmon infused with lime and coriander with a white wine sauce to follow. They were excellent. My twice-baked goat's cheese souffle was just right: properly crisp on the outside, not soggy on the inside. Then I had pot roast shoulder of lamb with an onion marmalade, herb dumplings, and coated with minted red wine sauce. Plus superb veg. All the food was close to historic. Unfortunately, the Welsh are under the illusion their domestic water supply is wonderful, so when you ask for still water it comes from the tap. It tastes overchemicalised and horrible.
The desserts were good though: summer pudding, vanilla baked cheesecake, home-grown gooseberry and elderflower cobbler with vanilla egg custard and caramel ice cream. All this served in a pleasant domestic setting in the middle of nowhere. Bit of a triumph really.
While I'm in a good mood, I'd like to congratulate Richard Shepherd of Langan's for providing me with a taste experience. I'm not a regular at Langan's by a long way, but I go to show-business parties in the upstairs room. These are beautifully catered with smoked salmon, shrimps and various other things, plus sausages and mash, which I mix on my plate with goujons of sole and onion sauce, proving my taste buds are exceptionally refined. The moment that grabbed me recently was when I took what I believed to be a sausage roll and it tasted of fish.
It was, per Richard, a "classical dish called dartois of sardines, made with sardines, grain mustard, butter and cayenne baked in puff pastry". That's all very grand for me, but it was marvellous. Shortly after I'd eaten it, someone spoke to Richard Shepherd about his newly opened Langan's Coq d'Or in Earl's Court. "Has Michael been yet?" they asked. "Michael Caine's been in, yes," said Richard. "I meant Michael Winner," said the questioner.
"We don't want him," said Richard. "Not till we've been open at least 12 weeks and got it all sorted out." There speaks a wise man.
You are a lovely, charming, well-mannered gentleman, Michael. Keep smiling that lovely smile and keep up the good work. It must be very interesting going to all those lovely places to dine and being able to criticise. My favourite meal is sirloin steak and veg with a delightfully light-as-a-feather treacle sponge with custard for dessert.
Dorothy Morrison, Hyde, Cheshire
I am writing with regard to Michael Winner's review of Osteria da Fiore in Venice, of which I am owner (Style, July 12). I am not going to list here all Mr Winner's "pearls of wisdom". I would merely point out that the report contained no serious gastronomic criticism. Moreover, if he had been even slightly acquainted with our regional literature, he would have avoided his remarks about polenta, in his opinion "the most over-rated stuff in the world". Polenta has represented survival for our people for centuries. It is not a mere complement to luxury dishes, but a real, basic food. Mr Winner cannot imagine "how this restaurant ever got into anyone's top five in the world". I, and the many guests who have urged me to write, cannot imagine a review more arbitrary, disrespectful of the facts and removed from any hint of expertise.
Maurizio Martin, Osteria da Fiore, Venice
Is it my imagination or is Mr Winner beginning to resemble the food he scribbles about? He often looks as if he has spent the afternoon steaming in a bain-marie. Could it be that Vanessa is trying to tenderise the old boiler?
Samantha Ferguson, Newlyn, Cornwall