Published 18 October 1998 Style Magazine 275th article
Waving, not frowning: Michael Winner at Claridge's
Christopher Cowdray, the newish general manager of Claridge's, wrote to "Mr A M Winner" saying how proud he was of his new bar. It had "a stylish, classic interior which complements and echoes the sophistication and glamour of the hotel's art deco heritage". I'd say it looked more like a reject for the Holiday Inn, Romford. Absolutely appalling. Nothing like the elegance of the rest of the hotel. Possibly the corner of an airport; only useful for students of design to see how not to do things. It's the work of David Collins, the king of the yellow wall, who has single-handedly done so many of London's recent restaurants, and not very well. To realise that the exquisitely stylish Causerie restaurant has been vandalised into non-existence for this is horrific.
I can understand them wanting a bar. It serves interesting, rich people's snacks. I thought the staff were excellent. I accept that the Causerie attracted few customers in the evening. But to think that there is a little corner of Claridge's that is for ever Essex displeases me greatly. Because I've always been a fan. It was there that my parents lived if a builder so much as passed through the house. It was there that the "acclaimed" photo of me waving a napkin, slowly, to get service, was taken with their kind permission.
Some criticise the food at Claridge's. I have always found it excellent. The teas are the finest in the world and the set lunch at £29.50 is incredible value, even though the day I went in and saw the bar, my first course of sardines and something tasted of nothing. But the lamb was superb, and the dessert trolley provided an excellent chocolate cake and a historic praline tart.
I met the new restaurant manager, Adriano Vences, a perfectly pleasant young man, and even though all the uniformed men on the door seemed new, they were highly efficient. Nothing's as good as it was. So the days when Claridge's had one trolley for cakes and rich desserts and a second for a wide variety of fruit, are over. Claridge's has passed from hand to hand to end up with some American company that does I know not what. But I am sure it will remain one of my favourite places.
I'd like to suggest one change to Mr Cowdray. For many decades I have sat occasionally on a chair to the right of the door to the lounge as you enter it. Next to this chair is a table. As I've waited for ladies to collect their coats or do whatever else they do in those private places, I have run my hand along its surface. The table has always been indescribably filthy. Dust thick and threatening. I have been kind and never mentioned it.
About 10 weeks ago I automatically ran my finger along its surface and I couldn't believe it. It was clean! But next time it was back to its state of filth. I will be happy to send you a plan of your lobby with this table marked on it, Mr Cowdray. Just fax me, remembering, if possible, that my ﬁrst name is Michael and not some invention of your own that begins with an A.
Another hotel of which I am inordinately fond is the Dorchester. I worry about the Sultan of Brunei. I read he has financial aggravation. I have always greatly admired rich Arabs who come to backward places like London and save some of our great institutions, such as the Dorchester, from being run solely for profit. I think the sultan's men did an excellent job there. The Grill, a madly decorated Spanish oddity with gilt and rich curtains, is superbly managed by Michael, John and Simon. When I endlessly complained in this column that nobody answered the main switchboard, they installed a Grill Room direct line just to shut me up; Their set lunch, also £29.50 including 11 sorts of bread and coffee, is terriﬁc value.
The dress code has always been lax. T-shirts, trainers and the "casually elegant" clothes I wear mingle with the superposh. Recently Claridge's has almost caught up. On my last lunch, a young man was sitting with no jacket at all, just a blue open-necked shirt and creased beige cotton trousers. I was so keen to check this out that I walked about trying not to look interested. As I approached his table, he stood up. "I want to shake your hand," he said. "I read your articles every week. I totally agree. Keep giving them hell." Hardly surprising, really, that the worst-dressed man in the room was a fan of mine.
I enjoy reading your column and have been pleased that you have refrained from derogatory reference to your old school, St Christopher in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. Until now, that is. In a recent column (Style, September 27), you described the school, which my children attend, as having "dubious qualities". While I accept that your experience there was disturbing, it's not like that any more. St Christopher is a true "community school" that provides a good education, whatever the ability of the child. Perhaps if you refer to it again, you should do so in the context of 50 years ago.
Ann Hobson, Luton, Beds
I hope that you noted down the number for Weightwatchers from the church hall at Betws-y-Coed in Wales (Style, September 20). Your poor arteries must be crying out in despair. Cakes, drop scones, jams, a cheese and onion pasty, ice cream, sandwiches, Kettle chips - and presumably all before dinner. As you found the ice cream "at best reasonable", did you sample it, then discard it, or did you choose to scoff the lot anyway? Place your bets...At least your overindulgence might have its advantages for your readers. No more tiresome reminders that Henllys Hall is your "least favourite hotel" - you soon won't be able to fit through the door.
Fran Gannon, Stroud, Gloucs
In a Leeds restaurant recently, a middle-aged couple at the table next to us whinged and whined their way through the meal. The food, they kept saying to each other, was "diabolical", the fish "appalling", the soup "like salted water" and the meat "tough". When the maitre d' later visited their table to inquire if everything was satisfactory, I was a little surprised to hear the lady reply, "Oh, yes, very nice indeed, thank you!"
J L Fisher, Leeds, W Yorkshire