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Movable feast

Published 6 December 1998
Style Magazine
282nd article

Better late: Martin Scharff, Brigitte Held and Michael Winner in Dinkelsbuhl, Bavaria (Vanessa Perry)

Only once was our transport outside the Grand Hotel Nuremberg on time. On this occasion, an enormous stretch Cadillac limo, which had greeted me on the airport Tarmac with a round display "table" of soft drinks between the front facing and back passenger seats. The driver seemed exceptionally - how shall I say? - jolly. He was ruddy, expansive, but had never heard of the Gasthaus Rottner, even though it was one of three Michelin-starred restaurants in the area. Eventually, the pleasant receptionist of the Grand gave up trying to explain and sat beside him to show the way. Mr and Mrs J Cleese, Vanessa and I got in the back.

The Gasthaus Rottner, run by Claudia Rottner, is a lovely German inn, 300 years old, much bedecked with hanging lanterns, deer heads and antlers. The Rottner family, who've been there since 1812, produced a superb meal, but my notes are a little odd. "Alyce says it's the combination of the caramelised onions and the apple with the duck liver that makes it so exquisite," I'd dictated onto my tape. "And it is red onion." Three of us then had wild duck; Vanessa had catfish and enjoyed it greatly. John said it was the first time he'd seen three Ibsen plays wolfed in one evening. The duck was exceptional, very non-fatty. We declared it the best ever.

Then the chauffeur entered the dining room, highly flustered, redder than ever, announcing he'd had an accident, which was distressing because John and Alyce's luggage was in the limo as they were returning to their Rhine cruise boat after dinner. The driver, who'd switched cars, became ever more flamboyant as he recalled, in German, what happened. "My Gawd!" I thought, "this is how they got Princess Di!"

John and Alyce made it to the boat and vanished up the Rhine. Vanessa and I got to the hotel. The next day it was back to my driving, compared to which Evel Knievel took no risks. Claudia Rottner had recommended we visit Dinkelsbuhl, another historic town on the Romantic Road. She had a friend, Martin Scharff, a member of the Jeunes Restaurateurs d'Europe, who had la lovely old hotel there, the Eisenkrug. Claudia warned him I'd be in for lunch.

Dinkelsbuhl is another staggeringly preserved medieval town, with cobbled streets, richly decorated step gabling, wonderfully ornamented half-timbered facades and so on, et cetera and the rest. Never mind all that, it was lunchtime. The Hotel Restaurant Eisenkrug, a beautiful building in the old wine market, looked fine. Except it was totally deserted. It was exactly 1pm, which is when I said I'd arrive. Nobody anywhere. Like the wreck of the Marie Celeste, but not even a half-eaten sandwich. A man eventually came up from the basement in a white uniform. I asked if he was Martin Scharff. He said something about being his brother and was highly offish, so we left.

A bit down the road was the Cafe Extrablatt, set in another exquisite old house with exterior dining in the autumn sun. I went inside and found a lady in Bavarian costume who called herself "The Leader". I showed her the Winner film festival brochure. "What are you trying to tell me?" she said, squinting at it. "I'm trying to tell you that I'm sitting outside, I'm terribly hungry and I want amazing service," I replied. It worked a treat. Everyone became terribly efficient and jovial. They even asked for autographs. I had excellent Bavarian white sausage with pretzel and mustard; Vanessa had noodles with cheese.

Then a worried man in a chef's uniform walked by right to left. He had a Young Chefs of Europe emblem on his white coat. Underneath it said "Talent and passion". "That's telling 'em," I thought. It was Martin Scharff, looking for me. He had no idea who the rude man had been in his hotel. He had no brother. We'd finished our main courses, so Martin went back to his hotel to make the most incredible desserts, which he brought to the Cafe Extrablatt. Its "leader", Brigitte Held, didn't mind; they're all pals in Dinkelsbuhl. Vanessa's pud was strudel leaves filled with white chocolate mousse, strawberries and franconian riesling ice; mine was cold plum soup with cottage cheese dumplings and white chocolate ginger ice cream.

Then Martin went to a friend who had a cart which seated 16 tourists and was drawn by two lovely horses. He negotiated for Vanessa and me to trot round town on it alone. You think that's naff? Good luck to you. I found it a delightful jaunt through an amazingly historical place. But then I'm unsophisticated. We're much nicer people.


When dining out, there is always some pleasure in visiting ladies' cloakrooms. I have expectations, which are sometimes not met, that luxury will envelop me on passing through the portals. The ladies' loos at Claridge's, for instance, were fascinating, both visually and socially. Perhaps Vanessa could comment on these facilities when you do your rounds?
Marion Wills, Iver, Bucks

Until recently, I was a frequent and enthusiastic diner at the Tea House at Bolton Abbey, near Ilkley. Imagine my surprise when, having ordered my usual potful with a slice of their rather good lemon meringue raspberry roulade, I was given a shabby, chipped beaker, rather than one of the alluring pink and white flowery cups I had spotted in a nearby corner. Naturally, I asked politely for an upgraded vessel. A member of staff proceeded to pick up the offending artefact and examine it at length. Then, slamming the odious chamber pot of a cup back on its saucer, he said in broadest Yorkshire that there was"nowt wrong with cup" and suggested I use it or go elsewhere. It was my turn to comply with a request, so I did as I was bidden and left. Bolton Abbey Tea House's loss, I believe.
Dr E Gibb, Ilkley, W Yorks

Why, in most restaurants, are desserts absent from the main menu? Having a sweet tooth, I now ask to see the dessert menu before choosing my main course and starter. If there is a real English pudding, my earlier courses will be lighter. If it is ice cream, I will choose something more substantial beforehand. Perhaps Michael Winner could use his influence to encourage restaurateurs to raise the profile of their sweet offerings.
Colin Vibert, St Clement, Jersey