Published 31 January 1999 Style Magazine 290th article
Nathalie Senez and Edna Joseph with Michael Winner at La Samanna
I was apprehensive going to La Samanna in St Martin for Christmas. You remember Christmas, it's a regular event. Last one was a few weeks ago. I'd been to Sandy Lane for 15 years, and while I greatly admire the Orient Express people who own La Samanna, I'd had a dreadful time at their hotel in Madeira. I was met at the airport by two managers, Bernard de Villele, who was leaving two days later, and the new American chap, from the ski-resort Vail in Colorado, John Volponi. "Managers normally leave after I've been there," I said to Mr de Villele. "Not before."
The suite was terrific. Nicely furnished in "modern French rustic". Great view of a large bay unspoilt by any rubbish, the balcony wrapping round to the front of the hotel. Our first lunch, by the pool, was horrid. My salad nicoise was disgusting. The tuna looked like slices of steak and tasted nasty. It had green and red peppers, which I've never seen before in a nicoise; many of the regular ingredients were missing. Vanessa's caesar salad included tomato and had a sharp, unpleasant sauce.
As it was five hours later for us because of the time change, I ordered room-service dinner. "Is the orange juice fresh?" I asked. "Yes, definitely," said the room-service voice. "Let's get clear what I mean by fresh," I continued. "It means an orange has been cut in half in this hotel and squeezed, quite recently." "All our orange juice is fresh," replied room service snottily.
My order arrived. The two fried eggs I'd asked for on my hamburger weren't there. The so-called fresh orange juice definitely wasn't. It tasted deeply unpleasant. I telephoned again. "Are you seriously telling me this orange juice is fresh?" I said. "Yes, it is," came the reply. When the room-service waiter came to take the tray, I repeated everything. He, too, assured me the orange juice was fresh. It was now 9pm - two in the morning my time. I rang for Mr Volponi, having kept one glass of orange muck, which I was quite prepared to carry to England and have analysed in a laboratory. Mr Volponi was sorting out a problem with a guest so I rang the chef, a nice young man called Alix Thierry. "Is all your orange juice fresh?" I asked. There was a pause that spoke volumes. "Would you like some?" volunteered Alix. "Thank you," I replied.
Alix, with his fresh orange juice, arrived at the same time as Mr Volponi. The original stuff, not dividing as real orange juice does, sat on a ledge next to the new juice. They were not related. Move the glass with the real one and bits stayed on the side, the other left nothing. I asked, could I please not be treated as an idiot. "Or, to use a first-rate American expression," I said to Mr Volponi, "I did not fall off a turnip truck."
Life after that was very nice. Including the orange juice. The staff at La Samanna are basically superb. It's a very well-run, excellent, beautiful hotel. The food, for the Caribbean, where fresh supplies are rare, was good. Except Alix had a silly habit of sticking crisp ham into the top of a lump of "home-smoked Scottish salmon". This upset Vanessa, who doesn't eat meat and doesn't expect to see it with fish unless clearly announced on the menu, which it wasn't. To add insult to injury, they gave it to her twice more, once at a party and once with ham in the vegetables.
Security at the hotel entrance gate was slack, but I put a stop to that: Cruise-ship people and any wanderer with a rucksack seemed to get in, sit on guest beach loungers and generally bring down the tone. They reckoned without Winner the beach vigilante, this time superbly abetted by Mrs Martin Bandier, he the head of EMI in New York, she a hotel regular who told of the days when the manageress, Lynn Webber, would patrol the sands like a storm trooper, removing intruders. That's my kinda gal. The guests were great, too. There was an English computer genius who's the chairman of Psion, and a host of highly robust New York music-business people headed by the renowned lawyer Allen Grubman. In his home town Mr Grubman has dishes named after him in posh restaurants. That's the American equivalent of a peerage.
From the hotel super-staff I hereby anoint the marvellous food-and-beverage manager, Nathalie Senez, who threw herself in I wherever needed. She never walked, always ran. And the waitress whose smile made my lunchtimes, Edna Joseph. With Edna serving, a hot dog and chips became two-star Michelin fare. Maybe even three.
Michael Winner, you are a pompous prat, full of your own importance, rolling around the world and trying half-heartedly to give an honest opinion. Get a life, son: grow up and do something useful.
E Lingard, Barton-upon-Humber, Humberside
We anxiously wait for Sundays to read your amusing and oh-so-true articles in The Sunday Times. You have given us so much pleasure that we feel we must reciprocate in some small way. So here's a tip. On a recent trip to Tel Aviv in Israel we ate at a restaurant called Mika, and can honestly say that it was the most sensational meal we have had for years. Well worth the journey.
R and M Specterman, London W2
Does two plus two no longer make four in the heady world of the restaurateur? I recently tried to book a table at the Hotel du Vin in Tunbridge Wells, and was told that, although there were two tables of two available, they were unable to put them together to make a table of four. Would this make the dining room look untidy?
S Randle, Crowborough, East Sussex
Having lived in Venice for six months, I can vouch that the people of Portofino (Style, Jan 10) are not the only ones for whom natural beauty is unimportant. In general, the merchants of Venice, too, are only interested in the pocket.
Rita Kraus, Nice, France