Michael Winner in Barbados with John Douglin and Jeffrey 'Treasure' Hyland (Vanessa Perry)
I do find it a bit naughty of the knocked-down Sandy Lane Hotel. They told regular customers they'd reopen in September 1999. Then they changed to November, then December. Then silence. Next, I got a letter from Jon Culverhouse, managing director of Fantastic Fireworks, saying Sandy Lane had cancelled its firework display "as the hotel will not be open in time for the millennium". This was no surprise, but would have been better coming from the hotel, where I'd spent hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The most bizarre tale I ever heard was in January 1998, when Richard Williams, the charming general manager, told me how speedily they would demolish and rebuild the hotel. I pointed to a nearby plot of seafront land. "That man's been putting up a house for four years. How can you expect to knock down and rebuild a large hotel in 18 months?" "He was an absentee landlord," said Richard dismissively. "We shall be here to see it through." That was the definition of optimism.
A distinguished member of the House of Lords, one of the longest serving Christmas guests, tiring of no information, rang them recently. "We'll open midsummer 2000," he was informed. A reader wrote saying he'd been told the same. Eric Mapp, the assistant manager, contradicted this. "We're not telling anyone a date, only that we'll be opening in the millennium," he told me.
If they make it for Christmas 2000, it'll be a miracle. A pity, we regulars never found anywhere as good. We've observed the predictable construction problems with contractors and decorators walking out or being fired. I was glad to hear that Richmond International, a really first-rate firm of hotel decorators (the Dorchester among others), had been taken round the grand houses of Barbados prior to submitting their scheme. Sandy Lane's original illustrations of rooms designed by another group were gloomy and totally non-Caribbean in style. We, the dispossessed, sympathise with Dermot Desmond and J P McManus, the Irish owners. I'm sure they now wish, as we do, that they'd just tarted up the existing hotel. Or put the money on a horse race. One day the delays and extra expense will drift into the haze of times past. The sun will shine. I look forward to that.
Meanwhile, my January experience of Barbados hotel life was dire. I chose what used to be a good, little place, Treasure Beach. Their only super suite, for a period out of peak season, cost £1,200 a night, accommodation only. That's more than I was paying at the excellent La Samanna in St Martin, and more than at Sandy Lane.
Marilil Troulan in reservations wrote: "We'll arrange for a taxi to meet Mr Winner at the airport" My Mr Fraser replied snottily: "At those prices a limousine is usually provided free of charge." The manager, Trevor Ramsay, said they'd send one, explaining: "We are a very small property, no pomp or grandeur." For well over £1,200 a night all-in, a bit of grandeur would be quite acceptable. When we arrived at one o'clock in the afternoon the suite wasn't ready. It had not been occupied the previous night. We waited glumly in the tiny lobby. Finally, I walked into the suite and sat on the balcony as they cleaned up.
The second night no service was provided at all. We came back from dinner to find the same mess as when we'd departed. I went bananas. Mr Ramsay apologised profusely. The fourth night the same thing happened again. Unbelievable! Mr Ramsay deducted one day's charge. I don't go for discounts, I go for service. It took 40 minutes to get tea and biscuits and their biscuits were dry cheese crackers. It was all basically horrendous. Room service even sent paper napkins.
The restaurant wasn't bad. The excellent maitre d', John Douglin, looked, talked and laughed exactly like Frank Bruno. "All the English guests say to me, 'You know what I mean, Harry?' " said John. "I don't even know who Harry is." I had three lunches there. Pan-fried dolphin was good. So was the chef Jeffrey Hyland's bajan chicken; the seasoning was memorable. Vanessa liked her catch of the day, kingfish with herbs and spices. She said: "They should have proper, smarter ketchup here. The ketchup is horrible."
I called "Hello!" loudly to get attention. A smiley, chubby Welsh lady at the next table, wearing a pink cruise-ship cap with Oriana on it, cried "Hello!" back. Her husband hated his caesar salad. He said: "It was just lettuce, very dull. Thank God I had breakfast." I had no sympathy at all. They weren't paying £1,200 a night plus food and extras for poor service and scant hotel facilities. But then, they were Welsh. They had more sense.
I recently had lunch at Farthings, a Bournemouth restaurant purporting to be top range. I ordered calf's liver, which was stringy and tough. When asked if it was all right, I replied that it was ghastly. The best the patron could manage was "we will try and get it right for you next time"! I guess amateur restaurants close down on account of their optimism.
Michael Medwin, London W1.
As a visitor, all I can say is that Bibendum in Chelsea, London SW3, can't make french fries to save their bacon. Lunch with my English mother was spoilt by chips dire even by British standards.
Paul Spencer, Seattle, Washington.
I implore you to review 10 Cutlers Gardens, London EC2. I trust you will concur with my apocalyptic luncheon experience. The wine was served after my crispy pork starter, which can only be likened to a Frazzles crisp. The Norfolk pheasant that followed was too bloody for my squeamish antibodies. The dessert was apple tart with cream, served minus cream. When I expressed dissatisfaction, I was furnished with a 30% reduction and the excuse of computers being down. I can only think that the restaurant's name is a mark out of 100.
S Swain, Lauranan, France.
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