Published 23 May 1999 Style Magazine 306th article
Come fly with me: from left, Philip Amadeus, Peter Crome and Michael Winner at Chewton Glen (Vanessa Perry)
The price of the helicopter from Battersea to Chewton Glen near Bournemouth had gone up £246 for the round trip. Philip Amadeus said he'd been losing money. If tradesmen want to make a profit they should charge other people more, not me. We Scorpios are renowned for loyalty, so I bit the bullet and employed him anyway. I'd not been to Chewton Glen for two years. It's probably the best country hotel in Great Britain, if not the most beautiful of buildings. It can't make up its mind if it's a row of houses, a Georgian facade gone wrong or a modern annexe. But inside it's very elegant in a wonderfully camp style. Riding boots and binoculars are carefully left around. An interior Disneyland of Country Life rampant. The log fire is real.
On this trip the superb managing director, Peter Crome, actually deigned to give me a first-class suite. On other occasions I'd been put in a standard issue thing, too small and too square. This one had a roof terrace, shape and character. When you sat on the toilet you could see everyone eating in the gardens below. They could see you as well. If that didn't put them off their food, what would?
The hairdryer wasn't in the bathroom, but hidden in a cupboard. You had to bend down and fit it into a 13-amp plug in an inconvenient place. Otherwise it was all excellent. Peter himself was on morning room service when I rang. Just as well, because on my last visit there was confusion.
When I came downstairs, he declared: "I've decided you are my nemesis." I wasn't totally sure what that meant, so I looked it up. "Retributive justice, an agent of downfall," it said. I think he got it right. Peter was once an actor. I could imagine him cheering up the cast after a disastrous opening night.
The food was always reasonable, but on this visit it was much better. Apparently the sous chef, Luke Matthews, was heading the operation in the kitchen. Other than the rented Mercedes from Budget, which was filthy and with the tank nearly a quarter empty, everything was as near perfect as you could hope for. I sat down for Sunday lunch reckoning Chewton Glen was running 10 out of 10. Then disaster struck.
It came in the form of Patrick Floret-Miguet, the head waiter, who took our order. Vanessa asked for local asparagus and smoked haddock. I chose the roast beef. "Could you please," I asked charmingly, "make sure I get fresh yorkshire pudding, not the stuff that's sitting about degrading itself on the trolley?" M Floret-Miguet sniffed. "I don't think that will be possible," he said firmly. A Winner-trigger switched over inside me. "Why not?" I asked, still nicely, but hiding I displeasure. "They manage to make fresh yorkshire pudding for me at Claridge's, the Dorchester, indeed everywhere I go. Why should it be difficult here? Why not ask in the kitchen?" M Floret-Miguet sneered; he spoke as if to a gross inferior. "Well. sir," he said, "if you're prepared to wait a long time, we can make it specially." "It doesn't take a long time anywhere else," I replied. I later checked with Marco Pierre White. He said it should take at most 20 minutes. Less if the batter was ready, which it would have been, because they'd be resupplying the beef trolley as the yorkshire ran out.
Peter Crome appeared, smiling, unaware of the incident. "This is what happens when you leave me alone," I explained. He rushed off to the kitchen and spoke to Mr Matthews. "There's no problem at all," he said on his return. After that, things went well. Vanessa declared her asparagus the best she'd had for a long time. She used the word "delicious" twice about her fish. The beef was very good. The yorkshire pudding was absolutely superb, maybe the best I've ever eaten. The chocolate tart was pleasant but a little bit sickly and without the clear chocolate taste that I'm used to in Assaggi.
It was perfection minus one. One and a quarter, actually. I'd bought some highly recommended prize-winning pork sausages at the New Forest Sausage Co, Station Road, Sway, from a father and son local butcher. I handed them to Peter to keep until my helicopter flight back. He forgot to give them to me. Not serious. I asked him to donate them to Sheridan Morley, down there with a troupe of players doing a Noel Coward evening. I meant give them to him to take back to London. Instead Peter served them to Mr and Mrs Morley for breakfast. "They were very good," said Sherry. Does he seriously think I'd have bought something bad?
You generally eat in restaurants that ordinary people with modest incomes cannot possibly afford. I dare you to order a chicken curry at the Membury Services on the M4. Then you would see what the British public has to put up with for their money.
E Parkinson, Bath
The advances in London restaurants came to a halt recently with a visit to the Sugar Club on Warwick Street, W1. A reservation for Saturday night, made earlier in the week, was rewarded with an indifferent welcome and a bar table in the draughty front of the restaurant. When we questioned the maitre d' about this, we were informed that our table was not, in fact, a bar table; the bar tables were those immediately surrounding our table, distinguishable by the fact that they had no tablecloth. The bread was limp and damp. The starters, intended to be hot, were variously precooked and served cool. The main courses were unmemorable. In short, the entire experience was retrograde and - at Pounds 100 including a moderately priced bottle of wine - something of a joke. One can only hope that this is not indicative of a trend whereby restaurants define their quality by the people that frequent them, rather than by preparation, presentation and service.
Tracey Franks, London W14
Trawling the French Riviera off season, we passed La Colombe d'Or at St-Paul-de-Vence at tea time, where the pristine tables on its beautiful but empty terrace looked cool and inviting. A surly waiter interrupted his doing nothing and asked if we were clients of the hotel. I said: "Not yet, but we will be if you serve us tea." He shook his head and said: "We only serve tea to clients." La Saint Paul, with an extra star, just down the road and with an equally empty terrace, wouldn't serve us with tea either. Do these people think their apparent inability to create a simple cup of tea might humiliate them, or did they just think I couldn't afford it? Alas, I shall never know.
Judge Barrington Black, London NW3
I recently had lunch at No 57 in Windsor. There were only two other diners, yet it took 15 minutes for the wine to arrive. I ordered crab and mushroom risotto for my companion and Cornish fish and chips for myself. The risotto came in the form of three fish balls with no detectable signs of rice or mushroom, my cod batter was soggy, as were the chips, and the worst I have ever tasted. I suspect the 75yd trip from the kitchen on the other side of the road couldn't have helped the crispness of the meal. I have written to the management on three occasions without response.
Philip Scott, Virginia Water, Surrey
What has become of our mutual favourite, the Belvedere in Holland Park? A recent Sunday lunch there was a joke. Rocket and parmesan salad arrived minus parmesan or dressing; the salmon was so small you could barely see it; and the cod - not cheap at £14 - came with six soggy chips. I believe that they have changed hands. Bring back Johnny Gold.
Beatrix Clark, London NW3
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