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Farewell Ollie

Published 30 May 1999
Style Magazine
307th article

Room at the Inn: William and Ashling O'Callaghan with Michael Winner at Longueville House, Mallow, Co Cork

I don't like funerals. If I could miss my own, I'd be happy. But I wanted to attend Oliver Reed's farewell. He was a lovely man. It was on Saturday and as I had to appear on David Frost's TV show on Sunday morning, I could only manage a day, although I'd liked to have stayed in Ireland longer. The service was at 4pm, so I decided to go for lunch. Josephine, Oliver's widow, recommended Longueville House in Mallow. "It's very gentlemanly," she said. But it only did bar snacks on Saturdays. An excellent Dublin PR lady, Eilish MacPhillips, booked us into the Stables restaurant in Buttevant.

We landed in Cork. A white-haired driver, Bob O'Regan, met us; a charming man with a disconcerting habit of holding a cellular phone in one hand, talking enthusiastically as he drove - just what I do. We eventually arrived in what the Americans call a one-horse town. On the right hand side of main street was O'Donnells Laundry and, down a side track, the Stables, a narrow, stone restaurant with yellow plastic tablecloths decorated with pictures of plums and apples. There were a few people sitting near the entrance door, then a table ready for a party of 20 and another laid for 14. First Holy Communion groups would fill them. Our spot was by the kitchen, one person back to the wall, the other facing. The waitress spoke in a voice so soft I had difficulty understanding. I recognised the word "fish". "Is it fresh?" I asked. "No," was the reply. "You mean it's deep frozen in packets?" I said. I took the answer to be "yes" and fled to the car. There I phoned Longueville House where a nice lady said she looked forward to seeing me.

My two hours at Longueville House were outstandingly pleasant. It's a beautiful 18th-century restaurant and hotel that's rather like someone's home: a bit faded, very tastefully furnished with lovely old mirrors and armchairs and a grey marble carved fireplace with a log fire. Aisling O'Callaghan tried to light it. "We have the fire going in the warm weather, even," she said. "People like to see it, it's company." Then a man called Barry Murphy came into the lounge. Distinguished, white hair, a retired physician. He had an olive-green waistcoat, tie and shirt and beige corduroy trousers. "Grand day," he announced. He was on his way to Limerick to see Macbeth in French. "I have no French and I know little of Macbeth," he explained. "But my wife's niece is the leading lady." It was like a being at an inn in the old days, starting up a conversation with a fellow traveller.

Jason Fallon, the restaurant manager, took our order. "The tabloid press are staying here," he told me. I looked round fearfully. "They've gone ghouling," he explained, describing their being in town for the funeral. We ordered vegetable broth made with vegetables from the garden, a pate of spinach, pork polenta and tomato in a millefeuille, I also asked for smoked salmon with garden salad. Vanessa gave up on the soup because she said it contained meat stock. I gulped it down and spilt some on my shirt. I nipped to the bar next door, dabbed my napkin in Bob O'Regan's hot water for his tea and tried to wipe it off. Aisling saw me. "It's the aioli sauce, is it?" she asked. "No, it's the soup," I replied. "Oh well, it won't stain as bad as the sauce," Aisling said comfortingly.

Back in the lounge, with beautiful views of rolling green hills from the tall Georgian windows, I continued with their excellent bread. The salmon was outstanding. I drank draught Guinness. "Not many people are damaged by alcohol," said Barry. "Because if it was really toxic, the whole of this nation would be dead." Barry was 78, he looked very fit. My dessert was biscuit glace with strawberries. That was nice.

I suggested Aisling bring forth her husband, William, whose family have lived there for centuries. He was preparing duck confit in the kitchen. "Did Oliver Reed come here a lot?" I asked as we waited. "Oh yes," said Aisling. "You never knew what was going to happen. You just warned the guests who he was and then they took to him. He was a great personality. We liked him a lot here." Everyone liked him, except a few bitchy journalists who said he led a wasted and drunken life. At the funeral, I cried. Local people lined the streets and crossed themselves as the hearse went by on its way to a disused churchyard, overgrown and behind a pub. I like the thought of Oliver being there. It's an enchanting place. He deserves it.

Winner's letters

In your jottings on the Quisisana in Capri (Style, May 16), you state that "Giuseppe Esposito was fine at our first dinner, but on the second ignored us completely". So what's new? Most people must do that.
Harvey Silver, London.

Perfection does not exist in nature, but in my opinion the Quisisana in Capri is as near perfection as possible in a hotel. Michael Winner's article was unfair and nit-picking. The fact that the butter at breakfast is wrapped is insignificant compared with everything else. Drinks on the terrace in the evening is an institution.
Bernard Kemp, London.

Rick Stein's Padstow Bistro was a recent lunchtime letdown. The Bistro was created to cater for diners unwilling to afford Pounds 100-plus for two at his premier restaurant, but we still ended up spending £70. Can Stein justify London prices in Padstow?
John Cole, Portsmouth.

The customer who asked Nico Ladenis for mustard on his dover sole (Style, May 9) obviously doesn't understand the culinary facts of life. Had he given the matter a little thought, he would have demanded sole a l'estragon . Then, instead of being marked down as a philistine, he would have been puffed up as a Winner.
Alan Noble, Felton, North Somerset

Send your letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk