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Bitter suite experience

Published 15 August 1999
Style Magazine
318th article



Beam me up Scotty: Michael Winner in the lobby of the Malmaison hotel with Lynn Murphy, the general manager (Vanessa Perry)

I had been looking forward to staying at One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow, I'd heard nothing but good about it. It was fully booked, so we arrived at the Malmaison hotel instead. It was 11 o'clock at night and although the people at the desk could see me coming, no attempt was made to get our luggage until I said: "Porters off duty, are they?" We were shown a duplex suite where the porter plonked the suitcases in the tiny entrance area without taking them upstairs. The room was a nightmare. One wall was grey, another bright red and there was speckled furniture. It was 1950s decor gone seriously wrong. The bedroom, if you can call it that, was up a spiral staircase. It was a cramped ledge with just room for a bed, a tea-maker, a kettle and a cupboard. No wonder the porter left the suitcases downstairs; there was nowhere at all to put them above. The bathroom and toilet were below and equally small.

There were no cotton buds, no bathrobes and no hairdryer. I rang down. The girl said: "The hairdryer's in the drawer."

"Which drawer?" I said.

She then went away, came back and changed her mind. "The hairdryer's in the cupboard in the bedroom in a beige bag," she explained. The cupboard contained neither a beige bag nor a hairdryer. Eventually, one was delivered with a 13amp plug on the end. The only socket was behind the sofa, so you got to it with difficulty and it was a daft place for hairdrying.

I measured the downstairs lounge area. It was about 12ft 2in by 11ft 8in, plus a tiny mini-lobby inside the door. Outside the windows was a large office building, lit up and occupied at midnight. It turned out to be the headquarters of the Strathclyde Police. The men in blue - and plain clothes - were sitting discussing things. Crime, I assumed, but who knows?

In the morning, I went to the dining room. The menu advertised "Freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice".

"Does that mean you out the oranges in half here and squeeze them in the hotel?" I asked.

"No," said the waitress. Vanessa said the "squeezed" orange juice she'd received was horrible.

"Would you like to taste it?" said the waitress.

"I definitely would not," I replied.

"It's very top quality, sir," she said. Eventually, after a lifetime of negotiation, they provided me with freshly squeezed orange juice, which they promised on the menu anyway.

"Can I get you anything cooked?" said the waitress. "Have you got kippers?" I asked. After all, it is Scotland. She went to the kitchen. "We don't have kippers today," she announced.

The breakfast room is like an atrium with a tall ceiling, a paved floor and wooden tables. "It's Tuscan Mediterranean," observed Ken Green, the seasoned director of marketing of United International Pictures. That's a reasonable description, I thought, noting pictures of people with grapes on the wall. "Lots of terracotta," added Ken.

"He's really steaming now," I thought.

Ken looked at the abysmal glassed area above. "And it's raining," he observed with finality.

For lunch, Vanessa ordered salad nicoise, I asked for a pizza romano with two fried eggs on it. "Seriously?" said the waitress as if this were the height of culinary ignorance. "Yes," I said. "No problem," she responded. Dennis Michael, the managing director of a large public relations company, was having a caesar salad with chicken. I had to ask three times for a cappuccino, eventually walking the few paces to the machine. There were tiny bits of chicken in Dennis's salad; should have been a nice breast of chicken on the top. I said: "The food here is very poor."

Dennis said: "It's not good, I agree." That is the first negative remark about food I've ever heard Dennis make - and I've known him 34 years!

The coffee was very odd indeed. "It's a bit soapy," said a Sun photographer. And no, I don't intend to tell you why he was there.

When we went back to the suite, the plastic "keys" they'd given us didn't work, so we had to go down and get some more. The general manager, a nice girl named Lynn Murphy, told me that Mick Hucknall had a share in Malmaison when it started. Now it's owned by an American company, Patriot Apollo. "Ken McCulloch, who started One Devonshire Gardens, is still involved in Malmaison," said Lynn. "He lives in Monaco. He visits us regularly."

"How often is regularly?" I asked.

"Twice a month," replied Lynn.

"Not enough," I thought to myself. On the other hand, he's better off in Monaco. Or anywhere, really.



Letters

I was delighted to learn that, at La Santal in St Martin (Style, August 1), Michael Winner ordered a Carton Charlemagne Grand Cru; I had not realised that wine boxes had moved so far upmarket.
John A Edmondson, Wetherby

On a recent visit to the Med Bar and Restaurant in the West Midlands, we waited over an hour for our meal. We would have got up and walked out if we hadn't been too weak with hunger to move. The venue in question is part- owned by the footballer Nigel Spink - and if his game is as slow as the service in his restaurant, I'm not surprised he has given it up.
Ms M Hutton, Sutton Coldfield

At 11am one Sunday, we arrived at Butlers Wharf, the site of Sir Terence Conran's London gastrodrome, in search of breakfast or brunch. Brunch at the Chop House did not start until noon; the Pont de la Tour was serving food to staff only. But the food store seemed to offer several mouthwatering options for instant gratification. We chose artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, bagels and more. The staff, however, were, to put it kindly, unhelpful, and made us feel as if we were an intrusion. When we asked what sandwiches they did, their only answer was a non-verbal nod towards a list on the wall.
Tony Simmons, by e-mail

I missed much of the Cliveden debate as I was on holiday, but it reminded me of a lunch my wife and I enjoyed there two years ago. The highlight of our visit occurred at the next table, where a smart American lady sat with a little boy of about 18 months. Two lunches arrived at their table resplendently covered with silver domes. With a grand flourish, the waiter ceremoniously removed the little boy's silver dome to reveal three delicately arranged lamb chops and some designer chips made to look like a house. The boy studied his feast without comment, then took a bite of one chop and threw the remains over his shoulder onto the floor. He repeated this with the other chops, then did much the same with the chips. The waiters were unfazed, but we were in hysterics. Could this have been Michael Winner's love child?
Michael Austin, Pinner

Like many of your readers, I was of the opinion that you had gone over the top about Cliveden and it was time to "put a sock in it". However, having read last month's letter from Anna Pasternak, the author of Princess in Love (Style, July 18), I have now come down firmly on your side. The fact that she and her sausage dogs received such splendid treatment from the hotel has convinced me far more eloquently than all your words on the subject.
Joseph Sinclair, London

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