Published 19 December 1999 Style Magazine 336th article
Peter and Kate Miller with Michael Winner and some of the staff of the White Hart (Miss Lid the third)
As the English winter encompasses me in gloom, I have placed a further 17 spotlights in my garden, making 115 altogether. It looks like a film set. "They're doing coach trips now, instead of going to Blackpool," observed my builder, Mr Edwards. In bleak times, as the flames (real, not gas) provide warmth and colour to my bedroom, I recall the balmy month of August. I console myself that it will come again.
On such a day I drove down a leafy Wiltshire lane to the White Hart Inn at Ford. Kate Miller, the landlady, had reserved a table in the dining room. I promptly changed it for a larger, round table, then decided I didn't like that. So Kate and I checked the tables in front of the inn, then walked across the road to the river, beside which were tables with wooden benches. As I examined them, Kate's husband Peter drove by, recognised me, and shouted: "Are you all right?" He obviously thought I was dangerous. We walked back to the tables in front of the inn, on into the dining room, and then out the back where there were some more tables. But they overlooked a car park and an air-conditioning unit. So we looked at all the areas again. It was the biggest walkabout ever to choose a Winner table. And very tolerant of Kate.
In his highly amusing account of our lunch together a few weeks ago, A A Gill indicated that he didn't mind where he sat. I found that charmingly odd. Nobody wants to be next to the toilet with a view of the serving area if there's somewhere better. I arrived at Isola before Adrian. The place was empty. The manager greeted me effusively and said: "That's your table," indicating the most ghastly spot in the room - a small table for two by the window. It gave the public I an opportunity to stare at me. it provided an uninterrupted view of a traffic jam. "That?" I exclaimed. "You don't like it?" asked the manager, sounding surprised. "It doesn't matter whether I like it or not. I won't be sitting there," I said. I chose a nice banquette, one side facing the window and one at right angles facing the door. "Adrian will like that," I thought, as I sat at the longer side of the table.
Then something very odd happened. I felt a metal bar intruding on my posterior. The banquette for two people had been divided, secretly, under the surface, with this ridiculous metal thing. So you couldn't sit in the middle. I had to choose whether to sit somewhat away from Mr Gill, or close to. Of course, I chose the latter.
At the White Hart inn, I finally decided to eat by the river. Large flower baskets hung behind me from the hotel part of the building. "Is all this made here, Katie?" I asked, surveying the menu. "We don't buy anything in," she replied tartly. "And it's Kate without the e." "You mean with the e but without the i," I said, precise as ever. I ordered spicy lamb curry with spinach and saffron, served with rice and dressed salad. Miss Lid (the real Lady In Danger) asked for braised chicken in white wine with garlic cream and sweet peppers, again served with rice and dressed salad. Shortly thereafter, Miss Lid, who is no pushover, said: "My chicken is perfect." Then, "Very good." Then, "Very well prepared." My lamb curry was excellent.
The concerned husband, Peter, came over. He said he had no children's menu and no children's facilities. "It's an escape route for adults," he explained. I didn't refer to the three very noisy children at a table on the right.
"Who does the desserts?" I asked, regarding a suspiciously large menu selection. "An 18-year-old lad trained by the chef," Peter said. "They're all made here except for the treacle tart and apple and raspberry crumble. They're bought in." His wife had said nothing was bought in. I kept quiet. In the cause of exploration I had the banoffie pie and the lemon cheesecake. The pie was robust, nice taste, filled with bananas. The lemon cheesecake very liquid. Both good. Overall, a pleasant experience.
I have a bad effect on hotels. The Sandy Lane, Barbados, remains an endless building site. Now, La Samanna in St Martin, the hotel I was to grace for Christmas, has been greatly damaged by a hurricane and closed its doors. With the help of Michael Edwards, super-boss of Caribbean Connections, I have relocated. I shall come among, and spread joy to, those at the Jalousie Hilton, St Lucia and Robert Earl's Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos islands. Eventually you will hear all.
Further to Fred Beckett's letter (Style, December 5), I cannot imagine the "uncouth and unwashed" being drawn to Winner's Dinners. One would assume that the cost of dining in the venues so expertly described would deter undesirables. However, one cannot discount the possibility that the occasional local Frenchman might drift into Beaulieu and upset Mr Beckett's digestion.
George Roberts, Hadley Common, Hertfordshire
I usually find your column entertaining, but there were a couple of things in your article on Lacock (Style, November 28) that irritated me slightly. Reading your comment in the third paragraph that the village was spoilt "only by plebeian cars", I assumed that you had arrived in a private helicopter. Imagine my dismay when, in the final paragraph, you claimed to have been driving an Avis rental car ... oh dear. And what singularly depressing lives the ladies of Lacock must lead if you could make one woman's day by giving her a used packet of sweets. Perhaps she could be considered for Miss Lid No 4? Or am I missing the point?
JJ Murray, Benfleet, Essex
Reading your Sunday comments is a religion to me, but it is very frustrating to phone restaurants you have praised only to be told: "Sorry, full for weeks". This happened to me and a party of friends when we tried to book at Zaika in London. On trying again with the name of one of my friends - a famous rock star - I was asked: "What time do you intend to arrive?"
Michael Chambers, Amsterdam, Holland
At those times when Mr Winner hits the spot, you keep thinking you can more or less live with his negative points. But when he writes (Style, November 28) that he gave £50 to a lady - whom he all but names - because she "said it was a great honour to see me", that is simply coarse.
John Nagenda, by e-mail
Channel 4 desperately needs your help. I don't know whether you've had the misfortune to attend our canteen - if you have, I'm sure some reflex of self- preservation will have wiped the memory from your system. The food is of a quality that makes day-old railway sandwiches seem rather tempting. Perhaps on your next visit you could have a quick bite and reveal your findings in your column. You would make countless low-level media workers extremely happy.
Name and address supplied