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Halcyon? Not Likely

Published 13 February 2000
Style Magazine
344th article



Michael Winner and doorman in the lobby of the Halcyon hotel (Mrs Lagoudakos)

They say that when one door closes, another door closes. No sooner was Jeremy Hollingsworth cooking miraculously well at the Belvedere, Holland Park, than it shut for extensive renovation. So I went up the road to the Room at the Halcyon. I've always admired the Halcyon hotel. When it opened in 1987, I booked American movie stars in. They gave me a 40% discount for the restaurant, but it was so awful I wrote closing the account, adding that the staff should be at the Berni inn, Slough.

Then, in 1993, a new, young chef, Martin Hadden, turned up and the Room at the Halcyon became excellent. Even the maitre d's and waiters were welcoming. I went a lot. Early last year, Doreen Boulding became boss of the Halcyon Group. Mr Hadden and the restaurant manager didn't get on with her and eventually left. A new chef, Toby Hill, arrived. I visited.

Martin Best, a tall man, who had worked in casinos, greeted me. I noticed they'd stopped Evian water and served a vile concoction with their own name on it. They'd also added piped music, which I persuaded Mr Best to turn off. At 8.09pm we were served bread, but no butter. Mrs Lagoudekos, my former Miss United Kingdom receptionist, was about to tuck in. "No, let's see if they notice we've no butter," I said. This did not please Mrs L, who hadn't eaten all day. Mr Best visited a number of times to take the order, pour water, collect menus. He didn't notice the absence of butter.

We got red mullet and saffron soup as the freebie starter. And two canapes. Mrs L took one and said it was awful, so I didn't eat mine. The soup was okay. Then we were served another tiny cup of soup, which was announced as saffron. "Don’t be silly," I said, "we've had that, take it away." They then decided it was pumpkin soup, now being reheated.

By now, Mr Best had come to the table eight times and not noticed that we had no butter. Mrs Lagoudekos' said: "Look, those people by the kitchen have got butter. They came after us!" At 8.36pm, 40 minutes after we arrived, the first course came. And there were only 10 people there. Endless French waiters kept asking: "Is everything all right?"; "Did you like this . . . or that?"

My mosaique (sic) of foie gras and canard confit roulette of duck tasted of very little. Mrs L was shocked to find iced tomato sorbet clinging to her hot scallops. When the loquacious-French waiter took my plate, he left a side plate with a brioche on and a napkin around it, and crumbs all over the table.

The main course arrived after an hour. Mrs L said of her lamb: "It's not very tasty. It's like lamb with a bit of Bisto gravy." I took some. Nowhere near the quality of the lamb the Oak Room chef serves me for lunch at home. Or that I buy from H Allen of Mount Street. My salmon was not the best, but perfectly cooked. Served on an unoriginal bed of spinach. Nothing had the flair or flavour of Martin Hadden's reign.

The staff were all pompous. Mr Best came to the table for the 12th time, to pour water. When he left, Mrs Lagoudakos said: "I would have liked my roll." As the rolls were about to be taken away, I called Mr Best and told him what I thought of a butterless table that nobody had even noticed.

Mrs Lagoudakos ordered cheese. I've never seen such a tiny portion in my life. I got a pre-dessert of creme brulee. Mrs Lagoudakos's cheese had been set aside, but she got no creme brulee. "It's not as if I'm tucking into cheese," she said. When it came, she demolished it all on one biscuit. Later, the deputy restaurant manager, Tracelee Ireland, asked: "How was your cheese?" Mrs L nodded noncommittally. "You should have said 'small'," I remarked. My orange tart took for ever. All they had to do was slice it and put it on a plate. It was a meaningless souffle on pastry. It certainly didn't taste of orange.

The Halcyon now has yet another new boss. Its public-relations doyen, Alan Crompton-Batt, wrote about my visit: "I would be grateful if you could let me have your comments with a view to us taking the necessary action." Here they are: 1) fire the chef; 2) fire the restaurant manager; 3) fire his deputy and the waiters; 4) carpet the place: it's a stone-floored basement, clinical enough already; 5) get rid of those awful paintings they sell, which change regularly, each lot worse than the one before; 6) any time you want advice, Alan, just call.



Letters

I read with interest Michael Winner's column about his stay at the Jalousie Hilton in St Lucia (Style, January 30). I and my family were among the guests he described as "the most ghastly lot I've been in a hotel with". One could take Mr Winner's remarks with a pinch of salt were it not for his own behaviour at the hotel. It was two of my nieces, the nicest and most polite girls you could wish to meet, who made the mistake of failing to recognise that an upturned plate by a beach chair signified that it was occupied. His version of events is predictably fanciful. Despite their apologies and haste to depart, he proceeded to reduce both of them to tears. My mother, a gentle lady of nearly 80, tried to explain to him that this was unnecessary rudeness and received similar treatment. His behaviour was so bad that we felt compelled to complain to the hotel's management. Although upsetting, incidents like this might soon be forgotten were it not for the fact that Mr Winner can be boorish in the extreme and then have the privilege of being abusive about his fellow guests in a national newspaper. If he cannot behave, he should stay at home.
Richard Constant, London SW1

How pompous of you to suggest that a hotel like Coral Reef, Barbados, is not first class (Style, January 23). I have watched the rise and fall of so-called first-class hotels that you have reported on through the years and there are only a few of the die-hards left, Coral Reef being one. To appreciate first-class hotels, the first thing you need is class. It is evident from your comments that this is something you lack.
Steven MacGeachy, Chicago, USA

Some friends and I recently treated ourselves to lunch at the Ivy in London's West End. It lived up to all our expectations in terms of food, service and ambience, but I was disappointed to be refused an Irish coffee to end my meal because it was against restaurant policy. I wonder whether the Ivy's well- known roster of celebrity diners would receive a similar response to such a plebeian request.
Cath O'Grady, London SW18

I am used to hidden extras on hotel and restaurant bills, but even I was astonished during a recent visit to the St Martins Lane hotel in London's West End. The menu for breakfast in bed seemed reasonable until I noticed the delivery charge at the bottom. How else are you supposed to get the food to your room?
Name and address supplied

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