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On a Swiss Roll

Published 23 April 2000
Style Magazine
354th article



At the Gasthaus Rossli: back from left, Michael Winner, Dieter Abt, Hubert Reichenbach; front, Frank Lowe

There's something about pedestrianisation that rips the heart out of everything. Cars may be a nuisance, but they're a sign that normal life is going on. People are walking; others are chugging through in vehicles. Thus it has always been. I'm glad they abandoned pedestrianisation in Soho. I wish the Swiss would abandon it in Gstaad. It works particularly poorly when you take a village main street and seal it off. Cars now divert along a horrid little bypass complete with an ugly footbridge over the road and a ghastly tunnel. All utterly out of place in Saanenland with its fields, a few chalets and towering mountains.

The village of Gstaad is now a shopping mall, ill-decorated with Disneyland-type lamps and a modern Fountain of coloured bricks that looks like a children's playground gone wrong. To balance this, Elizabeth Taylor's sculptor daughter Liza has created a very nice bronze cow drinking at a fountain outside the Hotel Olden, an 18th-century chalet recently bought by Bernie Ecclestone of Formula One fame. I had very good steak tartare in the panelled dining room and Miss Lid had shrimps and noodles. My host was Dieter Abt, a witty Swiss thriller writer, who once owned The Belvedere in Holland Park, now magnificently refurbished by Jimmy Lahoud. This has definitely become one of the top restaurants in London. It's a stunning room. The food is superb and not expensive. If it was good enough for Marco Pierre White's wedding and my outstanding speech as his best man, it's worth a try for you.

Back in the land of happy yodellers, I had an excellent dinner in the village of Feurtesoey. This consists of a few chalets, one called the Gasthaus Rossli. It's owned by Hubert Reichenbach and, each night, like all the little Swiss places around Gstaad, has customers of astonishing wealth trying to look like locals. Which they are in a way, as Gstaad is second home to the rich and famous masquerading as ordinary folk. On the first floor of the Rossli is a very old-fashioned bowling alley with genuine locals drinking beer and playing bowls. Downstairs in the restaurant we were joined by the famous advertising boss of bosses. Frank Lowe. He represents Coca-Cola among other clients, but I decided not to bring up the matter of my letter to his super-boss about the different colour and taste of Fanta in Morocco compared to the UK.

I was sorry to see the old-fashioned inn-like dining room offering wrapped butter. It reminded me of a moment in the Palazzo Vendramin, an extremely posh outhouse of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice. At breakfast, Miss Lid the Second was reading the Herald-Tribune. "There are so many terrible things going on in the world," she sighed. "Yes," I responded, "one of them in this room: wrapped butter."

I was dictating that Frank's charming wife, Dawn, takes echinacea, which she says prevents flu, when my enormous double portion of truite bleu arrived. Miss Lid the Third was having shrimps with saffron rice. Frank Lowe had truite japonaise. "It's absolutely delicious," he said. "Bits of leek and a lot of ginger." "Onions?" I asked, noticing a vegetable I could actually recognise. "Yup," said Frank, "onions, ginger and then green mustard." Dieter was having cheese fondue and then putting fondued beef into chicken broth. For dessert we all liked the apple pie and ice cream.

I took a long mountain drive to Lake Geneva the next clay to revisit Le Raisin at Cully. This is a completely outstanding restaurant in one of the most unspoilt, lovely Villages ever. It's backed by mountains and vineyards. The houses overlooking the lake are residences as peaceful as I've ever seen. It made me want to buy one and sit staring placidly at the calm water with the snow-clad mountains on the other side. Then I decided it would be terribly boring for more than an hour, so I went to lunch.

It's always jolly to sit in the snow in bright sun, and near Gstaad is the Sonnenhof, above the village of Saanen. It's one of the great mountain and valley views of all time. Unfortunately, the new owners have discontinued the old favourites - a carrot and orange salad, which was historic, and the saucisse de veau with rosti, which was super-historic. Roger Moore introduced me to this place. Now the food is unspectacular, but the view makes up for it. Rog sent me a brochure for the Hostellerie du Pas tie l'Ours in Crans-Montana, which he strongly recommends. The village is where His Rog-ship now resides. As long as they don't pedestrianise Crans-Montana I'll definitely give it a try. Funny. I never realised I liked cars so much.



Letters

Eight years ago, I read one of Michael Winner's early articles blasting the up-market restaurant scene, confirming what many of us always secretly believed but were too British to express: that the industry, relying on the misplaced assumption that the vulgar rich rarely complain and well-bred patrons don't bother, was getting away with murder - not to mention robbery. Critics of the great man should bear in mind that it is due in no small measure to the "Winner" factor that restaurant standards are slowly improving, and that smug managements will finally get what they deserve. Eight years on, Mr Winner is still a hero in our household.
Stephen Everitt-Rowe, by e-mail

While there may be some room for debate as to Mr Michael Winner's merits as a columnist, having read his correspondence with Mr Daft of Coca-Cola (Style, April 2), there can be no doubt whatsoever that he writes a simply terrible letter.
Francis Wilford-Smith, Ledbury, Herts

Could Michael Winner please limit his use of the word "historic" in his reviews? There must surely be other ways for him to describe those parts of a meal that are to his liking. For instance, could he not just say "very memorable" - or, when in America, "truly amazing"?
Andrew White, by e-mail

Michael Winner's article about the Sir Charles Napier (Style, March 12) has panicked me into believing that I might have suddenly developed terribly bad taste. The Napier is one of my favourite venues and I have been happily recommending it to friends and family for years. It was therefore interesting for me to be able to compare the Napier with one of the UK's great venues, Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. I am happy to report that if Le Manoir is a 9 for food, then the Napier is an 8 - not bad for a quirky venue in the middle of nowhere. It may be a bit eccentric, but it does produce consistently good to excellent food. Service has never been a problem, the "man who does the wine" is extremely knowledgeable and we have never had any problems taking children. Every establishment can have an off day, but the Napier is better than all right.
Ian Madeley, Watlington, Oxon

I can't believe that people sit and wait for more than an hour for a table when they have booked. Are they mad, or just stupid?
Richard Enderby, by e-mail