Published 17 September 2000 Style Magazine 375th article
Michael Winner, Lord Glenconner and Georgina Hristova at Bang Between The Pitons in St Lucia
"Memories," as the wonderful Dean Martin sang, "are made of this." But made of what? Wives - not in my case. Girlfriends - I'll say "yes" to that. Magical views - possibly. Food - definitely.
I wish to recall one of the most memorable meals ever, which I devoured last New Year's Eve. It was prepared by Lord Glenconner, aka Colin Tennant, the subject of a recent TV portrait, The Man Who Bought Mustique. This captured Colin in all his glory, wandering around in flowing robes, castigating whites and blacks alike, hitting the TV soundman and generally acting like Basil Fawlty on Speed. In fact, he's the kindest of men, utterly positive and forward-looking in spite of having lost two sons to Aids and with another crippled in a motorcycle crash. On top of that, a load of moronic ingrates, living in luxury on the island estate he created for them, turned on him and turfed him out of Mustique. I will not dwell on the whys and wherefores. I prefer to see, in my mind's eye, Colin on December 31, 1999, in his small restaurant and bar in St Lucia, offering Georgina and me this staggering meal.
After the Mustique debacle, Colin acquired a rainforest between the mighty Pitons (large hills or small mountains, according to how you look at it) in a beautiful, undeveloped coastal area of St Lucia. One third of this land is now the Jalousie Hilton. The rest belongs to Colin, who is selling it off as building plots, undoubtedly some of the best available in the world.
Returning to the end of last year: it was tropical-downpour time, with highly energised rain. It stopped intermittently, only to start again. Colin's marvellous little complex, Bang Between the Pitons, had been demolished by a hurricane a short time before. But he'd rebuilt, doubtless spurred on by the knowledge that I would be turning up. The restaurant offers a row of booths covered with an awning, lovely lanterns, some transplanted old Caribbean houses, a gift shop, a small bar, a dancefloor, a bandstand and, in the centre, four poles holding a roof over the best table. There we watched the rain beat down around us. The only other diners were a British party of airline hostesses who were accompanied by men who do whatever men do on airlines. The ladies were marvellously overdressed in sequins and high heels. The group entered with streamers and blowing whistles. They were a delight, and danced vigorously during such moments as they could without getting drowned.
We started with grilled coconut slices. Delicious beyond belief. Sometimes Colin offers local fish or fishcakes. On this occasion there was christophene gratinee. Then came the main triumph, crayfish plucked that very morning from the rainforest rivers high up in the mountains. This was a taste to remember for ever. We also had stir-fried okra, a salad and Chinese potatoes. To drink, there was fresh mandarin juice, always softer and less acidic than orange. Knowing my fondness for jelly, Colin had prepared a lime jelly with tangerine slices in it, served with superb coconut ice cream from the local firm Ferrands.
A band played. Staff scurried through the rain. At about 10 o'clock I got in my jeep and drove back to the adjacent Jalousie Hilton to sit with the concert pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and his family, and, later, with some people I'd previously met at La Samanna in St Martin. It's my intention to return to both Jalousie and Colin for the 105-day-away New Year's Eve. I will also revisit my lavish Barbados arrangements: a house with three bedrooms and a sitting room at the Royal Pavilion and two suites at the nearby Lone Star. I greatly enjoyed them both last year.
Meanwhile the rebuilding of Sandy Lane continues. To the surprise of nobody, except the hotel boss, Richard Williams, we Sandy Laners face a third Christmas without our normal base. The hotel was closed in May 1998 with Mr Williams seriously announcing it would be back for clients in October 1999, having been totally demolished and then rebuilt. But I have the highest regard for its Irish owners, Dermot Desmond and J P McManus, and wish them well. Realistically, their hotel looks like reopening in May 2001. Exactly when I prophesied it would.
They have a new general manager, a Frenchman, Jean-Luc Naret, who was at The Residence in Mauritius. Announcements on their website suggest the coming of a super-totally efficient wonderland. The outstanding ex-manager of Sandy Lane, Pierre Vacher, said to me recently: "The great thing about Sandy Lane was that you knew every day something would go wrong. That was its charm." I've no doubt it will remain thus. I greatly look forward to its rebirth.
I was surprised that Michael Winner described the tea he was served at Gidleigh Park (Style, September 3) as a "Devon" tea. "Superb" it might have been, but a real Devon tea it was not. A genuine Devon tea is served with jam, cream and splits - not scones. Scones, which I believe originated in Scotland, were introduced fairly recently to Devon and Cornwall by the catering trade because they keep longer and can be frozen. An establishment with pretensions and prices like Gidleigh Park should surely have served splits and not tried to mislead Mr Winner.
EF Griffin, Steeple Claydon, Bucks
I was sorry to read of Michael Winner's unfortunate tiff with Georgina (Style, August 27). Could it be mere coincidence that I read an advert in a recent edition of The Oldie, in which a "wealthy senior citizen" seeks "a younger lady to act as companion/mistress (separate rooms) for visits to best restaurants and five-star short breaks"? Can Miss LID the Fourth have already been selected?
RLS Coulson, Market Harborough, Leics
Having just returned from a two-day cookery course at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, I was unimpressed by your correspondent Rebekah Selman's faint praise (Style, September 3). On both evenings the food, presentation, ambience and service was first-class. Ms Selman may be unaware of what it takes to achieve such a high standard. For dedicated and elite chefs, new menus demand many months of creative endeavour. Then there is the ever-present challenge of high-pressure execution night after night, working 15-hour shifts, sometimes seven days a week. Maybe Ms Selman should consider this before dismissing as just "nice" a meal in an establishment with Le Manoir's pedigree.
Louise Solden, Leeds
I recently celebrated my 40th birthday at the Waterside Inn at Bray. Not only did I stay overnight in a charming room, but the service was truly five-star and the meal in the evening was superb, enhanced by the lovely view overlooking the Thames. As we were finishing our meal, Michel Roux came over and asked if everything was okay. It is a top-quality establishment in all respects, and yet it is ignored by Michael Winner. Why?
Martin Fish, by e-mail
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