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The Amber Nectar

Published 8 October 2000
Style Magazine
378th article

Pool party: from left, Abdelkrim Temsamani, Michael Winner and Mustapha Rashid (Georgina Hristova)

Abdelkrim Temsamani, chief concierge of La Mamounia in Marrakesh, sought me out by the pool. "Mr Winner," he said, "there's one word you wrote about me that I can't find anywhere. The word is 'flaky'. I asked Mr Berge [the general manager], but nobody knows what flaky is. Could you tell me?"

"Well, it means a little eccentric," I proffered. "A bit off-the-wall. Liable to do something odd. It's not an insult."

Mr Temsamani considered this. "I hear what you're saying, Mr Winner," he said. "But it doesn't sound like a compliment to me."

I'm extremely fond of Morocco and La Mamounia, although things happen there that turn me into Basil Fawlty. I asked for my regular driver and guide. I was assured they would be waiting. But when I arrived in the lobby, Mr Temsamani had directed them somewhere else. These are minor tribulations, however, compared to the overall delight of Marrakesh. You should consider going right now. Mr Temsamani, immaculate as ever, is waiting. Guests are sunbathing by the enormous pool with palm trees growing from an island in the middle. You lie facing grapefruit and orange groves set in lovely grounds.

Robert Berge rang me recently, amazingly distraught about a bad review in the Gullivanter Guide (whatever that is) for La Mamounia's Moroccan restaurant. "They obviously have no palate," I said. "The room may be overlit, but the staff are sensational and the food is some of the best I've ever eaten."

To top it all, the Fanta sold in Morocco is historic. Now, thanks to Jerry Judge, president of the Lowe Group, Frank Lowe's famous UK advertising agency, I get it in Kensington. I've written before of the difference between the pale, insipid Fanta sold in England and the full-bodied, marvellous orange colour and taste of the Moroccan variety. We have never received so many letters on any subject. Douglas N Daft, chairman and chief executive of the Coca-Cola Company, producer of Fanta, sent a particularly amusing one, followed by a crate of Moroccan Fanta. That ran out.

I was at the Stella Artois tennis tournament last summer, knocking back an excellent lemon-marinated monkfish with rocket and cucumber and a soy/honey dressing, at a lunch given by Frank and catered by his company chef, Jo Asbry. Jerry Judge told me that not only did Coca-Cola have Douglas N Daft as its chairman, it also had a Mr Chuck Fruit as vice-president, media and marketing assets. Pausing only to register how impressive this was, I switched to fiixing my continuing supply of Moroccan Fanta. Not, I assure you, as a freebie. I gladly paid a good whack to the National Advertising Benevolent Society.

But, returning to La Mamounia: the most important person to know at any hotel with sun loungers is the beach or pool attendant. A good location for getting suntanned, or in my case reddened like a lobster, is more essential than the right table in a restaurant. Luckily, Mustapha Rashid at La Mamounia is a pool boss with real charm and energy.

I see him from my balcony in the morning, setting out the loungers and placing an upright chair next to mine. I like to have a choice of seating. I make vast sweeping movements and Mustapha further separates my space from the people around me. I'm positioned beautifully, next to the flowerbeds and facing the orange grove. I keep meaning to bring him and Mr Temsamani some Turnbull & Asser ties. Then I forget.

A lot of people ask me about the new Amman hotel in Marrakesh. Amman is a splendidly run, super-posh hotel group. I visited its place in Phuket, Thailand, set in a lovely bay and with delicious, delicate food. What put me off were the 70 steps you had to go down - and, in particular, up again on the way back - to get to the beach. The Amman in Marrakesh is a modern repro of old Morocco, miles from the centre of town, in the middle of nowhere, but adjacent to a golf course. I shall remain at La Mamounia. But if you're a golf fan, the Amman could be for you.

Remember: when shopping in the Marrakesh souk don't be too British. Knocking 10% off is not bargaining. It's possible to achieve 80% less than the asking price. The deeper you go into the labyrinth of magical alleyways, the cheaper the same thing will be. A supposedly old necklace made by Berber tribesmen caught my eye for Georgina. In frontal areas of the souk, it started at £100. I got it for £30. Deeper in, the same necklace started at £40 and could have been had for £10. It's savings like this that keep me in private jets.


Thank heavens the £225 charge for Michael Winner's half-bottle of Haut-Brion '88 at Chewton Glen included service (Style, September 24). Imagine the consternation had an extra £25 been charged for opening the bottle and pouring out a thimbleful to taste. I think my old grandfather once bought the entire pick of the kosher wine Palwin No 4 for £225.
Judge Barrington Black, London

I recently stayed at the Royal Riviera Hotel, at Cap Ferrat in the south of France. I booked to dine at the nearby La Reserve, but was told that there was a dress code of jacket and tie. I only had the former, so cancelled the reservation. Passing the restaurant later, I checked up on this and discovered that there was also an additional dress requirement - that men must wear tongued shoes. When I also saw that the gazpacho cost Fr290, I realised I really didn't mind going elsewhere. I have subsequently heard of guests there being charged for extra ice.
John Barnett, New Barnet, Herts

As Louise Solden (Style, September 17) decided to respond to my letter about Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons, I feel I must respond to her. The fact that certain people choose to work in the catering trade doesn't mean they are exempt from achieving high standards night after night. A restaurant is only as good as the last meal it served. I was not fortunate enough to meet M Blanc, but he, like any other chef - including Antony Worrall Thompson, who was there on the night we dined - is just that: a chef. He is not a godlike figure with any divine right, simply a man who chose to cook for a living.
Christopher Paul Savage, by e-mail

For the record, and to avoid nasty surprises for others, a glass of champagne and a whisky sour at the Long Bar of the Sanderson hotel in London cost a total of £17; a second round in the Purple Bar cost £29. That's a significant hike for lower decibels and darker lighting. The waitress said it was because Dom Perignon is served in the Purple Bar. However, the glass arrived poured. Readers are advised to have their champagne poured in front of them and to check the label - as well as the price.
Isabella Cointepas, by e-mail

I wonder whether Mr Winner could be persuaded to dine with us? We do an excellent spaghetti bolognese.
21st Aberdeen (Cults) Scouts

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