Published 24 December 2000 Style Magazine 389th article
Cereal thriller: Michael Winner with Frank Klein, president of the Ritz (Georgina Hristova)
In 1980, I had Christmas lunch at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. I can still see the beautifully dressed old ladies, some alone, some with female companions, sitting in the grandest of rooms. A string orchestra played. Liveried waiters hovered with white gloves. It was like a Fellini movie. My girlfriend was a 6ft, statuesque black dancer who'd just finished playing the East Wind on Broadway in the New York musical The Wiz. Fellini would have approved. Sadly, that dining room is gone. It was too big and too grand for today's Ritz. It's now subdivided and used for private receptions. On a recent visit, I found the current restaurant, L'Espadon, in another part of the hotel. It's elegant, but not a patch on its predecessor.
The Ritz is one of the very greatest hotels in the world. Every time I go through its revolving doors I see in my mind Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed leaving through the same door to take their last journey. Tourists still gather outside to be photographed in front of the impressive facade.
We were shown to a pleasant suite on the sixth floor. You could just about see the Eiffel Tower from the attic windows. It was beautifully furnished, but a hit gloomy. Frank Klein, the hotel's president, arranged for us to be moved to the Coco Chanel suite on the third floor. This was larger, lighter and quite exceptional. Everything about the Ritz is impeccable - the service, the bathrobes, the food, the ambience. Everyone is friendly and helpful. I'd normally object to gold taps, but Paris has been so restored and there's so much gilt on every grand public building and fountain, gold taps somehow seem all right.
My first excursion into a public room was for tea in the Bar Vendome, the light meal and general snack place overlooking the hotel's central courtyard. I had French muffins. The sandwiches were in little bread eclairs. I recall them in England in the old days, named bridge rolls. Everything was good. A tiny problem occurred at breakfast in L'Espadon. I declined to sit at the table the waiter indicated for me, going instead to a better one. "This is not laid up," said the waiter, stating the obvious. "Well, I'm sure it can be," I responded. The waiter did a kind of "Uhh" expression and sound as if to say: "This is very annoying for me." When he returned and laid the table in about half a minute, I said very quietly: "If a guest wants to change his table, there's no reason for you to show tantrum and temper. It's very minor, just deal with it."
The scrambled eggs were perfectly done; the little sausages Germanic but excellent. Very ﬁne fresh orange juice and coffee.
L'Espadon is an attractive room with the ceiling painted as sky and clouds. I lunched there with Frank Klein. He's delightfully courteous and cheerful. My napkin had MW embroidered on it. I forgot to take it home. I had cream of white bean soup with a light foie gras flan, truffles and mushrooms. Then fillet of cod roasted with herbs and vinegar. Georgina's main course was langoustine ravioli.
It was all exceptional. A zucchini risotto came with my fish, and some sauteed potatoes that turned out to be mushrooms. Shows what I know about food. Georgina had prunes and chocolate ice cream for dessert. She likes chocolate ice cream. She invariably has it with fruit. She thought this one was wonderful. My layering of warm dark chocolate and coffee ice cream and a crisp rice cookie was fine too.
On another afternoon in the Bar Vendome, I had the club sandwich, which was not historic but all right, and a snip at £29.50 compared to the £35 version at La Reserve de Beaulieu, although La Reserve's is better. My raspberry tart was exquisite and Georgina, referring to the strawberry tart, said: "Mine as well."
In case you think I've lost all critical faculties, I'll relate one minor irritation. On Saturday afternoon, the concierge promised to put a road map in my suite. Come Sunday there was no road map, so we spent for ever Sellotaping the concierge's torn one to make it usable. My modest self-drive car, which the concierge had supposedly called for by bashing some computer, wasn’t there when I eventually came out. I waited, yet again, for it to be brought from the garage. Tiny things, I agree. But when everything else is so splendid and efficient, a minor hiccup is magnified into a major burp, if you'll forgive my putting it that way.
And do have a lovely Christmas Day. Think of me lying on a Caribbean beach, stomach rampant. All right, you don't have to.
We read with interest Michael Winner's article on Harrods (Style, December 10) and, having sampled the salt beef at the store, agree that it leaves something to be desired. Mr Winner rightly refers to the excellence of the New York delis Stage and Carnegie, but has he ever visited Katz's, on East Houston Street in NYC (the deli where "that scene" was filmed in When Harry Met Sally)? Without question, it offers the finest salt beef in New York.
Heather and Michael Baim, Borehamwood, Herts
I thought Michael Winner might be interested in my recent experience at Le Caprice. The table was late. Then, not only were the waiters rude, they failed to decant a bottle of really good wine. When I complained about this, I was told that I should have requested that it be decanted. It was basically an awful evening, the worst service I have experienced anywhere. The maitre d' that night was Nick Roderick (who, I understand, is actually the general manager), so there is clearly no hope of improvement.
Peter Wood CBE, Reigate, Surrey
I suppose Michael Winner must have some front teeth - otherwise he wouldn't enjoy his food very much. So why doesn't he show them in his photographs? Let's have a grin for a change please, Michael.
Ray Smith, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
I cannot believe that Liz Doyle criticises Richard McCann for saying that dining out is about pleasure and fun (Style, December 3). She obviously has no appreciation of either atmosphere or ambience, and is probably happier in fast-food places. I have dined at The Ivy for years, at lunchtime as well as pre- and post-theatre, and have never experienced bad service in any shape or form. On another point: Michael Winner's recent piece on Oslo Court was exactly as I observed on a visit some months ago. Why does north London have a dearth of good restaurants?
Stanley Silver, Hadley Wood, Herts
Taking Michael Winner's advice that Chewton Glen in Hampshire was the best hotel restaurant outside London, I recently went there for dinner. It is undoubtedly a fine establishment and there was nothing wrong with the food. But it was merely good, not great. Having eaten at many fine establishments over the years, I would not put Chewton Glen at the top. If the prices were realistic, it might just scrape into my top five.
Simon Nicholls, by e-mail
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