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Auld acquaintances

Published 31 December 2000
Style Magazine
390th article

Countdown special: from left, Sir Rocco Forte, Michael Winner and Joan Collins (Vanessa Perry)

I object to New Year's Eve. Why should the clock dictate when I have to be jolly? Suppose I don't want to leap about at midnight blowing tatty whistles and wearing a paper hat?

For years, I spent New Year's Eve in the south of France with my parents at the marvellous old Casino in Cannes. It was very elegant, set in lush gardens by the sea. People beautifully dressed. Over there would be King Farouk of Egypt playing chemin de fer, at another table Yul Brynner and Darryl Zanuck, the Twentieth Century Fox mogul, with his girlfriend, the French singer Juliette Greco. And there, my smiling, white-haired mum, playing roulette on four tables at once, invariably putting her chips on zero-une - that's the line between zero and one. She hadn't lost the £8m then. Dad was alive, so she was moderately controlled. We'd have a black-tie dinner in the Casino's grand restaurant with a 12-piece orchestra, facing a series of bay windows looking onto floodlit gardens. At midnight, hundreds of Catherine wheels above the tall glass windows sprayed down dancing streaks of light. Now that Casino has gone, replaced by a concrete monstrosity.

After I wrested myself from parental duty, I endured one New Year's Eve in a Regent Street traffic jam. At midnight, there was Kenny Everett and his boyfriend Boris in the back of the car, with me having a hysterical row with the girlfriend in the front.

The Hollywood company Warner Bros put me on track to deal with New Year's Eve. In 1974 they gave me a movie script set in the Caribbean. For Christmas and New Year I was despatched on reconnaissance. New Year's Eve was spent in Haiti in a ravishing hotel, the Habitation Leclerc, set in the old residence of Napoleon's Josephine. It was a hotel venture by an American who also owned the New York disco at that time, called Hippopotamus. The Habitation was adjacent to the slums of Port-au-Prince, so there were fly-catching, red-glowing things high in the palm trees with big bags underneath. You looked up and saw enormous bags of dead flies. It was a Harold Robbins-type New Year's Eve bash, which the girlfriend and I enjoyed. Shortly after, I got violent food poisoning.

I went on to Frenchman's Cove in Jamaica. There I realised the basic mistake with nearly all catering - and, indeed, most catering. It tries to be posh. It attempts to emulate what it believes is fashionable. It ignores, almost totally, local cooking skills and dishes developed over centuries. Tired of eating deep-frozen steaks and other boring dishes that were not typically Jamaican, I asked the local men working on the beach what they liked. "Curried goat," was the reply. "Can you do it for me?" I asked. Using the beach gas cooking facilities, they produced one of the greatest taste sensations I've ever enjoyed. Curried goat was fresh, being a local goat, and was prepared with incredible spices and flavours. It was totally historic. When I asked the hotel manager to put it on the menu, he looked at me as if I was mad. Deep-freeze hell continued unabated.

After that, I spent many New Years in the Caribbean. I found locations for the Warner Bros thriller, which I shot in Antigua, St Lucia and Curacao, starring Sophia Loren. I discovered the excellent Sandy Lane Hotel. Last week I told you that I wasn't asked for its Christmas and New Year "try-out". The next day the owner, Dermot Desmond, rang inviting me to stay. That was nice of him. I've added it to my hotel "residences" in Barbados now somewhat excessively numbering six bedrooms and four sitting rooms in three different hotels.

In years gone by I gave many New Year's Eve dinners in Barbados, picking up stars who didn't want to be involved with hotel parties. I took a large balcony in the Carambola, a lovely restaurant, still there, overlooking the sea. Rocco Forte, then owner of the Sandy Lane, dismayed the hotel manager by declining to attend their New Year's Eve bash, saying: "I didn't come to the Caribbean to be told to wear evening dress." Joan Collins counted in the new year for us on that occasion.

Tonight I shall rely on Lord Glenconner to provide something special at his exquisite Bang Between the Pitons restaurant, right by the sea in St Lucia. Last year he promised a whole roast sucking pig, saying he knew exactly how to do it. Unfortunately, he didn't and ended up with a pig burnt on one side and raw on the other. His alternative meal was sensational. This year he's preparing another triumph. I wish you well wherever you're going. And great happiness in the year ahead.


The sight of Michael Winner bent over the concierge desk of the Ritz Hotel, Paris, taping together a frayed road map must have been a scene to be treasured (Style, December 24). The problem is, we did not see it. Perhaps Mr Winner could ask his girlfriend to take photographs of events such as this, rather than the more usual pictures of the great man smiling with some unfortunate chef to whose career he is about to deal a fatal blow.
Susan Simpson, Little Neston, S Wirral

Michael Winner is absolutely right in his quest for simpler food (Style, December 17). Have other readers noticed that you very seldom get given green vegetables in restaurants these days? You get a few bits of plate decoration and sometimes some mashed potato. The idea of a balanced meal, both in terms of taste and health, has completely gone by the board. The old idea of meat with two or three veg should be brought back. As things stand, you can spend hours just trying to work out what it is you've been served.
Mrs M Watson, Northampton

I was interested to learn that the new manager of the Sandy Lane in Barbados will be Mr J-L Naret. Having stayed at Sandy Lane before it closed and also at The Residence, Mauritius, where Mr Naret was manager, I can assure Mr Winner that he will be in safe hands. Indeed, I think he may well have met his match. Mr Naret was the most evident manager I have ever come across, always in attendance to look after his guests' needs. Unlike his predecessor, whom I didn't once see during my entire stay at Sandy Lane.
Peter McVean, Romsey, Hants

Of the many restaurants that should change their name to NEHC (nobody else has complained), The Criterion on London's Piccadilly is a leading contender. On a recent visit, I found the service surly and indolent. I cannot fairly comment on the food, but as the quantities were so microscopic, I suppose one paid for their rarity.
Barbara Dorf, London

I read recently that British Airways has created a council of seven prominent chefs to help improve its in-flight catering. On the face of it, this seems like a good idea: after all, top chefs regularly devise menus for the leading airlines. But by putting together such a large team, BA is surely shooting itself in the foot. Has the world's favourite airline never heard that old saying about too many cooks?
E James, by e-mail