Published 4 February 2001 Style Magazine 395th article
Wrapping up: Amanda Perryman and Michael Winner at the Jalousie Hilton, St Lucia (Georgina Hristova)
In the 1930s the top place in London was the 400 Club, next to the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square. Nobody was allowed in unless they wore evening dress. Now the area is hamburger bars. Even Claridge's no longer requires men to wear a tie to sit in the lounge or eat lunch at weekends.
So I was astonished when a party of five nice-looking people arrived at the Jalousie Hilton, St Lucia, having cut short their stay at the greatly inferior Royal St Lucian after a row over dress requirements. They'd been refused entry to the breakfast room at a casual beach hotel because a lady in the group had bare shoulders and one of the men was wearing a vest. Not a string vest, but a rather chic grey vest. She was Amanda Perryment, a beautiful actress. He was Simon Cowell, a successful record-company boss with Westlife in his roster.
Both of them wore the exact clothes that the Royal St Lucian had banned when they ate breakfast and lunch at the Jalousie Hilton, a great hotel on tip-top form. They later wore them again for lunch at the immensely elegant Sandy Lane, Barbados. Nobody objected. Our photo shows Amanda at the Jalousie Hilton wearing the wrap that had her barred from breakfast at the Royal St Lucian.
The Cowell group and a friend of mine, the highly successful young theatre producer Adam Kenwright, spoke in horror of the appalling service at the Royal St Lucian. Adam described it as "terrible, staggeringly bad". At 7.30am on Christmas morning he was woken by maids asking if they could clean his room immediately, as he was leaving that day.
Interestingly, the general manager of the Royal St Lucian is Ross Stevenson. He was the general manager of Cliveden on my famous visit, when the service was terrible and they banned me, hoping to counteract a dreadful review. Mr Stevenson, apparently, still can't get it right, even when downgraded to a minor Caribbean tourist hotel.
For years, under Richard Williams, who'd previously managed a small place down the road, the dress code at Sandy Lane was pretentious. No denim was allowed after 7pm, even in the extremely casual beach restaurant. Now ruled by a sophisticated Frenchman, Jean-Luc Naret, who previously ran the excellent The Residence in Mauritius and the Trianon Palace in Versailles, things are vastly improved. The New Year's Eve invitation said "Dress Elegant". That could be long trousers of any material, no jacket or tie and a short-sleeved shirt. Mr Naret realises a £200 pair of Versace jeans may look better than a £15 pair of cotton trousers from Hawkshead. Mr Williams would have rejected Versace and welcomed the mail-order Hawkshead.
I congratulate Mr Naret on his dress code and on the efficient and gracious way he has organised the wonderfully reinvigorated Sandy Lane. Nevertheless, naughtily, I'll recount some of the dreaded butler stories I referred to last week. Naret's butlers are not butlers in the English sense of the word. They're young - mostly students, it seemed - nice Bajan girls who haven't got a clue.
My first night we went to bed early. At 10.35pm we were woken by a knock on the door. It was the butler asking what we wanted for breakfast. At 8.25am the next morning we were woken again with the same question. I wrote a clear "Do Not Knock Do Not Disturb" sign for the door. So the butler-girls telephoned to wake me at 7am, asking if I wanted my papers delivered. They woke the people next door to me on one side at 7am to ask if they wanted a fax delivered and the lady on the other side at 7.10am with a phone call "mistake".
"Your butlers are running amok," I complained to Mr Naret. They'd knock and immediately enter at all hours of day and night to offer useless information such as: "We're having a video show tonight." I ordered some medicine and saw the porter carrying it past my door on a silver tray. "Isn't that for me?" I asked. "I have to give it your butler," was the reply.
A guest's daughter gave the butler a note at midnight telling her father she was staying in a room with one of the other guests' daughters. She asked it be given to her dad in the morning because she didn't want to disturb him. The butler went straight down the corridor, hammered on her father's door at five minutes past 12, woke him up and said: "Your daughter has a message for you."
I could go on. And on. But I'm sure Mr Naret will have sorted it all out by the time we full-paying guests arrive next Christmas. I do hope so.
Is there any chance that, in future, Michael Winner might refrain from eating frog's legs and foie gras, as he reports he did at Vong (Style, January 21)? Both are produced with great cruelty and I'm sure Mr Winner could eat very well without touching them. With his influence, he might help to banish them from menus.
Gillian Harrison, by e-mail
I was recently rereading Ego, the autobiography of the renowned theatre critic James Agate, when I came across this entry for August 28, 1933. "Looked in at Ivy, which was crowded. Asked Abel if anybody was there, meaning theatre-folk. Abel said, 'No sair. Only trash!' "
Peter H Stallard, Peterborough
I recently grabbed a bite at Mezzo Cafe in London, where I discovered a waitress incapable of taking an order correctly. My food was cheap, but that doesn't mean the service should be poor. I will think twice before venturing into the more expensive restaurant on the premises.
David Griffiths, London
Following on from Dick Richards's tasty morsel about how restaurant staff punish difficult customers (Style, January 21), I thought I should make you aware of the true scale of this problem. During my many years in catering, I have seen numerous incidents involving complaining customers and unbalanced head chefs. The incident that springs most readily to mind occured several years ago, in a restaurant close to the Houses of Parliament. A regular customer, who was unerringly obnoxious, called me over and complained about his gazpacho, which he said was "stone cold". I bit my tongue, remembering that the customer is always right and took the soup back to the kitchen. The head chef was livid, and very irritable due to a persistent hangover and the fact that he suffered from the skin disease psoriasis. He proceeded to scrape some of the skin off his hands into the soup, microwaved it and ordered me to return it, piping hot, to the customer. It was pronounced "historic", or something similar, although the recipient wasn't Mr Winner. It was, in fact, a senior member of the Tory cabinet.
Robert Donelan, by e-mail