Published 4 March 2001 Style Magazine 399th article
Michael Winner with Orlando Satchell, front row; back, Magnus Alnebeek and two waitresses from Ladera (Georgina Hristova)
Here's a quiz: where did Superman propose to Lois Lane? Not in Tesco, for heaven's sake. At Ladera in St Lucia. He flew up the jungle-covered hills between the Pitons, and there, in one of the most romantic spots in the world, he popped the question. Unfortunately, I didn't see the movie, so I've no idea what Lois answered.
But I'm a long-time expert on Ladera and its restaurant, Dasheene. It looks down on the rainforest between the Pitons. Either side are the towering Pitons themselves. With the so-called advance of civilisation, you can see, distantly, the Jalousie Hilton, the beautiful bay at below and, to the left, Colin Tennant's fascinating enclave.
Ladera is a small hotel. Many of its rooms have only three walls. The fourth side is open, with a balcony looking down to this truly stunning view. Some rooms feature a two-tier splash pool with a waterfall connecting one pool and the other. I've visited for over 25 years. It doesn't have much land attached to it - just a swimming pool, small gardens and a spectacular dining area. Guests can use the beach at the Jalousie Hilton.
The chef, Orlando Satchell, is Jamaican and he's very good. His buffets, featuring an astonishing variety, are adjacent to historic. I had marvellous fish stew with swordfish, yams, green bananas, christophene and pumpkin. That sounds odd, doesn't it? Perhaps the veggies were separate. I seldom know what I'm eating. I did try the jerk pork, which is spicy pork steaks, and the Ladera cocoa, a chocolate mousse. I also had the delicious Caribbean minestrone. The hotel manager is a cheerful Swede named Magnus Alnebeek. The whole place is magical. I drove from the Jalousie Hilton - atrociously as always - in my rented Jeep, over potholed roads, past the steaming volcano and then a sharp right, up a desperately steep incline, to a ferocious man in a guardhouse. Mercifully, he always recognises me.
Way below, Jalousie had perked itself up quite a bit. The beach no longer resembled a halfway house for American psychopaths on their way back into the community. I quite missed having to keep on my toes to avoid disaster. It now seemed full of British people, there because they read this column.
A particularly nice young couple from Preston sat behind me. The fruit was handed round with great good humour by the Jalousie staff. My favourite employee, Bronny Phillip, had been put in charge of Winner. She's the best waitress in the world. A delight to see at breakfast, a pleasure to see again at lunch, and, if I stayed to dinner, she was often there as well. But I missed the battling granny who berated me for asking her granddaughters to get off my beach loungers. It was all much more sedate. Although I'm told that after I left for Barbados, a gross group of Americans turned up and made a noise.
The beach at Jalousie is the most beautiful I've ever seen. It's a pleasure just to sit and look at the amazing vegetation clinging to the high Piton mountains either side, and the jungle greenery all around. It's the only part of the Caribbean I've found where you can walk into the sea without being attacked by stones. Also the sea never gets rough. Even at Sandy Lane, red flags are often put up to warn you it's not safe to swim.
Hilton sent Jalousie's convivial American manager, Rui Domingues, to England on a course. Maybe that's why everything from toiletries to service were much improved. Jeremy Mutton, the charming Englishman in charge of food, had got that better, too. The chicken wings, red snapper and stuffed crab were excellent. The chicken vindaloo was fine, so was beef and dumplings. The local lettuce was very good. The chocolate cake was the worst. It tasted like an out-of-date, past-its-sell-by-date cake mix gone wrong. The superb ice cream, Ferrands, is from nearby Soufriere, one of the great unspoilt Caribbean towns.
The man in charge of water sports, Wolfgang Unger, was highly unhelpful. Whereupon you rightly ask: "What have water sports to do with you, Michael?" Not much. But I hung around and observed superfit Georgina. Then collapsed on my sun lounger.
I strongly recommend the Jalousie Hilton. It's not that expensive. I'd say go through Caribbean Connection, but when I tell people to book Jalousie with Michael Edwards, their normally excellent managing director, he suggests they go somewhere else. My friend Marwan Khalek, who rents me Learjets, was put off, chose his own holiday and was disappointed. Serves him right. Anyone who fails slavishly to follow me, the ultimate hotel and restaurant guru, deserves all they get.
Having been turned down by The Ivy for a Valentine's Day booking, I decided to take my wife to Joe Allen instead. What a bitter disappointment! I had been many times in my bachelor years and had many fond memories, but this was a disaster. First, the waiter made us wait up to 15 minutes before he graced us with his presence. Eventually we managed to order a smoked-chicken salad as a starter, followed by the sirloin steak and vegetarian risotto. The smoked chicken was so red that you'd have thought there was a sunset in the room; the risotto was dry, flavourless and small; and my sirloin steak was tough and so unevenly grilled that it tasted awful. Our waiter deserted us halfway through our meal and it took ages to attract another passing waiter to order coffees and ask for the bill. I suggest they remind their waiters that without us they wouldn't be working there.
George T Lemos, by e-mail
Like Mr Winner (Feb 11), I recently flew with Virgin for the first time, but in economy class. I can't comment on the food because I was unable to eat, as half my seat was occupied by a very obese lady, which made the use of both table and chair arms impossible. I was badly injured by her sitting on me, and eventually hospitalised with a haematoma. Unfortunately, unlike Mr Winner, I'm not a neighbour of Sir Richard Branson. Had I been, I'm sure he'd have been made aware of the horror story by his head office and have rung me immediately. Instead, I was sent a cheap basket of food and a letter with a reference to my "uncomfortable flight". I bet Mr Winner wouldn't have slept in the seat I tried to occupy either.
Barbara Hewson, by e-mail
What is all the fuss about Mr Winner's orange juice (Feb 18)? People who frequent famous restaurants such as The Ivy expect the best in food and wine, not orange juice. Mr Winner should leave them to concentrate on their cellars, and ask Georgina to squeeze his oranges.
Mr A Sakal, Richmond, Surrey
The new Sandy Lane (Jan 28) sounds like the perfect place for jaded palates. I prefer my memories from the 1960s - sitting, drink in hand, watching a film with the manager as projectionist, tea dances at the Marine and the inexperienced waiter at the Edgewater who, when asked what the catch of the day was, responded "Fish."
Mr K Maddox, by e-mail