Published 17 June 2001 Style Magazine 414th article
Northern stars: Michael Winner with Cherie and Tony Blair
Sir Rocco Forte's sister, Olga, came over as I was dining in The Lowry Hotel, Manchester. "This isn't really your sort of hotel, is it, Michael?" she said. I declined to comment, as Rocco recently built the place and Olga did the interior design. But it isn't my sort of hotel. I don't understand Manchester. I like the people: they're very lively. Sort of Essex-plus. But architecturally, Manchester is hideous beyond belief. The Lowry fits in very well. It's a slab-modern building with a minimalist aura. The lobby is so large you could throw a wedding reception for 500 people and still have room for a Barmitzvah in the corner. There's no furniture, except for red sofas placed so far away that you need binoculars to see them. Odd sculpted heads on poles stand near the staircase. You enter the lift and a crazed woman, who is obviously locked up with no view of what's going on, announces incorrectly: "The doors are closing, the doors are opening, the doors are closing." They should shoot her for a start. I don't need a recorded voice giving me an activity report on lift doors.
The suite was spacious, which I like. The furniture could have come third in the Turner prize. Worse I cannot say. There was a damaged interior wall that the door handle had bashed. The self-closing doors appeared to shut, but on inspection did not. So you could easily leave the room unlocked. The small corridor to the bedroom had a bathroom on the right and a dressing room on the left. The bathroom had a light switch outside it. The dressing room did not. After considerable searching, I found the dressing-room switch by the bed.
I was in Manchester with Tony and Cherie Blair, who were unveiling one of my police memorials to commemorate the tragic death of a young Muslim officer. After the ceremony, Tony and I came back to the hotel for two hours. I'd been sent an urgent fax from London. I asked four times and the receptionist said there was no fax for me. When I went to check out, I said it was impossible that my fax hadn't been sent. The receptionist then appeared, red-faced, and reported that their fax machine hadn't been working. There was probably just no paper in it, because 40 minutes later they delivered my fax to the Indian restaurant, Lal Qila (very good), where I was eating. It's quite an achievement to have no fax facilities at a large hotel when both the prime minister and I are there. The Lowry's manager, John Philipson, booked me a car and, as requested, wrote, detailing my driver's name and cellphone number. When I tried the number, I found the hotel had switched car and driver. But Mr Philipson hadn't told me.
The hotel restaurant, The River Room Marco Pierre White, is a clone of Marco's London restaurants, so it's stylish, highly professional and serves good food. We got a freebie cup of soup. "What is it?" I asked the waiter. "Leek and potato," he said. Odd that, because it was bright yellow in colour and tasted of shellfish. I requested the return of the food and beverage manager, Mark Randerson, who'd taken our order. He said it was mussel soup and, indeed, a mussel appeared at the bottom. As mussel soup it was fine. As leek and potato it was a disaster. Later, the waiter who'd described it inaccurately walked by, throwing a Coca-Cola bottle up in the air behind his back. It fell with a loud bang. I guess you just can't get staff in Manchester.
The excellent chef, David Woolf introduced himself. "He's a nice jewish boy," Marco told me later. "Why didn't he do lockshen soup, then?" I asked. "You could serve it in your London venues too, Marco." That suggestion went down like a lead balloon.
I also have advice for Simon Parker Bowles, the owner of Green's restaurant in St James's. Even though I'm not a member of the aristocracy and use only two names, I was taught by mum that when you're wrong, it's best to apologise. Mr Parker Bowles defends his restaurant manager, David Vickerstaff, who failed to acknowledge or greet Georgina when we came in. He wrote to us: "Mr Vickerstaff has greeted many customers more distinguished than Mr Winner." That I can well believe. Did he ignore the ladies with them as well?
I suggest Mr Parker Bowles and Mr Vickerstaff walk a few paces to Wiltons, where Robin Gundry greets men and women with equal courtesy. At the same time, they should take their chef to Wiltons' kitchen to see how somewhat similar, but immensely better, food is provided.
I was pleased to note from a recent feature (May 27) that Michael Winner's readers are deemed to need no translation of the fish st pierre -which, in English, is more commonly known as john dory. I ate last month at Lyons International Airport, which, with a Gallic insouciance for nervous flyers, has recently been renamed Saint-Exupery, as a poignant reminder of France's best-known air-crash victim. The menu in the main restaurant memorably translates "filet de st pierre" as "net of holy stone".
Richard Graham, London
Your correspondent Sean Kiely (May 27) and other readers will have noticed yet more evidence of Mr Winner's chauvinism in a recent column. He clearly views Georgina's opinion that the bread rolls were small as merely an observation, whereas his remark that "In fact, they were quite large" is an absolute certainty. To Mr Winner, size doesn't matter -being right at all costs obviously does.
J Black, Maidenhead, Berks
We recently visited an old favourite - the Ivy - and had an excellent meal. However, when my wife requested an Irish coffee, we were told this was not possible. Refusing to be defeated, I ordered -and was served -the constituent ingredients, and set about preparing the Irish coffee myself. On leaving the restaurant, I inquired of the manager why this apparently crazy policy existed. He replied: "If I serve you one, I will have to serve everyone, and it takes too long." Heaven forbid that they give their paying customers what they want and are prepared to pay for. Only in England and (I hope) only at the Ivy can such a monstrously arrogant customer-service policy thrive.
Adrian Harvey, London
I must comment on the recent letter from Samantha Kellard (May 27) about the Churchill Arms in Paxford, Gloucestershire. My wife and I also visited the Churchill Arms following Michael Winner's glowing report and found the food excellent. I feel that Ms Kellard has missed the point. Mr Winner was not commenting on the accommodation (he did not stay there), but only on the food. In fact, he made a point of saying that he had travelled there from Burford specifically to have lunch and wondered why - until he had eaten.
Maurice Hubert, by e-mail
Send letters to Style; or e-mail: email@example.com