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Brotherly love

Published 19 May 2002
Style Magazine
462nd article

In the family way: from left, Karl Obauer, Michael Winner and Rudolf Obauer (Georgina Hristova)

It's very rare I reply to readers' letters, but I broke this habit in respect of Comte Roland de Kergorlay, who wrote from Brussels. His comteship's letter commenced "Sir", not "Dear sir", so I knew I was in trouble. Roland (I hope I may call him that without fear of further invective) was appalled at my criticism of the way the Scherz family run their Palace Hotel in Gstaad. I find them uncaring and appalling. Rolly (Oops! That's going too far) says the hotel is perfectly run and the Scherzes "record all the personal wishes and idiosyncrasies of their clients and know how to meet them".

I never set eyes on a Scherz until my fourth visit, when dad came over for 15 seconds. Nobody cared about my personal wishes. I have no idiosyncrasies. Not only are the suites tired and out of date, but the main lounge is frequently rented for functions, leaving the guests hovering around gloomy mini salons. The Scherzes are the least welcoming hotel owners I've ever met. Unless, perhaps, you have some minor European title. Although I agree with his excellency Rolly that Peter the chef and Gildo the restaurant manager are exemplary.

Comte Roland suggests that "what appears to me a monument of egocentrism [sic] led to behaviour [mine] which did not meet with their [the Scherzes'] full approval". He promises to investigate next time he's there.

I never speak above a whisper at the Palace, but I wish the comte well in his detective work. I modestly suggest the Scherzes, father and son, travel to Salzburg to meet Elfi Kammerhofer, who runs the Hotel Sacher, and her boss, Elisabeth Gurtler, who owns the Sacher Hotels in Vienna and Salzburg. These ladies have style, warmth and elegance. They are genuinely welcoming. But for a Swiss man to learn from Austrian ladies would be humiliating. The Swiss only let their women vote in 1971.

An example of genuine customer care was Elfi's beautifully prepared list of local restaurants, each with its GaultMillau or Michelin rating, address, name of owners, chefs and key personnel and length of journey from the Sacher. The first we chose was Restaurant Obauer in Werfen, some 40 minutes away. This gets 19/20 in the prestigious GaultMillau guide. I've never seen them give more. It's a cheerful place in a pretty village, with pink walls and tulips on the tables, owned by two brothers, Rudolf, the chef, and Karl, who manages front of house.

The canapes were exemplary. They included turbot with pumpkin seed in mustard, very good salami and calamari with a cheese straw on top. We started dinner proper with goose liver in four variations, went on to turbot with lobster and, I dictated, "melted tomatoes". That can't be right, can it?

Then a small cheek of pork with radish, deer with mushroom and lasagne, mashed potatoes with melted cheese and a black truffle, and for desserts a honey pie souffle, sponge cake with a pink and a yellow sauce and a "chocolate variation". Everything was superb. Georgina said: "I'd like to take their card." "You're coming back, are you?" I asked. "Definitely," she said. I'm sure she'll be passing through Werfen regularly. Sometimes the service was slow and the Voslauer German mineral water lacked body. But if you're in the area, visit the brothers Obauer. It's a real treat.

By comparison, the Residenz Heinz Winkler in Aschau in Chiemgau, Germany, is no delight at all, even though it boasts three Michelin stars. I'd rate it a weak one star at most. It's a pretentious room in a pretentious hotel. There are murals of arches with vines and a sky view. One good thing is the tables are well apart. "The toilets are freezing cold," said Georgina. "They should heat them." She'd greatly admired the toilets in Restaurant Obauer. "They're beautifully designed and the towels are exquisite," she reported. They even had classical music.

The food at Heinz Winkler was adequate. My lobster was very good, the lamb baked in light bread extremely ordinary. The head waiter wore a cravat, fluffed his hair up in the front and always stood with his right arm crooked. It was that sort of a place. The desserts were a disaster. We waited for ever for an unexceptional apple pie. My "chocolate creation" was Herr Winkler's speciality. Four blobs of hard chocolate with soft chocolate inside. I've definitely had similar puds that were much better. The covering of the chocolate sauce was tough and tasted of "really very dreary material, whatever it was", I said to myself. I like talking to me.

The chef, Heinz Winkler, didn't come out of the kitchen to greet anyone. With food like that, I'm not surprised.


The moral of the story of the expensive tea at the Four Seasons and the superb lunch at The Ivy? Quite simple - Michael isn't always a winner.
David L Heap, Morecambe

I stumbled across Turners Restaurant (Brian Turner) at the Crowne Plaza hotel at the NEC Birmingham during a recent exhibition. Never have I seen a chef greet the customers, pour the wine, cook the food and still have time to visit every table. Oh, and the food was monumental.
Stuart Matthews, East Leake, Leics

You published Michael Nixon's letter (May 5) objecting to the use of bin numbers at the Ritz, but I have always understood the use of bin numbers to be at least as acceptable as naming the wine, and arguably the formally correct option. The waiter blushed at Mr Nixon's "correction". But the blush was of embarrassment at a solecism, which the waiter most professionally refrained from correcting.
Stephen Phillips, by e-mail

Michael seeks a moral to differentiate between his dreadful £22 afternoon tea at the Four Seasons and enjoyable £19 three courses at The Ivy (May 5). What it exemplifies, however, is the fact that we Brits often put up with awful food and service. Let us revolt now and be brave enough to join Michael's justified dismissal of such atrocities by walking out on them.
Mike Mogano, Solihull

In view of Mr Winner's experience at La Gousse d'Ail (April 14), I am thinking of opening a themed restaurant, to be called The Shouting Chef. Special menu items will start at a modest £6.95 for Petit Cri du Chef du Jour a la Sortie. Orders will have to be placed in advance for Grand Cri Spectaculaire du Chef Celebre Flambe.
A Ashton, North Weald, Essex

As an East End boy from way back, I was born amid the smells and sights of bagel golden circles. I can still hear the bagel lady of 1939, chanting: "Bagels for the navy. Bagels for the army. Bagels for the clever. Bagels for the barmy." If Michael wants to taste the true old-fashioned bagel (May 5), he should try The Bagelman in Brighton. But be prepared to queue.
Henry (from the Buildings), by e-mail

I was intrigued by the photograph in your article of April 28. Sandwiched between Luna Antrobus and Marco Pavone, where was your right arm? I think we should be told. Keep up the good work.
Howard Dawson, Tunbridge Wells

Send letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk