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Fishing for a keepsake from Sue, the wary fryer

Published 5 January 2003
News Review
495th article

Catch of the day: Carley, Winner and Sue in Peter's Fish Factory (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The Ramada Jarvis hotel in Harbour Parade, Ramsgate where I was shortly before Christmas, is different as can be from my present location, the Sandy Lane in Barbados. At the Ramada Jarvis, my modest suite cost £140 a night, bed and breakfast. Sandy Lane's price is £2,100 per night.

At Sandy Lane there are enormous plasma TV screens, large balconies overlooking the Caribbean Sea and a panel on the bedside table which operates the net curtains, the real curtains, the lights, the TV and does everything except give you a massage, a cup of tea and a discount.

In the Ramada Jarvis you look out onto a bleak harbour. There were two TV sets, one in the tiny sitting area, one opposite the bed. Only the bedroom one worked. The curtains were manipulated by hand. Although the Ramada does provide a kettle for do-it-yourself tea and coffee, an iron and ironing board. The last two would be useful in Sandy Lane.

I'd got to the second floor of the Ramada, a hideous modern building on the seafront, via a lift with a glass back. It revealed guests in a small swimming pool. My suite was called Sundown. Since it was pitch black outside this seemed reasonably appropriate.

I was last in Ramsgate with Robert Mitchum and John Mills. My stuntman drove a Bentley off the pier into the sea and someone nicked £7,000 from the boot of our accountant's car, which was to pay local extras. Now I was there because my charity, the Police Memorial Trust, was honouring a policeman killed in nearby Margate. I was to be with the home secretary, David Blunkett, the following day.

As it was a bit early for dinner, Geraldine and I took a stroll. We passed quite nice old buildings diminished by modern cafe signs and paraphernalia to arrive at Peter's Fish Factory, a brightly lit fish and chip shop.

Three ladies were on duty, none of them particularly welcoming. There was a black girl called Cynthia behind the bar, another waitress Carley, and Sue, who was in charge. "She's a fryer," said Cynthia.

I inspected the fish on display. They had saithe, which I'd never heard of. "It's coley," said Sue. Later I checked with Tom White, boss of White Fisheries, a wholesaler in London. He explained saithe was "as good as cod and half the price".

I had some cod. Geraldine had a fishcake of cod's roe and an ordinary fishcake. It was all extremely excellent. The girls were thawing out and becoming quite chatty. The bill was £3.90. I gave them £10 and said to Sue, indicating the menu: "Can I take this with me?"

"Why, what's wrong?" she asked suspiciously.

"I want to remember my stay here, I want to take it," I persisted.

"Like in home?" said Sue. "That's right," I said, "I want to take the menu home."

Sue had the most marvellous face. It was like something out of the East End in Victorian times. Massively full of character. A couple of customers asked for my autograph. That cheered the girls up even more.

I so liked them all that after dinner at the Ramada I walked back to take their photograph. Sadly, by then Cynthia had gone home.

I'd dulled my appetite with the cod. In the Ramada dining room the menu was very posh, too much so for a simple hotel. But the food wasn't bad at all. I had roast loin of pork stuffed with black pudding. The duchess potatoes with it were amazing.

Like the lift, the dining room had one glass wall revealing the swimming pool. A fat woman in a red striped bathing costume was walking about. This rather put me off. But not as much as the fat lady would have been if she'd been in the dining room watching me walk round the pool.

The delay before our main courses was appalling. "I'm not hungry now, it's taken so long," said Geraldine. But she returned to her Little Mary Sunshine mood when it arrived, describing her red snapper as "gorgeous".

The restaurant manager, Miss Flood, was extremely jolly. "Why's it called Ramada Jarvis?" I asked.

"Because John Jarvis owns it," was the reply. I collect useless bits of information like that.

I also noted on my tape that David Blunkett told me his father worked in the gas industry when they got gas from coal and he walked back in to some sort of furnace, fell in and died when David was quite young. "So he's particularly sympathetic to people whose families are killed in accidents," I dictated. It may not be anything to do with food, but I found that interesting.

Winner's letters

Having spent three weeks at the delightful Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados in the company of Michael Winner I am investing in a pair of earplugs in anticipation of next year's vacation.
Simon Cowell, Kensington

I had to smile when Dr Ken Reay (December 22) whined that the service was less than attentive at Sandy Lane in Barbados. The highlight of his letter was shock at not receiving an apology. It typically takes a 10-year court case and many thousands of pounds in legal fees to extract an apology from a doctor in England. Let him take the same route. Just for a laugh ask your millions of readers if they have ever seen a note of apology from a doctor.
John Johnston, Cambridge

Numerous MW correspondents have complained of long waits until their food arrived. Why did they not get up and go somewhere else?
Philip Till, Vancouver, Canada

I used to belong to a golf club and went there with my wife and a friend for a meal. It was summer and over 80 degrees. My friend and I removed our jackets. The steward insisted we put them back on. Our wives were dressed appropriately in loose, short dresses. I've spent my life in employment where we had equal opportunities drummed into us almost daily. Yet I feel I am discriminated against. On holiday recently the restaurant wouldn't allow men to wear sleeveless tops, women could. Nor shorts; women could. What's going on?
Gerry Dunn, Birmingham

A head waiter in Rome once told me to mark the level of wine remaining in the bottle when I intended to finish it the next night. In Malta last year the head waiter objected to my marking the wine level. So I wrote "Queen Mum died 30.3.02." The next night I found the Queen Mum bit had been scratched off. When I asked why, the head waiter stormed off, shouting in Maltese.
James Martin, London

I recently took a party of family and friends to Ruby's in the Wirral. There was a service charge of 10% because there were more than 10 people in our party. Have you ever been asked to pay more when a group of your friends have dined out?
Ken White, Wirral

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk