Published 2 February 2003 News Review 499th article
Supersonic service: Winner with Zoe, Simon and Sabra on Concorde (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Eating on planes is not a good idea. I do it because I'm bored and because I find it difficult not to eat an food that's put in front of me.
Once on TWA from Los Angeles I scraped sauce from some roast duck and discovered green mould. I called the cabin steward over, "It's mould," he said.
I also found a piece of paper with a number on it in my lemon sorbet at the Society, a gipsy orchestra restaurant which now houses Tramp. The owner, Bill Ofner, came over. "It's a cloakroom ticket," he explained helpfully.
There was nothing untoward in the dishes served on my recent Concorde trips to Barbados and back. At £14,901.05 for two tickets ("There he goes again, the show off," I hear you say), I missed the little gifts we used to get. The nicest was a superb individual iced Christmas cake. We often received little silver things, or posh grey wallets. But the airline business ain't what it used to be. I don't blame BA for cutting down.
It's still a glamorous experience to travel on Concorde. I've been - doing it for over 30 years. Contrary to rumour, Mike Bannister, the Concorde chief, assures me the planes can go on for a very long time yet.
The cabin service is exemplary. Surly restaurant receptionists who give you an unfriendly glare and say: "Have you got a reservation?" should take lessons from British Airways staff. On my way out it was Alison, Joanne and Geoff. On the way back, Zoe, Sabra and Simon.
Heading for Barbados, the first food to turn up were three little canapes, one containing the tiniest blob of oscietra caviar - misspelt on the menu as ociestra. I chose the "farmhouse brunch of scrambled eggs, pork sausage, grilled bacon, tomato and sauteed wild mushrooms". The tomato was so hot even after it had been with me some time I nearly burnt myself. Geraldine liked her "marinated king prawn nicoise, fresh quail's eggs and shaved truffle".
The menu offers "the ultimate experience" telling how famous chefs - "The British Airways Culinary Council" - worked their brains to the bone producing "superior quality menus without compromising individual culinary styles". None of which is remotely possible on an aeroplane.
I was sorry to see plastic knives and forks. Concorde had produced a lovely set of real cutlery for their interior redesign after the hiatus. But they dumped it for the sake of safety. The pilot's door is now steel and firmly locked. I used to enjoy a visit to watch Mike Bannister driving, with very English tea trays on the cockpit floor.
On my flight back I had "Maine lobster with mango and spinach salad". I always worry about eating shellfish on planes. "How long has it been hanging around?" I think. So I touched very little. Geraldine greatly enjoyed hers and ate the lot. She then had "pan-seared chicken breast with creamed leeks and chervil potatoes".
I have no idea what chervil potatoes are. Menus invariably confuse me. I nicked a bit of chicken and quite liked it. I finished with cheese, grapes and biscuits. That's always safe.
I enjoyed both trips immensely. It's only about 3¾ hours from London to Barbados. You leave at 9.30am and arrive at 9.30am because of the time difference. Then it's onto the beach and go bright red as soon as possible.
The charming and helpful Concorde meal service contrasted with an excellent lunch on my return at The Connaught with a newspaper editor. The service there became very friendly when Gordon Ramsay took over, improved everything and plonked the immensely talented Angela Hartnett in the kitchen.
We were ordering glasses of wine. I asked for red. The waiter, with snootiness I hoped had been done away with, said sneeringly: "But you're eating chicken." I knew that. I ordered it.
My memory may be fading, but it's still robust enough to recall what food I asked for five minutes earlier. If I request red wine, all I want is someone to get it. I'm not seeking a lesson in what they think is right or wrong. If I ask for coconut ice cream and chocolate sauce with my chicken I don't expect a discussion. Actually, that sounds rather nice. Maybe next time I'll go for it.
PS: Don't be put off visiting Sandy Lane, Barbados, because of my famously high hotel bill. Those rates only apply around Christmas and new year. Otherwise it's much cheaper.
The general manager, Colm Hannon, has grown into the job superbly. The hotel is exemplary. Book with Elegant Resorts in Chester or Seasons in Style, a newer, hungry company nearby. I like hungry. It describes me.
I find Michael Winner extremely irritating. His reviews are waffle and tripe. I don't think he has a clue about food. I'm fed up with hearing about his fancy cars and overpriced holidays. But I still read the column every week savouring it for last.
Malcolm Lambe, Paris
One of the joys of your column are the odiously pompous letters from people incensed that you have the courage to state an opinion. They lack the ability to appreciate your unrecanting self-deprecation. Also your understanding and appreciation of Wales is highly welcome. It shows just how cultured a man you truly are.
Bill Fear, Penarth
Jackie Marinetti of Kensington, is the truth out (Winner's Letters, last week)? Were you having a very late dinner and Michael an early breakfast, or vice versa? Think again, it was new year, you know.
Iain Morrison, Wigtownshire
I note that Michael Winner has graduated to eating kangaroo. When we were in Australia "Joey meat" was the cat's staple diet. It brings a whole new meaning to the word Winalot.
Malcolm Baldwin, Benitachell, Spain
I am compiling an anthology of my own verse, also containing amusing quotations from famous and important people. I have decided to include the following from Michael Winner: "I only had one chip."
Dr D Leon Clarque, Sussex
The Studebaker Owners Club UK, being old car people, are a raucous lot. We booked a pub meal for more than 20 in a non-memorable pub in Warwick. We found a service charge on the invoice, whereas in the main eating area there was no extra charge, but, for them, more work. Very odd.
Mike Whitby, Sidcup
I read that Rules was one of the top attractions for tourists visiting London. My husband took me there to celebrate my birthday. We received the worst service we've ever experienced. We had to ask for the menu several times, which came from a surly waitress. We also had to ask for coffee several times, only to be told "The machine has broken down." I wrote to the manager but received no reply.
Jillian Martin, Essex
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