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It takes a long time to get me in the party mood

Published 9 March 2003
News Review
504th article

Happy at last: Winner with Joan Collins and Vanessa Perry

I'm very worried about New Year's Eve. I've only got 297 days left to plan for it. "Will it be enough?" I say to myself.

I'm always highly nervous of days on which the calendar instructs me to be jolly. Birthdays, for example. Or Christmas. But New Year is the worst. Then I'm not only expected to be at peak joviality on a particular date. I'm supposed to reach these heights at the precise second of midnight.

To help achieve this state of bliss I'm provided with "props": whistles, silver-papered toy trumpets, funny hats and the detritus of crackers pulled a short time earlier. I feel queasy just thinking of it.

For years I suffered New Year's Eve with grim detachment. I turned up at ghastly parties, seldom hosted by anybody I'd wish to dine with during a normal evening. Then, at last. I got it together. It started one year in Barbados when John Cleese invited me to dinner at his hotel, a small, charming place, which wasn't officially having a New Year's Eve "do" at all.

The only people in the restaurant were me, my girlfriend, John, his daughter and a well-known TV producer with his male friend. It was rare to be able to have a conversation without someone blowing a trumpet in your ear. Unlike the previous year when I'd seen the new year in with OJ Simpson and his future wife Nicole at a very Beverly Hills gathering given by Bob Kardashian.

If you remember the OJ trial you'll recall Mr Kardashian was photographed on television leaving OJ's house with a black bag that some speculated might contain bloodstained clothes. The prosecutors were unable to quiz Bob about this in court as he had rejoined the legal profession and was now on OJ's defence team.

Thereafter I remained in Barbados and collected showbusiness folk who didn't want to be gawped at in overcrowded hotels. I gave my own dinner party for them at Carambola. This is one of the longer-serving Barbados restaurants where we got a private area overlooking the sea, unobserved by the regular diners.

Rocco Forte, then the owner of Sandy Lane, came to me announcing he didn't visit the Caribbean in order to wear evening dress - in those days Sandy Lane was evening dress only that night.

My excellent group of people included, at various times, Michael Caine, John Cleese, Harry Secombe, the screenwriter William Goldman, Joan Collins, Patsy Kensit and assorted actors, actresses, writers, rock stars and producers. We once extended to a newspaper editor.

Last year I deferred to my friend Simon Cowell, who wanted to experience the razzmatazz at Sandy Lane. I prepared for the worst. In fact they did a splendid job, not too noisy and not overcrowded. We all enjoyed it.

A couple of days later I had an excellent dinner at Carambola. I started with zucchini soup, followed by Caribbean lobster with garlic butter. Geraldine had kingfish with coconut cream sauce. My receptionist Dinah had grilled jumbo shrimp with tamarind and ginger and her husband Takis enjoyed barracuda.

You sit right above the Caribbean Sea, an almost perfect setting. I finished with a very good bread and butter pudding.

Carambola is owned by Robin Walcott. He bought the place 20 years ago. Robin now also develops beachfront property. Who in Barbados does not?

Put Carambola on your list if you're planning a joumey in that direction. I also still greatly like the Lone Star even though some of you have written of unpleasant experiences there. I recently had some superb local spiny lobster. And they do a really tasty chicken tikka curry, which would grace any Indian restaurant. To finish they always make jelly, just for me.

"What flavour is it?" I asked the waiter. "Yellow and green," he replied.

I no longer have to visit Carambola to escape the dress code at Sandy Lane. I came down for last New Year's Eve wearing the only jacket I'd brought with me, a beautifully tailored affair in beige Irish linen created by Terry Haste, the boss of Huntsman in Savile Row.

The first person I saw was the general manager of Sandy Lane, Colm Hannon, in a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket. I returned to hang mine in the capacious wardrobe. I may one day offer you sight of me wearing this splendid apparel. For now I present a photo of one of my Carambola new year events. It shows the beautiful Joan Collins, the less than beautiful Michael Winner and my delightful ex-girlfriend Vanessa Perry.

Miss Perry has since settled down with a charming young man and has a marvellous baby boy named Marlon. This proves there is life after Winner

Winner's letters

The coffee shop of my local Sainsbury's is adorned with huge pictures of the sort of people they think will enjoy a coffee there. One of them bears a startling resemblance to you. The problem is that it's a woman. Assuming it is you, is this how you avoid detection when dining in less salubrious joints?
Ingrid Victor, Cheshire

Toby Cox (Winner's Letters, February 16) thinks we shouldn't go out to eat it we're not prepared to tip waiters. Sure, waiters should be given a gratuity if the service is good. But tipping is not a prerequisite of dining out. As to waiters earning a maximum of £4 an hour, this is nonsense. My daughter works in two restaurants. One pays £7 an hour and the other pays £40 for a 5½-hour shift. Tips are extra.
Tony Huggett, Surrey

Michael requested us not to ask him what a duxelles of mushrooms was (Winner's Dinners, last week) but I'm sure he'd like to know. It's a finely chopped mixture of mushrooms, onions, shallots and herbs lightly sauteed in butter and said to have been created by the chef La Varenne (1618-1678) and named for the Marquis d'Uxelles. Just one of the fascinating culinary titbits I have learnt since retiring from banking and taking up cookery on the side. I've also learnt a lot from Michael!
Mike Mogano, Solihull

Lynn Picknett described her interrogation at Bonaparte's at Waterloo station (Winner's Letters, last week). I had an hour and a half to kill at Birmingham international station as my wife's train was delayed. I approached the woman on duty in Bonaparte's, who was standing by an Italian coffee machine. I asked for coffee. She said: "We don't serve hot food at night. In any case we have to start clearing up as we close at 9pm." This was an hour and a half later! I told her coffee was advertised. She informed me grumpily that it "wasn't a cafe but a cafe bar". Let's hope Bonaparte gets his deserts at Brum as well as Waterloo.
Gerald Taggarf, Worcester

Like many others, I find Michael Winner incredibly irritating. That's the main pleasure in reading him. Keep it up, Michael.
Ray Piggot, Reditch

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