In safe hands: Michael Winner with Peter Crome at Chewton Glen (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Be careful when you're given restaurant or hotel recommendations. My friend Dieter Abt, the only Swiss person worth talking to, recommended Suvretta House in St Moritz. After going and suffering, I asked Dieter: "When did you last visit Suvretta House?"
"When I was a child", he replied. "But you're 51 now!" I responded.
When I was a guest on the Richard and Judy TV show they told me on air how much they liked the Stanneylands hotel in Wilmslow, which I'd hated. When the programme was over I asked when they were last there. "Eight years ago," they said. Since then it's under new ownership and has fallen into disaster.
I hadn't been to Chewton Glen in Hampshire, which I rated the best country hotel in the UK, for two years. I booked at the last minute so got a modest suite, which Margaret Thatcher had just left. It was on the ground floor near the dining room. I liked that. I could get to my food quicker.
The hotel is run by its managing director, Peter Crome. He's the best hotel manager in the UK.
I was pleased to see standards had been maintained. The bread was awful. But Peter had relaxed the "no jeans" rule, at least for me. I'd already decided to bring my cheapest and most ghastly pair of trousers. I got them from a mail order catalogue and spent a fortune having my tailor make alterations. They're still horrific. I insisted on wearing them, because they weren't denim and therefore satisfied Peter's hotel instructions.
My double-baked Emmenthal souffle with a fondue sauce was historic. Then I had superb grilled calf's liver with mashed potatoes and fried onions. I finished with baked meringue served with blackcurrant sorbet and a vanilla sauce. The meringue was a bit soggy in the centre, but the dinner - and the food overall - was very good indeed.
I'd just decided to anoint Peter best hotel manager in the world when he loosened up a bit too much and said something careless. I thought: "Whoops! You're awfully good, but you just lost the ultimate Winner accolade."
He nearly got it back the next morning. The usually immaculate Chewton Glen breakfast service was in disarray. I waited endlessly for my scrambled eggs. Peter came into the room and immediately identified the problem. Jan Tibaldi, the resident manager at Sandy Lane, encountered a similar breakfast situation last Christmas. He just wandered through saying a double "Good morning, good morning" to everyone before leaving. Peter, on the other hand, chipped in.
"I'm the oldest waiter in the world," he said to me cheerfully as he passed by carrying plates of food. Then he turned to a couple on my right. "You’re next," he said. Single-handedly he saved the situation.
Peter is a prime reason I go to Chewton Glen. I don't go to restaurants and hotels. I go to specific tables and to specific people. I like to know there's someone in charge whom I trust. Thus Mara at San Lorenzo, Helena Hell at the Connaught, Valerio Calzolari and Michel Lengui at Scalini, Pietro and Nino at Assaggi, Michael DiFiore and John Wade at the Dorchester Grill are all major inducements. I could continue, but I can't praise too many people at once. It's bad for my digestive system.
I'm never quite sure of the pecking order at The Ivy when their splendid doyen, Mitchell Everard, is away. I ask: "Who's running the room?" They tell me and it doesn't mean much to my befuddled mind. But there's no question the Ivy has maintained its standards miraculously well, as has Le Caprice under Jesus Adorno and Nick Roderick.
The greatest room-roamers ever were Jeremy King and Christopher Corbin, who owned, and ran for many years, the phenomenally successful Ivy-Caprice-Sheekey group. They've been sitting on their bottoms far too long after selling out to Luke Johnson. Now it seems, although nothing is certain, they are close to returning to splendid premises in central London. I'm sworn to secrecy, and I always respect a confidence. But I hope their plans come to fruition. They were unquestionably the best.
I also wish Nicholas Hytner great success in his new role as boss of the National Theatre. When he's come to grips with the artistic stuff I wish he'd sort out the catering. It's absolutely abysmal. I saw a preview there of Jerry Springer - The Opera last week. It's a major step forward in musical theatre. Obscene, vulgar, sacrilegious, great fun - and brilliant. Just what the National should be doing instead of dusting down old relics. I've never seen a standing ovation at the National Theatre before. Jerry got one. And deserved it.
Mr Winner is again talking nonsense, this time regarding the superb Kensington Tandoori (Winner's Dinners, last week). The food is fresh and delicious and the service charming. Any man who orders baked beans for dinner on New Year's Eve is not to be trusted.
Jackie Marinetti, Kensington
I share your nostalgia for those chicken birianis somewhere near Magdalene Bridge when we were Cambridge undergraduates. My recollection is it was the Taj Mahal. Some of us were fanatics for the mushroom risottos at Lucy's near the Market Square: wonderfully greasy and oniony.
Brian Barder, Wandsworth
I refer to your memory of the delicious chicken biriani when you were at Cambridge. The best place was the Bombay Restaurant in Bridge Street. It served the best curries in town.
Trevor Edwards, Cambridge
May I contribute to your current debate. The word "loo" also derives from the French word for water, l’eau. We French like to visit "le petit coin" - the little corner.
Daniele Skinner, Hampshire
Mike Quigley (Winner's Letters, last week) asks if Michael Winner, who drinks Coca-Cola, can really be interested in food. I'm a teetotaller who always drinks Coke or water when dining out. Visits include Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and Chez Nico, where I appreciated the food with as much enthusiasm as my husband enjoying his wine. Drinking a liquid with the same consistent taste improves and focuses the enjoyment of the food, as there is very little competition in the taste department.
Barbara Symmons, Cardiff
Perhaps you never had your dry cleaning brought to your room by Mrs Jacob, manager of Suvretta House, due to your having the diesel Volkswagen Passat in the car park and not the trusted Rolls.
Andy Cowell, Merseyside
Re anagrams of Michael Winner: "whirl in menace" seems appropriate to those who've been on the receiving end of his waving napkin.
Oliver Chastney, Norwich
Another anagram of Michael Winner is "relic whine man".
Richard Marshall, London
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