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Come off it, Jeremy, you can't beat extras like these

Published 18 January 2004
News Review
549th article

Beauties and the beach: from left, Ella Smith, Alex Smith, Michael Winner and Lulu (Geraldine Lynton Edwards)

I ate for breakfast each day at Sandy Lane, Barbados, orange and grapefruit slices, a bacon sandwich and a cappuccino. This shouldn't tax a hotel where my bill was £2,300 a night.

But on New Year's Day - no grapefruit! The day before grapefruit expired between my getting slices and Geraldine not getting fresh grapefruit juice.

Kelly Jackson, the superb executive sous-chef, arrived to calm me. "There is grapefruit," he said. "Where?" I inquired. "In the fridge," said Kelly. "Does the fridge lock have a secret combination?" I asked. "There's no combination to the fridge. You have to use your eyes," said Kelly. But he failed to produce one. So I asked Peter, a restaurant manager, to bring a grapefruit. Peter returned saying he couldn't because there weren't any.

Fifteen minutes later he reported, "They've just arrived. They're being unloaded." Half an hour later Peter triumphantly appeared holding a grapefruit.

At lunch the chef, Richard Ekkebus, said grapefruits were in the store but no one had bothered to take them out. You may be thinking. "If Winner can only moan about the temporary loss of a grapefruit, it must have been pretty good at Sandy Lane." It wasn't. It was utterly superb.

More snide rubbish is printed about Sandy Lane, often by people who haven't been there and wouldn't recognise a great hotel if it slapped them in the face, than about any place on earth.

The normally masterful Jeremy Clarkson, in this very paper, made the nonsensical statement that Sandy Lane is "an international, impersonal concrete middleman that stands between you and your wallet and the faceless corporation that owns it". It isn't concrete. The exterior is marvellously ageing, carved coral stone fronted by lovely mahogany trees.

It's also one of the most personally run hotels I know. At Christmas all five owners were present, two residing in the hotel. Super-boss Dermot Desmond minutely supervised every moment of the marvellous rebuilding and is continually improving what are already extraordinarily high standards. The general manager, Colm Hannon, is as warm and twinkling an Irishman as you could ever meet.

But then a year ago Jeremy wrote how pseudo the clientele of Sandy Lane were because he saw one talking on a cellular phone, which obviously was just "show" as Jeremy's cellphone, which worked everywhere, didn't work in Barbados. Jeremy, dear, my beloved dinner guest at Sandy Lane only days ago, Barbados is not so Third World that they don't have cellphones. The hotel hires out local ones to their guests.

My recent visit started badly. I ate two biscuits made by the new pastry chef, Jean Luc Vilar. One was so hard it almost broke my beautifully capped teeth. The other was soft and tasteless. But M Vilar triumphed later with terrific rum babas, great patisserie, croissants and a fantastic English-style fairy cake he made just for me. Sandy Lane is spending $250,000 building its own bakery. Jean Luc produced a sample of unbeatable breads he will then make with flour flown in from France.

I arrived biased against the new chef, Richard Ekkebus, because I was very fond of his predecessor who fled to Hong Kong when, I think wrongly, he wasn't given the job of resident manager. Richard is a precise Dutchman who completely won me over.

The food was much better this year than ever before. The New Year's Eve buffet in the beachside Bajan Blue was the best catering for 470 people I've ever seen. The foie gras mousse was historic, the roast duck in orange with red cabbage memorable.

Dermot Desmond is further improving things by bringing that great restaurant group Nobu to cater in the upstairs restaurant, L'Acajou. Sandy Lane's food is already the best on the island. With Nobu added it will be in a different stratosphere.

I know no hotel more immaculately run - and this by Dermot Desmond, whose only previous experience of catering was the snack bar at his London City airport. He's dumbfounded the cynics. Especially me.

The greatest Sandy Lane attraction remains the friendly, witty, charming Bajan staff - and the location. The beach, in its wide, palm-fringed bay, is breathtaking. Carlos Chase runs it brilliantly. When he's away, things crumble.

Sun worshippers included the very nice Simon Cowell, ever-lovely singer Lulu, super-skilled actor Clive Owen and two beautiful blonde twins aged 18, Ella and Alex Smith, whose mum Gail was hairmaster John Frieda's business partner. The girls model for him in glossy magazines and are now going into singing. Sadly not a warble enlivened the beach.

  • PS: With petulance bordering on irresponsibility I herewith postpone our scissors competition result until next week!

    Winner's letters

    At Spinnakers Beach Bar, a beachfront restaurant (I use the term loosely) in St Lucia, there's a "Wanted" poster saying you are banned. I asked the person in charge if you'd reviewed it. She wasn't sure you'd ever eaten there, but added, conspiratorially, that you were a person who visited restaurants and wrote horrible things about them! Don't bother to review Spinnakers, it surpasses anything I've ever experienced in terms of slowness of service, quality of cooking and indeed any criteria I can imagine other than ambience and location.
    Stewart Goldberg, London

    If you go to Dublin as Edward White suggested last week, avoid the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Patrick Guilbaud! The prices are extortionate even by Dublin standards. The quality of the dishes and the mismatch of ingredients would be unacceptable in a canteen. Six guests and I either didn't finish or returned most of the three courses we tried. The service, though, was friendly and willing.
    Sean Hall, Northern Ireland

    Michael is developing senile dementia. He required only one pair of scissors but packed seven.
    Paul Mallinson, Yorkshire

    Thank you for going to the trouble of secreting seven pairs of scissors in your hand luggage thereby ensuring airport screening techniques were fully operational. Thus making aircraft safe for the rest of us riffraff.
    Beverly Embleton, Kent

    Seven pairs of scissors
    What could the reason be?
    To manicure the seven dwarfs
    Before they have their tea.

    Maureen Kenyon, Liverpool

    I think it's seven scissors for seven sisters. I see you at Sandy Lane emulating Hugh Hefner, sans cravat, with lots of little lovelies pandering to your every whim. I do hope the long-suffering Geraldine gets the number one placing.
    Heather Tanner, Suffolk

    It's obvious. To take care of tips during a week of visits to clip joints.
    Barrington Black, London

    You have seven different types of nail. Each demands its own special scissors.
    Deborah Reich, Salford

    You needed them for a fancy dress party which you attender as "Michael Scissorhands".
    Lesley Gordon, Glasgow

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