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Loch Stack and a soup of smoked haddock

Published 25 April 2004
News Review
563rd article

Michael Winner with staff and locals outside the Kylesku hotel (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I'm a brilliant map-reader. I don't need those ridiculous satellite navigation things to find places.

I went to Woolwich recently for a television show. I'd checked the route. My rented BMW driver was following his display. "You should have gone left down Park Row," I said as we sailed by. "The satellite says go down Lassell Street," the driver responded. "The satellite's an idiot," I said. "Go left immediately."

We'd gone further than we should have done. The display panel would have taken us even more out of our way. Winner plus map is unbeatable.

In Scotland we left Skibo Castle in our rented Land Rover. I drove down a tiny road by the side of Loch Shin - staggeringly beautiful. Then to Kinloch. Now Loch More was on our right. Then to Achfary, past Loch Stack, to Laxford Bridge, left to Scourie and thus to Lairg. Hardly any cars to be seen. Highlands looking great.

The Kylesku hotel has views over Loch Glendhu. Little white tipped waves, lovely hills and a tiny harbour, which used to have a ferry. Now just one man working on a small bright blue boat with a white cabin and a red bottom.

The bar was empty except for Imelda Gilmour, who, with her husband Patrick, owns the place. A log stove offered flames and much warmth.

I chose cullen skink, a just-made, creamy, smoked haddock soup. Geraldine had freshly caught spiny tails, local squat lobsters. Then she ordered langoustines. As the restaurant wasn't busy Imelda shelled my langoustines. I wasn't put on earth to shell fish, unwrap butter or unwrap sugar. What I was put on earth for, I will not get into.

Darren MacKay came in. He'd caught the superb langoustines I'd just eaten. A local lady, Carol Morrison, also joined us. "There's only eight houses in Kylesku and three of them are empty," Carol told me.

Darren fishes in another loch and also in the sea. Most of his catch goes straight to a big wholesaler in Barcelona. But he keeps some back for local hotels.

As it was out of season they only had one home-made pudding, bread and butter. It was excellent. Very light with a lot of currants. I had it with ice-cream. There was absolutely nothing to complain about regarding our lunch. It was memorable.

Afterwards I led our merry group to a table overlooking the loch for the weekly illustration of life in Winner World. I returned via Inchnadamph, Ledmore, Rosehall back to Inveran and thus to Skibo. A spectacular outing.

  • Back in London, at one of my all-time favourites, the Wolseley, I was lunching with two distinguished editors of this very section when I saw the golden foil-wrapped butter on our table, minus its usual bowl. I rose to peer at nearby tables. They too had wrapped butter on their white tablecloths.

    I said to a waitress, Chris Corbin being at home resting as he'd been re-lighting the place until 4am that morning, "Didn't your butter used to be in little bowls?" "Yes," she replied, "But people kept stealing them. So we don't use them now." "Where are they?" I asked. "In store," said the waitress.

    I was surprised. Jeremy King and Christopher Corbin are the two most superlative restaurateurs I've ever seen in London. The presentation at the Wolseley is tiptop. Why are they spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of butter dishes? It's ridiculous having foil-wrapped butter on the table.

    What can butter dishes cost wholesale? Two pounds each? Suppose guests start nicking the soup plates. Will they slop the soup on the tablecloth and expect us to scoop it off? Bad enough I have to unwrap butter at all. Please, Chris and Jeremy, bring the butter dishes out of retirement.

    Here are some jokes about the Wolseley I delivered at a recent charity dinner when Chris Corbin invited me to be guest speaker. "As you come into the Wolseley they say, 'Do you want salt or pepper?' That's because the tables are so small there's no room for both of them.

    "On the right as you enter there are newspapers laid out. That's for the staff. Gives 'em another reason to ignore the customers. It's the only restaurant where you need a taxi to get to the toilet, it’s so far away. You’re better off having a pee at Green Park Tube station."

    And about me, "People phone restaurants and use my name to get in. When I phone up I say I'm the Queen. Man said the other day, 'You don't sound like the Queen.' I said, 'How would you know. When did the Queen last phone you for a restaurant reservation?' ". Aren't I a wag? Answers on a postcard, please.

    Winner's letters

    A friend and I ventured down grotty Charlotte Street to Pied a Terre, which Michael reviewed last week. The food was excellent but the evening ruined by a bright young spark who took our order without pen and paper. He got the main course wrong. The wait for the correct dish was torture. I wish I'd read Michael's advice before going. Never again will I order unless I see it written down.
    Lyndon Jones, Beaconsfield

    If a restaurant leaves a credit card slip open, isn't this an invitation to the customer to determine what they consider is a reasonable final bill? Why should the customer not deduct some (or even all) of the service charge already imposed? Why should restaurants assume the invited adjustment will be positive? If we all adopted this practice restaurants might think twice about issuing such a tempting invitation.
    Tony Moore, London

    After dinner at the Chateau des Sept Tours at Courcelles-de-Touraine we discussed with the very helpful waiter the need for the water to be boiling before introducing the tea and that the British liked milk in their tea. The tea tray arrived with no milk. When we asked why the waiter said the milk was already in the pot. What would Mr Winner have done? We added sugar to the pot and good it was too!
    Roger Gullen, Herlfordshire

    It would surely be divine retribution should a minor boundary change relocate Winner's "beautiful" house in Holland Park to Shepherd's Bush East. This nouveau riche hack's arrogance grows in pace with his embonpoint.
    Michael White, Oxford

    I now know why you wear your shirt outside your trousers. There's just not enough room to tuck it in. No wonder with the meal you wrote about on April 4. Prawn cocktail, steak and kidney pie, a large sausage, bread with butter, a crumble and ice-cream! Keep up the good work, regardless. Who knows, restaurant service in this country may eventually above the barely acceptable.
    Bob Horne, Peterborough

    Please don't drop your barn owl project (Winner's Dinner April 11). They have so few friends left in our devastated microcosm. Why not consult Bill Oddie at the Wildlife Trust?

    Mrs J W Thrift, Devon

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