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Rainy days and managers showered with praise

Published 23 May 2004
News Review
567th article

Michael Winner with Amelie Tonello in the hotel Calendal, Arles (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

It was raining heavily in Arles. there was hardly anyone in sight. Water poured off gutters into the cobbled streets and streamed, flood-like, down the roadside gullies.

I like rain. I sat one entire day on the beach of the Jalousie Hilton in St Lucia as torrential rain swept across in front of us and clouds hovered darkly below the top of the mountainous Pitons that framed the beach. The grass-matt roof of the beach umbrella kept the rain off. It was warm enough to sit in bathing attire.

In Arles, a few weeks ago, it was rather chilly. We found the asylum where Van Gogh once resided. The balconies around the courtyard were painted yellow, as he depicted them. Did they paint it to attract the tourists. I wondered? Or was it yellow when Mr Gogh put brush to canvas?

Umbrellas rampant, we emerged near the Roman amphitheatre. Opposite was the salon de the of the hotel Calendal. It offered "buffet dans le jardin". I guessed that was off due to inclement weather.

Inside were cafe-like rooms with two log fires and a buffet. They had bookcases, palm trees, armchairs, magazines and my most hated water. They called it "Hildon Angleterre". Evian was available for people with taste.

I had an aperitif, Figoun, described on the menu as, "contrasting. On one side is vanilla, angelika and figs and on the other oranges, red mandarins, blending with Wormwood to produce a unique tangy freshness". It took longer to read about than to drink.

Geraldine had Vermoise, which was pan fennel wine "brought to Marseilles by the Greeks 2,600 years ago". Compared to this the buffet was plebeian. I took roast pork cooked in olives with a sort of olive sauce and potatoes dauphinoise. It was quite tasty.

A small, blonde girl in white shirt and black trousers was playing Monopoly with herself in the kids' area opposite. She walked over and gave me a €500 Monopoly note and a card for Gare Montpamasse.

We asked her name and she said Katrin. We later discovered she was saying her age was "quatre ans". "Four years" for those of you who only speak Latin.

I acquired an enormous portion of crumble, made on the premises. It had been in the deepfreeze, which somewhat reduced its appeal.

Amelie, that was her real name, now turned her attention to the television. She kept saying she wanted it louder.

"Very watery coffee," said Geraldine, sipping her espresso. "The French don't make good coffee. The Italians do." That put away an entire nation.

Amelie stood on a rocking horse to get a book down. It looked dangerous to me. We found her mum, Severine Tonello, sitting in another room with friends. Her father, Nicholas, was doing the mosaic floors in a major mansion in Barbados. It hadn't stopped raining. So we upped umbrellas went forth into the downpour.

Back in London I was delighted to see my friends Tone and Cher in the Wolseley one recent Sunday. They tucked themselves around the corner but got up to give me a kiss and a hug. I like them. After 40 years of being a Tory, Tone has me voting Labour. I hope he gets in again. That ends my political broadcast.

I have increasing admiration for the Wolseley restaurant manager, Robert Holland. He moved over from J Sheekey. A good place but claustrophobic. "It's in rhythm here now," I said to Robert. "The service is very together." Robert's the sort of person my friend Arrigo should have got for Cipriani.

Instead he listened to an idiot (me) and took someone far less experienced. A few moments after I'd praised Robert he poured red wine all over Geraldine's right shoulder and arm. To make matters worse, she was wearing a white top. Robert was terribly embarrassed. I mollified him, pointing out we all make mistakes. Perhaps he'll consider hiring a wine waiter. Geraldine used my Stain Devils, which are terrific at cleaning anything. The next morning there was no trace of wine.

Charles Pullan at the River Cafe is another marvellous restaurant manager. He has just the right degree of charm without overstepping the mark. Then there’s Valerio Calzolari at Scalini in South Kensington, portly and with large moustache, selected by the 1950s MGM casting department and abetted by his quieter, but highly effective, number two, Michel Lengui.

I remain a great fan of Michael Di Fiore and John Wade at the Dorchester Grill. That nice Chris Cowdray has just moved from Claridge’s to run the Dorchester. Leave the Grill Room alone, Chris.

Whoops! I've just praised seven people. Nine if you count Tone and and Cher. I must be softening. I'll take a pill.

Winner's letters

On your advice we booked at Cipriani. We were shown to a small table in an adjoining room and offered a drink. Fifteen minutes later they tried to take our order. I suggested the drink, which hadn't arrived, would be a starting point. We chose from the erratically priced menu, noticing the cheap, stubby wine glasses. The amateurish service didn't help. A charming, elderly gentleman visited us three times but I don't know who he was as I couldn't understand him. It was comical but surreal. The food was nothing special. The service was so poor we refused to pay the service charge. To our amazement they waived the bill of £230 for three. I left feeling the gesture was a statement of dismissal rather than an attempt to keep the customer happy.
Dominic Smith, London

Cipriani is a historic disappointment - average food and ambience, below average service and above-average prices. We asked at 10pm why we'd not been seated for a 9.15pm reservation. We were told, "That's the Cipriani way!" Our party of five was seated, an hour late, at a table small for four people. The smug maitre d' should be sent back to charm school and reminded he's not doing us a favour by allowing us to spend money there.
Alan Chester, London

Dinner at Cipriani was great. The food and service were excellent. The restaurant was filled with people obviously enjoying themselves. Mr Cipriani's presence added to the enjoyment of our evening. We will return.
Jeffrey Frankel, London

We looked into L'Ancora boutique at the hotel Splendido, Portofino. The formidable owner, Marisa Anastasio, demanded to know where we came from. We owned up to being British. Her eyes lit up and she grabbed our hands screaming, "Michael Winner! Michael Winner!" and dragged us to the counter, stabbing her finger at a photo of her clinging to the great man. She continued her triumphant war cry, "Buon Mercato! Buon Mercato!" We made a rapid escape.
Alister Percy, Sussex

Like Mr Maye last week, I find your style borders on the endearingly pompous. But I think of it as your adopted persona. I hear in my mind your voice reassuring me, "Calm down, dear, it's a commercial."
Deborah Scott-Bromley, Surrey

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