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A hotel that almost measures up to its name

Published 11 July 2004
News Review
574th article

From left: Fausto Allegri, Carlo Lazzeri and Michael Winner (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Everyone has a dead spot in their brain which causes them to make mistakes. People say we learn from our mistakes. I think we make the same mistakes endlessly. Part of us is irretrievably dysfunctional.

I said to Colm Hannon, exemplary general manager of Sandy Lane, Barbados: "My brain dead spot is much bigger than yours. Yours is labelled Jan Tibaldi." I referred to his resident manager. Someone I find inept and have so described in writing.

They have a wonderful manager, one of the most charming and efficient ever, Henriette Peters.

She truly deserves promotion. Henriette represented Norway in Come Dancing. What more could anyone want?

Sandy Lane may soon have a local rival. The ebullient Sol Kerzner has just bought the Jalousie Hilton, in neighbouring St Lucia.

Kerzner has invested heavily in luxury Caribbean hotels. I hear he'll spend at least £32m improving Jalousie to attract the glitterati. Interesting.

I always rave about the hotel Splendido in Portofino. They have a marvellous manager, Maurizio Saccani. Every time I go to the Splendido, Sunday Times readers come up saying, "I'm here because of you!" They're all happy!

I was given a beautiful new, larger suite, decorated with exquisite taste. Except for a coffee table with a sharp decorative rim at calf level which gouged my leg open. And inadequate wardrobe space.

I mentioned this to Mr Saccani, who came over as I was enjoying a peaceful lunch overlooking the bay. Mr Saccani went into overdrive to justify his meagre wardrobes. According to him people hardly carried luggage today.

He invoked the name of his superboss James Sherwood -I expected to hear the Pope had blessed inadequate wardrobes. Mr Saccani rambled on. Finally I said, somewhat irritably, "I do not wish to discuss wardrobes any more."

There was only 17in of full hanging space in one cupboard and 50in for jackets in the other. Compared with 82in of hanging space in my older, smaller suite. And a massive 120in of cupboard space in my suite at the Cipriani, Venice, which James Sherwood sometimes inhabits.

Geraldine was unimpressed with my measuring wardrobes. "I don't know why you're bothering," she said, "the rubbish you bring could go in the bin."

The food at the Splendido is superb. But on the first evening the extremely good, young restaurant manager, Carlo Lazzeri, said, "Could I recommend a dessert for you, Mr Winner?" I said "Of course, Carlo." Then regretted it.

I recalled he'd recommended me souffle twice. Both times they were awful. But nothing compared with the ghastliness of what arrived -tomatoes covered in hard chocolate!

When I complained Carlo explained, "We were testing it on you, Mr Winner." I said, "If you're testing it, put a tiny bit on a side plate. If you're offering me something as bizarre as chocolate-coated tomatoes, tell me in advance so I can flee."

Proceedings were glorified by the presence of Fausto Allegri, the guest relations manager. Fausto has long grey hair and looks like a mad violinist. He is highly effusive, "Mr Winner, my lady ..." he says with exaggerated hand gestures.

You might think he was a buffoon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fausto is as sharp as they come. He knows everything about everybody in that area of Liguria. He has perceptive views on all matters, including the running of the Splendido.

However even he has a brain dead spot. Fausto recommended three of the worst restaurants I've ever been to. One, the Lord Nelson, was an imitation English pub in nearby Chiavari. It was hideous and I was assaulted by pings from the microwave.

Then he suggested Concordia, a dreadful place in the back streets of Portofino, which looked like a run-down, overlit hospital. And finally Il Bottaccio near Pisa, which had a lovely manager - and Barbra Streisand once stayed - but the ambience was like a council office in Essex, with food to match.

You might be saying, "What about your brain dead areas, Mr Winner?" There would not be enough space if I took up every page of this newspaper to tell you of the derelict sections of my brain. But fear not, my hotel and restaurant recommendations are outside those disaster areas. They are, as you know, spot on.

  • Sadly a great admirer of this column was cremated a few days ago. No religious service. Just a few family members present. Marlon Brando would ring me frequently. Normally around midnight. "You know, Michael, I read your piece at 2 in the morning," he said, "it's often my only chuckle of the week." We'd talk for hours. I always found Marlon extremely jolly. I shall miss him terribly.

    Winner's letters

    You asked last week what your coat of arms should be. How about an escallopee escutcheon erminois with hands sinister and dexter grasping knife and fork bordered by cameras respectant crowned by chicken veloute and mousse rampant and bearing the motto "Edo ergo sum" - I eat therefore I am. If that isn't elaborate enough we could always add the odd unicorn.
    David Miller, London

    Michael Winner and your correspondents have blown the bubble on Gordon Ramsay and his salt addiction. His homeland tongue is immune to salt, hence the heavy hand. All his restaurants are identical in this respect. I'm surprised it hasn't reached his ice-cream.
    Trish Almond, London

    To me Gordon Ramsay is a super chef. You British people should be proud of him. Who doesn't swear? England without Gordon Ramsay would be like England without the Queen.
    Linda Lee, Paris

    You always make me smile over breakfast, but I laughed out loud at your sneezing pepper pot (Winner's Dinners, June 27). Please, where can I get one?
    Peter Freeman, Cornwall

    Your June 27 article on "artistic" tablemats reminded me of the eight-year-old boy on a school visit to the National Gallery looking at Constable's Hay Wain. He said, "My grandma has the original on her tablemats at home!"
    Edna Weiss, London

    On satellite TV there was a competition requiring the answer to, "Who is Madonna's husband?" Two possibilities given were people I'd never heard of. The third was Michael Winner. Is it you? I'd really like to win the prize! If you are married to Madonna why do you not lunch with her? Perhaps she prefers fast food.
    Jonathan Walker, Cornwall

    We went to the Bombay Brasserie in South Kensington and waited half an hour for our pre-booked table. Our waiter couldn't even make eye contact when taking orders. He dropped a poppadom and kicked it under the table. Our main course came 90 minutes after our starters. The food was disappointing - cheap cuts of chicken and small portions. We even paid the service charge. More fool us.
    Navaz Batliwalla, London

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