I know I'm an idiot . . . but please get me out of here
Published 12 December 2004 News Review 596th article
Michael Winner and Geraldine at the Chester Crabwell Manor hotel (Andrew Faulkner)
There's a saying: "The pioneers got shot by the Indians." I don't like venturing to new hotels or restaurants. They're invariably dreadful. None more dreadful than the Chester Crabwall Manor hotel which isn't in Chester. It's in Mollington, Cheshire.
I could have gone to the Grosvenor hotel in Chester with its Michelin-starred restaurant and terrific reputation. But no. Idiot me has to look at guidebooks and choose something ridiculous.
The AA Restaurant Guide gives Crabwall two rosettes (same as the Stanneylands hotel, Wilmslow, equally ghastly) and says, "slick skills are in evidence, creating detailed dishes and daring flavour combinations". It describes a "quality environment".
I suggest AA inspectors are blind and have had their taste buds surgically removed. This is the tackiest, most ridiculous hotel with an appallingly run restaurant serving ("serve" is an inaccurate use of the word) the worst imaginable fodder.
I hardly know where to start, but I'll manage. The banisters were painted in white gloss and ingrained with dirt. The walls were tired. There was a hook where a picture once hung, with horrid marks where the picture had been. There was an odd smell.
The suite comprised the two most garish rooms I've ever been in. The lounge had a sofa, a couple of small chairs, a tiny, low round table and a dead plant. It was largely empty. The bedroom had no bedside lights. You had to get out of bed to switch the lights, all of which glared mercilessly. As did the ones in the sitting room.
Geraldine said: "It's absolutely unimaginable. I've never seen anything like it. I can't believe it." She was being kind. If that's a "quality environment" I'm an astronaut.
The dining room was crass and tacky. Chintz curtains and a green carpet with red and white stars.
I'd been autobiography signing all day and had to leave early the next morning, so I said to the head waiter: "I'd like to get in and out quickly please." "Not a problem, sir," replied Andrew Wilbraham.
Geraldine requested a kir royale. Andrew had no idea what it was.
A problem for a start! They didn't have it. I asked: "What is the water?" Andrew replied: "Sparkling." When I inquired: "What make?" that threw him completely.
The three-course set menu was £35 per person ex service. Add 12½% gratuity and that's £39.37.
High if they were capable. Grotesque as they were not.
By comparison the excellent three-course Ivy weekend lunch is £23.50 and the superb three-course dinner at the Dorchester Grill £39.50.
The Crabwall bread was warm but tasted like it was old and heated up. After one small mouthful I left it. My first course, described on the pompously headed "Menu du Marche", was "prestorine of ham shank and truffle, coarse mustard dressing". Before that crude canapes arrived which we left.
I asked for water, ice and slices of lemon. We got slices of lemon. The water and ice came much later. A freebie was announced as "chicken and tarragon rillete".
It had no discernible taste and a woolly texture.
My "prestorine" first course was like a dreary slice of meat pie at a catered lunch for 800 people. Accompanying it were some tired leaves and a sun-dried tomato, which tasted like a pickle gone wrong.
The main course "pan roast loin of pork, boulangere potatoes, tomato Provencal, crackling, port jus" was a slab of hard, atrocious pork, nothing crackling anywhere near it, with soggy potatoes. I left almost all of it.
The desserts included "espresso and caramelised hazelnut bavrois (sic)". After being given the menu we were left in a room devoid of staff. "Wave the napkin over your head," suggested Geraldine. "There's no one to see it!" I said, getting up to go outside. There was Andrew "not a problem" Wilbraham standing in a small corridor by the restaurant entrance. He was staring into space.
I said quietly, "I told you I wished to get through speedily. I've been given a dessert menu and abandoned. There are no staff in the restaurant and you're standing in a corridor from where you can see nothing at all. Do you think this is doing your job properly?"
That got the dessert served. The plate was decorated like a touring version of Waitrose Food Illustrated. It tasted as if it came from a newsagent's fridge.
Breakfast was a nightmare. The table was too small for the tray. Cutlery missing.
The staff member who took our photo was food and beverage manager Adrian Faulkner. The man who'd provided me with the worst food I've had in decades.
He took a first-rate picture. Adrian should change profession and become a paparazzo.
What's Mr Drury from Powys complaining about (Winner's Letters, last week). I read your book weeks ago and have still received two letters from Scimitar Films extolling its virtues and encouraging me to buy another copy. I'm aiming for a hat trick, which can hopefully be cashed in for an all-expenses paid trip to Sandy Lane sponsored by your good self. Fat chance!
John Finegan, Co Cavan, Ireland
I was concerned that £4 is considered to be a vast sum by Stanley Silver. I didn't realise he and his fellow residents in Hertfordshire had fallen on such hard times. Perhaps Mr Winner could be persuaded to visit various establishments in this downtrodden area to help boost the local economy.
Michael Schofield, Cheshire
No wonder your photo on the quayside at Garda last week was a drama. Having a previously unknown twin sister sneak into the picture would cause anyone to act up.
Ian Nicholson, Stockport
With a hairline to challenge Yul Brynner
He's well known from New York to Pinner
But the letters you print
give a mighty strong hint
that not everyone worships a Winner.
Bryan Owram, West Yorkshire
If you were to copy Geraldine's eating habits you too would have a svelte figure. But how would we pass our Sundays if we didn't have you to be rude to?
Dennis Pallis, Kent
Mr Silver was right (Winner's Letters, last week). It's exceedingly dull up here in the north. Fortunately we're able to pass the time walking backwards and forwards to the outside privy at the bottom of the yard and moving the coal in and out of the bath for our annual wash. It's possible that Michael Winner's superior understanding of wine helped draw one or two extras to our author event, but more likely to have been simply the presence of such a major celebrity, since most northerners prefer Vimto.
Eleanor Davies, Cheshire
I've a group photo, including myself, taken at St Christopher school, Letchworth in 1935. I looked for a possible contemporary, Michael Winner, but failed to find his cherubic features. Could he really be that much older than me?
John Money, London
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org