Published 23 January 2005 News Review 602nd article
Michael Winner with the chefs at the Sandy Lane Hotel, Barbados (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
My recent sojourn at the Sandy Lane hotel, Barbados, was much improved by the absence of their ex-resident manager, Jan Tibaldi. He's now in Mauritius where a columnist on The Observer wrote of him: "The creepily immaculate hotel manager joined us at our table last night and kept us entertained with tales of his nightmarish experiences with Michael Winner in his last posting."
Mr Tibaldi's replacement is the charming Eric Mapp, who may have been at Sandy Lane as long as me - and I've been visiting annually since 1982!
He's joined by the excellent Alpha Jackman, who was number two at the island's second grandest hotel, the Royal Pavilion. He then went to that strange hotel, Villa Nova, as general manager before becoming number three at Sandy Lane which is better than ever.
All credit to the top man behind the scenes, Dermot Desmond, one of the owners. Dermot, by immense skill and persistence, has made this the supreme Caribbean hotel. He and his family are a delight. They look good. They talk in lyrically soft Irish accents. I'd like Dermot and his partner, J P McManus, at every hotel I visit. They're perfect fellow guests.
The greatest change at Sandy Lane, other than the addition of a lady who stalks the beach cleaning your sunglasses, is the miraculous improvement of the food. It was superb last year under the new executive chef, Richard Ekkebus. Now it's beyond historic.
Sadly Richard is moving to Hong Kong after Easter. He's blasted the level of cuisine into the stratosphere. My friend, and real food expert, Andrew Lloyd Webber, marvelled at a pesto pizza. "I want the entire recipe printed in your column," he said. Then he wrote to Dermot saying the food had gone up not just a notch but a mile.
Supporting Richard is a marvellous pastry chef, Jean-Luc Vila, who made the best Christmas pudding ever. And, after disastrous rehearsals, did an exceptional fruit jelly. Between the Lone Star (the only other restaurant I visited) and Sandy Lane, I ate jelly every lunch and dinner for weeks. If that doesn't convince you I'm a sophisticated food connoisseur, what will?
Then there's Max Sciuto who does everything splendidly from shepherd's pie to beef in pastry with wine sauce. And a new arrival, Didier Jacob, who made me a memorable seafood omelette.
As in all hotels there are key people who keep the standards up. One is the wrestler-like Franklyn Browne, manager of the terrace Bajan Blue restaurant. I ate lunch and dinner there regularly. When Frankie was away you could see the difference.
Another is the lovely Norwegian assistant manager, Henriette Peters. She's the greatest hotel employee I've ever come across. I admire Colm Hannon, the general manager. He's immensely good at his job. But there's one area he really should improve. It illustrates not just bad management; it's a disgrace.
I refer to the hordes of people from cheap hotels, apartments and cruise ships who invade the space at Sandy Lane. They're everywhere. I saw no sign of any control whatsoever. The place is packed anyway at Christmas and new year.
The influx of invaders is so bad that the nicest guest in the hotel (surprisingly not me!) at least five times found his lunch table occupied by tacky non-residents who shouldn't have been let in. Once he couldn't get a table at all! He and his family had to eat from the limited menu in the rotunda.
"Why should I have a heart attack every time I come to lunch?" he complained before writing to Colm Hannon. I also wrote about this appalling situation.
Guests can pay well over £2,500 a night during the Christmas period. My vacation cost more than £100,000. We should be able to eat and enjoy the hotel facilities without being swamped by hordes of yobbos.
I had a movie star coming to lunch. Eleven intruders with rucksacks and other paraphernalia settled noisily on the low wall 3ft from my table. If the star had seen them he'd have fled. They were emboldened by drinks from the hotel beach bar.
I watched staff there endlessly serving non-guests in spite of a prominently displayed, and utterly ignored, sign reading: "Reserved exclusively for use by guests of Sandy Lane hotel".
I called the redoubtable Henriette Peters to escort the invaders out. "Do you enjoy being a bully?" one of them sneered as they left. In future, Colm, deal with this. Please.
PS: Only time to announce our competition winner. No one got it right. All entries went into a sack and my lovely receptionist, Dinah, pulled out one from Paul Brown of Leeds.
The correct answer and what Paul won will be revealed next week.
Every week we see pictures of unknown wannabes in your company (I exclude the beautiful Geraldine and Dinah). Despite the column's title we never see an item of food. Why?
Trevor Broadley, Cheshire
Last week's photo of Geraldine Lynton-Edwards and Dinah May was an improvement on the standard fare in that we were spared the sight of Mr Winner. I was disturbed by the accompanying text. "In the lounge at Michael Winner's home" must be a mistake. People like Michael Winner do not have "lounges", they have "sitting rooms" and "drawing rooms". The lounge is for the common people of whom Winner is surely not one.
Patrick Harrington QC Monmouthshire
I was delighted when a branch of Le Petit Blanc opened in my town. However, I wonder if M Blanc is getting complacent. I experienced a highly theatrical display from the kitchen, involving crockery being smashed and kicked around by someone who appeared to be the head chef. And a vocabulary which would have made your friend Mr Ramsay blush. The highly embarrassed waiter eventually served my starter 55 minutes after taking the order. I thought M Blanc should be aware of this slippage in standards, so wrote to him. I didn't get a reply.
Patricia Roser, Tunbridge Wells
Keep ripping out the pages in the middle of "stiff plastic" menus (Winner's Dinners, January 9). I'm an encapsulator responsible for these items and look forward to re-orders from restaurants you visit. All your readers should follow suit.
Steve Mills, Southampton
At Mr Chow's in Knightsbridge a £3 cover charge was added to our bill. When I inquired what it was for the restaurant manager said he didn't know. If you're in the area perhaps you could ask Mr Chow the same question.
Stephen Hardwick, London
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