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BA food can still cut it - despite the plastic cutlery

Published 30 January 2005
News Review
603rd article

Michael Winner prepares for take-off with the crew of his British Airways flight from Barbados (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I remember with great affection the gargantuan tins of caviar that were doled out on TWA in the 1960s. And their marvellous American ice cream with chocolate sauce and nuts.

On Concorde to Barbados we got lovely Christmas gifts, one was an exquisite small Christmas cake with icing and holly decoration. Concorde has gone. Caviar has gone -except in my house. Gifts are over, unless you count a toilet bag on British Airways.

Instead of 3¾ hours to Barbados by Concorde -which meant you had breakfast in the elegant Concorde lounge, left Heathrow at 9am and arrived at 8.45am in time to head for the beach -now it's down to Gatwick . . . and an 8½-hour flight!

In the lounge I ate two sandwiches followed by some nuts on the plane. "Already! And it's only 1.30!" said an exasperated Geraldine. I countered with: "By 1.30 I've normally had my entire lunch!"

The BA menu announces: "Welcome to the FIRST dining experience, where you are in control of when and what you eat." I felt like saying to Mark Cobley, the cabin service director: "I'll have 50g of Beluga caviar in a baked potato with sour cream and butter, followed by roast duck a l'orange and a chocolate souffle."

As none of that was on the menu I settled for braised pecorino cheese and potato done in parsley and truffle oil dressing. Then chicken masala. I chose that because on the "British Airways culinary council created from an elite group of established and well-known restaurateurs", I saw the name Vineet Bhatia, an Indian chef I much admire. BA also listed Nicholas Lander from the Financial Times.

Whoever he may be, I doubt he's a well-known restaurateur.

Mark had a new BA outfit. "It's wool rich," he explained, "so it breathes better and wears better. We don't get too hot or cold." It was a pinstriped waistcoat with a collar and short-sleeved shirt. "Designed by Julien MacDonald," recalled Mark, adding, "one of the passengers said: 'It looks more like Julian Clary to me'."

We had this awful cutlery, all plastic, except for a metal spoon.

A stewardess reported: "We had a retired police commissioner on board. He said: 'Even in prison they were allowed metal cutlery'."

Which brings me to the last set of metal cutlery ever offered on British Airways, designed for the re-fitted Concorde. It was used only once on a trial flight from New York to London. This major piece of aviation history, designed by Terence Conran, is the prize for Paul Brown of Leeds, who won our "What impressed me most on my travels?" comp. He also gets Pounds 50 and a personally inscribed copy of my autobiography.

What impressed me most was in 1947 when we went to Switzerland from war-torn London. I walked through my room in the Palace hotel, Lucerne and onto the balcony.

There I reeled and gasped at the amazing view of the lake and the snow-clad mountains beyond. Nothing impressed me so much again. Not even Geraldine telling me on our Barbados flight that her ballotine of salmon with herb creme fraiche was "very nice, not historic, but very nice".

My meal was good for an airline. "There's no chutney with the chicken masala!" I complained. "At least they gave you lentils," said Geraldine.

The pilot, Richard Simmons, left the cockpit - "Who's driving?" I asked - to bring a copy of my book for me to sign. "My wife went into a shop and they said they didn't have it. But eventually they found it," he explained. I was so pleased I ate all my ice cream and blackberry and apple tart.

The flight back was at night, so I had a plastic bottle of Highland Spring water (second rate) and took my Rohypnol "date rape" sleeping pill. That got me out of everyone's way for seven hours. When I woke I had a cup of tea.

Luckily we took a photo of the captain, Brian Dawson, first officer Stephen Johnson and the very bright cabin service director, Antony Bartlett. I say "luckily" because we had a catastrophe with our photo of the outgoing crew. It appeared from Boots in High Street Kensington totally out of focus. I don't blame them. It was my fault.

So I give you a taste of a British Airways Boeing 777 with the return flight crew in all their glory. I'm extremely considerate so I sent signed 10in by 8in copies for them to their superboss, Captain Steve Sheterline, to pass on.

The first crew will just have to drown their sorrow at not having a signed photo with me. They should get plastered. Preferably in between flights.

Better not while on duty.

Winner's letters

It seems unreasonable that I am needed to keep the Sandy Lane coffers filled, the staff occupied and your seat warm during low season. But come Christmas when very rich people like you arrive, I should stay home with a cup of soup. As for "tasteless" -I feel your yellow bathing trunks might need a review!
Ros Griffiths, Barbados

Wiltons was always ridiculously expensive, but at least it was good. I agree with Michael (Winner's Dinners, January 16) that it's a shadow of its former self. Yet it's still just as expensive!
David Benge, London

I totally agree with Mr Winner's observation last week regarding the unpleasantness caused by hordes of yobbos visiting the Sandy Lane hotel. Having spent Christmas at the Lone Star I was equally unimpressed to find Mr Winner and his jelly-belly blocking the sun when he visited. I'll be recruiting a Japanese whaler next year to remove such blubber. As for "more than £100,000" come on Michael, you cannot only tell us your food bill.
Andy Wilkins, Staffordshire

The information that you spent £100,000 on going to Barbados spoilt my Sunday. It's beyond vulgar that you feel the need to tell the world how much it cost. In future, stay at home and send me the £100,000. Then we'll say no more on the subject.
Gabi Johnson, Kent

You ask if you're a role model for tasteless plebs. Indeed you are. You're both our role model and an icon. Maybe that's why we're tasteless.
David Miller, London

We recently visited Sandy Lane for lunch. The place was swarming with flies who get in free. In the Rotunda (named after you?) the waitress dropped my gin and tonic and with no apology took forever to clean it up and bring another. In Bajan Blue the food was mediocre. The waitresses were dressed like Stingray puppets. The bill was of historic proportions. In future I'll give Sandy Lane a wide berth and leave it to those with a wide girth.
Bob Hamilton, London

Trevor Broadley asked last week why food is never pictured in your column. It's simple. You've eaten the lot.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire

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