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I can wait for the food . . . but not for the chef

Published 27 February 2005
News Review
607th article

Michael Winner and Geraldine Lynton-Edwards in their suite at the George V hotel in Paris (Arnold Crust)

Two week's ago was Valentine's Day. Geraldine wanted to do something romantic.

"Let's watch the spin dryer." I suggested. She responded, very clearly, we should dine at the famous George V hotel in Paris.

I'm a poor boy from Willesden. Who am I to argue with a toff? Before you could say, "Ridiculous!" we were on an Augusta 109 helicopter for the one hour 20 minute flight from Battersea to a heliport near the Eiffel Tower.

The George V is where I first met and dined with Charles Bronson and Sophia Loren.

It was bought eight years ago by His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia.

When Prince Alwaleed was thinking of purchasing the Sandy Lane hotel, Barbados, he asked to see my suite. As I led him there his 15 hefty bodyguards followed behind. I thought: "Suppose someone shoots us from the front!"

The Four Seasons George V, that's the full name, was vastly improved. It's a fantastic hotel. The lobby and even the corridors are sublimely elegant. The suite was the most beautiful I've ever had. Lovely oil paintings, tasteful furniture.

The only jarring note was the misspelt inscriptions on star photographs of previous hotel guests. They rested on antique tables in gold frames. Orson Welles, in my living room, had his surname written as "Wells". In the bedroom, Vivien Leigh was wrongly "Vivian".

The Valentine's Day dinner, in the hotel's three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Cinq, offered nine-course menus, headed "Ladies" and "Gentlemen". Geraldine's main course was goat. I like that. "You can have anything of mine you want. I'll swap," she offered magnanimously.

A very nice lady, Jackye Dalena, assistant to Didier Le Calvez, the hotel's general manager, had told me chef Philippe Legendre would be too busy in the kitchen that evening to have his photo taken. He wasn't even there! Doubtless he was at home watching the spin dryer. Didier was in Moscow. See how far people go to avoid me!

There commenced a parade of tiny courses. Twenty-minute delays between each. Even Geraldine, who loved them all, said: "I wouldn't mind if these bits and pieces came one after the other."

After an hour I was dying for the solidity of sausage, egg and chips. But to be fair, some of our dinner was superb. I had wonderful sea urchin with orange. My "green asparagus truffle parmesan cheese and polenta served with black olives" looked like a minor canape but tasted great. My sea bass was ordinary.

The "smoked Brittany lobster roasted with Davidoff tobacco" thankfully didn't taste of tobacco. The brown sauce with it reminded me of nothing.

The main course, "goat from Poitou with herbs served with carnaroli risotto", was surprisingly bland. Not a patch on curried goat I had in Jamaica. When I pointed out how long everything was taking, Geraldine said: "You've got nothing else to do." "I could be sleeping," I replied. Geraldine said: "We're here to enjoy a whole evening. We've got until 9.30 tomorrow morning." I murmured: "I do hope we finish a little before that, darling - 8.30, at least, would be a relief."

The cheese trolley arrived with a wonderful, creamy reblochon and an even better tomme from Savoie. I ate them off my knife, thus letting the side down. "We're having a lovely evening, aren't we?" asked Geraldine. "If I can stay awake, yes," I responded.

I downed a delicious "granita of pineapple and hibiscus" followed by a "chocolate and Blue Mountain coffee souffle". It wasn't the best three-Michelin-starred meal I've had. But it was good. I definitely enjoyed myself.

The next morning the breakfast croissants and rolls were extremely heavy. Jackye rang to say she'd just confirmed with the chef that he'd see me at 9.45am for our photo. Geraldine and I reported to the restaurant. We were asked to wait. Philippe Legendre was apparently busy in the kitchen. "Is he knocking up an omelette?" I asked.

After five minutes they produced two creme caramels. "We didn't come to eat, we came to photograph the chef," I remarked. "He'll be a second," they said. After 12 minutes I walked out.

Mr Legendre let down the other George V staff, all of whom were charming and highly professional.

Three-starred Michelin chefs who appeared immaculately on time for our photo included Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Nico Ladenis, Heston Blumenthal, Geert Van Hecke from Bruges, and Juan Mari Arzak from San Sebastian. Nor was I ever kept waiting by Brando, Mitchum, Welles, Hopkins, Loren, Bronson . . . I could go on.

Instead of the tardy Mr Legendre I offer a photo of Geraldine and me in our suite.

What a superb finale!

Winner's letters

"Care and sympathy?" That's what keeps you going, you wrote last week. Nah. What keeps you going is making a lot of money and being a live joke. A comic book hero. We need some light entertainment with our Sunday brekky. By the way, you'll never fly like Superman if you keep your hands in your pockets, as in the photo. Are you holding up your pants or holding onto your tip?
Val Phelps, East Yorkshire

Regarding last week's article on Hazlewood Castle: we found it appalling. Like you we couldn't find the reception. The staff stood around talking to each other without regard for us. We asked for our duck to be well done and it came oozing blood. It was returned overcooked. Our spinach was burnt! We waited forever for coffee, which arrived cold. The evening was a total disaster. We didn't make a fuss then because it was a celebration. Later I wrote to the chef-patron John Benson-Smith. The tone of his reply was very demeaning. He said the decor (which you hated) was obviously too modern for my taste.
Elaine Harrison, North Yorkshire

Nothing you write or eat shocks me. But the thought of you hiring a BMW as you recounted last week - really! Standards, Michael, standards.
Heather Tanner, Suffolk

How could you allow the fragrant Geraldine (Winner's Dinners, last week) to even suggest you might "wave your serviette around" (sic) to gain attention? No wonder you were ignored up to that point. A gentleman waves a napkin for service.
Alan Rind, London

You said last week that pigeon and partridge are quite similar animals - "both small birds that get shot a lot". Not so. They're usually shot just once.
Rob Hancock, Plymouth

So much for the Wolseley! I arrived two minutes after opening time on a very chilly morning. I encountered the usual sort of stony-faced "meeter and greeter". I asked if I could use the lavatory before I sat down for breakfast. I was told: "Take a seat, there's a staff meeting." What! Outside the lavatory door? I hurriedly took my custom elsewhere and had a thoroughly good breakfast at Fortnum and Mason.
Tony Wardley, 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