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Duelling with doughnuts and a do-nothing doorman

Published 27 March 2005
News Review
611th article

Open and shut case: Winner with his Bentley outside the Connaught (Paola Lombard)

You can greatly admire a chef, enjoy every dish they've cooked for you, yet when they produce a real stinker, it puts you off almost for ever. So it was with the lovely Angela Hartnett, who runs the Connaught hotel kitchens.

It was my birthday (October 30, so you can plan presents), not last year, but 2003. I took her kitchen table for 11 of my nearest and dearest. Beforehand I discussed the menu with Angela. She suggested roast suckling pig. I love roast suckling pig.

It is beyond historic at the Sandy Lane, Barbados. It sits on a hot trolley, legs, head, ears, tail, the lot. The skin is beautifully crisp. The meat soft and succulent. That's a truly great meal.

So when Angela suggested roast suckling pig I was salivating. What arrived was ghastly beyond belief. Nor was it roast suckling pig to me. We got a round cut of pork. There was no crisp skin. Just a layer of rubbery brown exterior. Underneath was white slime. I presume fat that had not been crisped. Beneath that was grossly underdone pork. The centre quarter was red.

Rare pig is not my idea of a joke. It wasn't roast suckling pig. It was unroast suckling pig. Everyone hated it. Everyone left it. Luckily the rest of the meal was superb. And we'd eaten so much before this horror dish arrived we were more or less full up.

Only a few weeks ago did I summon up courage to return. It was a Sunday. Angela wasn't on duty. Sadly, her superb restaurant manager, Helena Hell, had left.

Philip Howard, chef at the Square, told me Helena was to be manager of his new Notting Hill restaurant which he was going to call Ledbury Place. I wrote and told Philip what a pathetic name that was. Drawing on Kensington Place and Launceston Place, both past their sell-by dates. Philip changed it to the Ledbury.

Philip makes the best doughnuts ever. I wrote, when reviewing Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Cafe, that Gordon made the worst doughnuts in the history of the world. I suggested he visit Philip Howard for a lesson.

Gordon fought back in a GQ magazine interview: "Winner said that if I wanted to know how to make doughnuts I should look at Philip Howard's at the Square. He's got two Michelin stars. I've got three. I know how to make a hole in a f****** doughnut!"

The only problem with Gordon's splendid riposte was that neither his doughnut nor Philip's had holes! They were both round-ball doughnuts!

Back at the Connaught I learnt their Grill Room was now only open Monday to Friday for lunch. I used to visit on Sundays. And the Mediterranean restaurant Angela opened there had closed down. So I guess that wasn't a major hit!

On a positive note I thought the new Menu restaurant manager, Giacomo Puntel, was fine and his number two, Carlos Anaia - there before Gordon took over and improved things - is one of my favourites.

They no longer offer a selection of sausage and salami as a freebie starter, but the food was tiptop except for rather heavy pasta on my pheasant ravioli.

The calf's liver was almost historic, and my cinnamon and cider babas with caramelised apple and vanilla ice cream were marvellous. I had the good value £30 set menu.

The only letdown was the doorman. I parked my immaculate 1975 Bentley right outside the hotel entrance.

The doorman just stood, frozen, looking ahead, doing absolutely nothing. He declined to walk eight paces to open the door for Geraldine. As I entered I said: "You should go back to doorman school."

Bradley Davis, the duty manager, was summoned. He told me the idle man was not actually the doorman, the real one was on his lunch break. Mr Do-Nothing was normally on reception. "So he was the acting doorman?" I suggested.

"Yes," agreed Mr Davis. "He wasn't acting. He was standing like a zombie. If he's not going to do anything he may as well do nothing at the reception desk. What's the point of putting on a reserve doorman who won't do the job?" I asked, adding, "Please be sure Anthony Lee, your general manager, hears of my displeasure."

Anthony Lee is a very good manager, but when it comes to doormen he's a disaster.

Just as Gordon Ramsay, chef supreme, should learn about doughnuts from Philip Howard, Anthony Lee should go to the Ritz hotel, Piccadilly, where the door service is impeccable, and take a class in hotel management.

  • PS: Today's photo was taken after our visit. It does not represent the position of my Bentley in relation to the sleeping Connaught hotel doorman.

    Winner's letters

    Whatever world issues are covered in The Sunday Times, I can always be assured of your vacuous discussion of an unknown restaurant, a description of some bizarre potato dish and a picture of you, scarlet face, apparently intoxicated and surrounded by bemused staff. Last week was no exception. Thank you.
    Joe Blundell, Yorkshire

    There you were last week, at the Palace hotel, Gstaad, resplendent in your well tailored jacket. But those trousers! Sixty years ago firemen on steam trains used to wear pants in this material. A man of your size would have to be the driver. Firing a train would be too strenuous for you.
    Fred Beckett, Cheltenham

    I often manage to do without cotton buds and cotton wool for years. Who cares if they weren't at the Palace hotel? Why did you need them for your short stay?
    Barry Denton-MacLennan Hertfordshire

    Michael might have judged his experiences with the Palace hotel differently had he looked up the English translation of the owner-managers' Germanic name. Scherz means joke!
    John Prince, Isle of Man

    Jocelyn Charles (Winner's Letters, last week) didn't complete the reference to Mrs Bultitude's guide to etiquette. She continued: "For those who cannot afford appropriate crockery for each course, the habit of licking the plate or dish clean is entirely acceptable. However, the greatly aged should be discouraged from the practice since the picture presented might be regarded as unprepossessing." It's a pity that certain large pub chains don't heed this warning.
    Enid Gellatly, London

    I liked last week's photo at the Palace. You didn't look nearly as ugly as usual. Your face in repose is much less offensive than the nauseating, cheesy grin we normally see. Did they allow you to wear those horrid old jeans and smelly trainers in their wonderful dining room?
    Diana Whiteside, Hertfordshire

    I'm a stagehand at Shepperton Studios (Winner's Dinners, March 6). I've been campaigning for 20 years about the vile food they serve. I suspect they use low quality catering produce. There appears to be little staff training. The food is frequently cold when it should be hot. And it certainly isn't cheap!
    David Smith, London