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A dinner worth making a song and dance about

Published 16 October 2005
News Review
640th article

The princess takes a break. Paola Lombard - but where and when? (Arnold Crust)

I arrived at the Grand hotel du Cap-Ferrat at 11pm. I ate nothing. Drank nothing.

I left at 9am the next morning. The bill for my one bedroom suite for 10 hours was £1,774.65. That's £177.46 an hour to sleep!

The Grand hotel du Cap-Ferrat is truly grand. It's set in the most marvellous enclave on the Cote D'Azur. St Jean Cap-Ferrat is littered with villas of great size and equal beauty. The roads are quiet. The sea views staggering. It adjoins Beaulieu. Another unspoilt town but with fewer big villas.

The immaculately kept gardens of the Grand hotel sweep towards the sea. Then you cross a public road and walk further to a funicular to get to their pool perched above the Mediterranean.

The hotel is much favoured by people of taste and discernment. And therefore not often visited by me. It's where my friend, retail genius Philip Green, had his son's £5m bar mitzvah. "You can see the grass hasn't quite recovered," said a manager, pointing out where Philip had put fibreglass fountains on the lawn.

I'm not certain if I had the presidential suite, but the manager assured me Bill Clinton stayed there. Sun loungers rested on a sizable balcony looking onto the grounds and the sparkling sea beyond. The decor was complex. Swirling curtain swags with tassels, bright oil paintings, patterned carpets. Each room featured wood panelling with purple and green predominant.

The bathroom was well fitted out but offered no toothpaste or toothbrush, unusual for a first-class hotel. When I squeezed the hair conditioner container instead of flexing in to let the hair conditioner out, it shattered! Conditioner squirted all over!

The hotel itself is impressive and majestic. The large terrace, overlooking the gardens is one of the best places to dine in the south of France.

I went later with Adam Kenwright, a young theatrical impresario and publicist, and his girlfriend, Katherine Page, who, under the name Katherine Kingsley, plays the Grace Kelly-Katharine Hepburn role in the recently opened musical High Society at London's Shaftesbury theatre. She changed her name to Kingsley because British actors' Equity already had a Katherine Page. They don't allow two artists of the same name.

I didn't have this problem when I joined. "You're not an actor!" I hear you say. Don't tell me you missed my masterly performance in the television mini series For the Greater Good, written by the distinguished GF Newman (bumped into him in Holland Park recently!) and directed by Danny Boyle. I played Sir Randolph Spence, a ruthless tycoon trying to get the home secretary to let him run privatised prisons.

At the Grand hotel du Cap-Ferrat dinner commenced with a salad of lobster, scampi and langoustine. Simple. Excellent. Then we had St Pierre fish roasted in orange. Very tasty.

Main course was "carree d'agneau des Alpes du sud". Does that mean alpine lamb? Were the poor dears running up and down mountains? I still enjoyed eating them.

We finished with a perfectly textured passion fruit souffle.

I'm not sure at what stage in the proceedings I agreed to invest in High Society for Adam.

My numerous theatrical outings are invariably disasters. An early show I invested in, Come Spy with Me in 1966, starred Danny La Rue and Barbara Windsor. It ran into a second year and lost everything. Made a bit one week, lost it the next, and so on.

If anyone suggests you invest in theatre, ask only one question: is Maggie Smith in it? If the answer's "yes", you'll make money. If not, barring a miracle, you'll lose.

I've presented a few plays. One had Paul Scofield as Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest. It started at Nottingham rep. I went up to see it and said to Paul at dinner afterwards: "Can't we write Prospero into the first act a bit more? It kind of sags without him." Apparently we couldn't.

I transferred it to the West End anyway. Lo and behold, it made a profit!

Sadly I have no photo of me, Miss Kingsley and her theatre boss Adam Kenwright delightedly stuffing ourselves on the terrace of the Grand hotel. For no reason whatsoever, other than that she looks fabulous, I offer you a photo of the Princess, aka Paola Lombard, taken in Europe.

  • A signed copy of the new, updated paperback of my autobiography, Winner Takes All (available from Sunday Times Books First for £8.54, including p&p), plus £50 so you can snack while you read it - if you tell me where the photo was taken. And on what day of what month. Nearest answer wins.

    Silly really, but it passes the time. What do you expect on a Sunday? Elephants?

    Winner's letters

    If I cajoled Mr Winner and Paola into a dark and crowded room, made them sit surrounded by people with unpleasant habits, forced them to eat food of questionable quality, and only let them go on payment of a three-figure sum, I'd probably be charged with kidnapping, extortion and administering noxious substances. But not if I called myself a restaurateur. The gastronomic equivalent of mugging should be an offence in law.
    Alan Greaves, Nottingham.

    We thought we spotted you in the restaurant of our hotel in the Scilly Isles. On closer inspection we realised it couldn't be you as the lady you were dining with was of the same age! What a relief! It was, poor soul, a Michael Winner lookalike!
    Robert and Elizabeth Fox, Lancashire.

    Last week Finlay McNaughton asked for an appropriate comment after he was served lobster with a minute amount of meat and told: "The meat was bad and the chef threw it away!" He should have said: "The lobster's not the only one feeling the pinchers around here!"
    Brian O'Connell, Liverpool.

    Mr McNaughton shouldn't have shelled out!
    Monte Karbaron, Stanmore.

    I'm surprised Andrea Bishop (Winner's Letters, October 2) had to ask for her bill three times. I ask once, when they bring the coffee. If it isn't there when I'm ready to go, I just leave. Sometimes they present it on the way out and I pay. Other times not, so I don't pay. They should bring the bill at my convenience, not theirs. But then I'm from Yorkshire. We're careful with our money.
    Dr Graham Senior, Glasgow.

    Please explain your obsession with the Ivy. Some years ago it was okay. But in recent years the decline has been shocking. Terrible, old-fashioned food, appalling service and some waiters that look and behave like mafia minders. Why do you keep recommending it?
    Howard Silver, London.

    If Michael Winner dislikes cruise ship passengers visiting Sandy Lane (Winner's Dinners, September 25) don't tell him Stelios has his easyCruise ship in Barbados this winter. Stelios himself was filmed looking round Sandy Lane. Presumably arranging VIP visits for his customers!
    Frank Bevan, Swansea.

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