Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

They've got a mountain to climb to sort this lot out

Published 19 March 2006
News Review
661st article

Michael sitting with Jose Arasemena, left, and Lefert Westenbrink (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I first went abroad in 1946. To the Palace hotel in Luzern, Switzerland. A grand edifice which opened in 1906. I walked along the corridor and into my room. On the balcony I literally gasped at the beautiful view of Lake Luzern with the snow clad mountains beyond.

Returning this year I gasped again. At the absolute awfulness of my suite. The view was much the same. Great. The suite, according to their brochure, offered "old-world elegance and the most up-to-date amenities".

"Elegant" was the horrible black boardroom table supported on two screaming yellow raffia-type cones which greeted me. Around it were six ridiculous yellow raffia chairs with brown cushions, with two more standing by. There was nothing "old world" about them. They were 1950s gone massively wrong.

It looked like a tacky meeting room for junior executives. Obviously tidy juniors because the living room had no wastebasket.

In the centre, dividing the room and blocking the view, was a grotesque, massive wooden chest of drawers, the opposite side of which housed the television.

Unlike any hotel I've ever been in, they provided no list of television stations.

They had very few English language ones anyway. No Sky News, but two hardcore porno channels. I suppose junior executives pay for those on expenses.

The sitting area, between the dark brown "boxes" and the window, offered the most dreadful sofas ever. They didn't face the television. That would have been intelligent. They were on opposite walls facing each other.

The grey base was padded. The dark green back, running across half the seat, was in rock-hard plastic or other ludicrous material. It was, without doubt, the ugliest room I've ever been in.

The bedroom was only marginally better. Hilton hotel 1952 at its worst. The bathroom lacked hair conditioner and many other bits and pieces that good hotels provide.

The towelling robes were like sandpaper. Very poor quality.

The wardrobes were behind the bathroom in a dark corridor instead of being in the bedroom. The hotel's grand lobby-lounge was full of ugly furniture that might have been bought in a cheap out-of-town warehouse.

Geraldine observed, "I think the decor must have been done by the bimbo girlfriend of one of the owners." There was nothing anywhere that tied in with the period grandeur of the building, or indicated you were in Switzerland.

The hotel restaurant, Jasper, featured in the brochure as, "Culinary culture, celebrated in style. Classic but contemporary in its distinctive design, a warm and welcoming ambience, creative and uncomplicated cuisine with a southern flair."

It looked like an inferior impersonal dated airport lounge. Light grey leather chairs, small tables, white walls.

If the Swiss owners of the Palace want to learn about style they should visit the George V in Paris and see how a grand hotel should be furnished. But not for the £2.80 per item they've chucked into this dump.

The food matched the furniture. Geraldine had millefeuille of smoked tuna, vinaigrette with lemongrass and fresh coriander.

I chose grilled sardines on sweet pepper coulis with potato olive tart. My sardines tasted of nothing. Geraldine tried them and said, "It tastes as though they've been washed."

I asked Geraldine, "How's yours?" She said, "Bland as well."

We both left nearly everything. The restaurant manager, seeing that, asked, "Would you like another fish, a small bit of turbot or meat?" I declined.

I said to Geraldine, "We really should go back and give it another chance." She said, "I don't want to."

Breakfast wasn't much better. The first morning, in the quite nice breakfast room, I had some sort of griddlecake that was fresh and pleasing.

The next morning it was curling up having sat in the tureen for too long.

I took a pace left to the scrambled eggs. A few tiny, dried-up bits were left. I said to the restaurant manager, Edda Knopli, "You shouldn't have empty tureens and things drying up." She said, "I'll get some more." It was too late for that.

Geraldine's espresso was cold. So was my cappuccino. I could go on about the awfulness of it all. Just reliving it depresses me.

The service was generally absurd. I requested two different weather reports from different internet sites and got two copies of the same one. I was asked to fax my driving licence in advance to their "leisure designer", Werner Winkler. I did.

When the man came with the car nobody had given it to him.

The only efficient people were the executive assistant manager, Lefert Westenbrink, and concierge, Jose Arasemena. So Geraldine took their photo with me on a bench by the lake.

Preserve childhood memories, I say. Never go back.

Winner's letters

Last week, you described one of your ice creams as "pink stuff". How can you be a food critic when you don't know what food it is and can't even suggest a flavour? The meal you say came "largely" from Harrods' many restaurants. Did McDonald's down the road send in fries or something? No citizenship for Mohamed and no GCSE in cookery for you.
Chris Blockley, Bristol

What a gentleman Mohamed al-Fayed is. Knowing he was to entertain you for lunch he deliberately dressed down.
Glenda Brett-Holt, Malta

You and Big Mo looked like a couple of ageing, jowly, fatty pharaohs - Tutanpermatan and Nefergetapassport. Are you sure you only limited yourself to the dishes you described? Looks more like you had a menu selection from every one of the 30 restaurants in Harrods. And it was so touching of you to be concerned about Mohamed's passport predicament. I've a solution: why don't you give him yours and move to Greenland?
Daniel James, Exeter

I've decided your weekly photo is a contrived fake. Last week I noticed the Queen seated to the right of and behind you. If Prince Philip took the photo, why was it not attributed?
Colin Key, Portugal

I don't think you realise what a comfort your writings are to those existing on limited incomes north of the M25. Not for us the daily worry of where in the world to eat or travel to get expensive, indifferent food and be treated with less than our due deference. We're quite content to exist on home cooking plus the occasional trip to the friendly village Chinese restaurant where generous portions of all we can eat cost £18. Try it when you're down to your last million. The poor do have an edge over you in one respect. We're better dressed.
Alan Greaves, Nottingham

At a bar in Venice I ordered two glasses of wine for my wife and myself. The amounts differed, so I asked the bar lady to top up the smaller glass. This she did by using the fuller glass - hey presto equal measures! This practice could come here. Imagine the camaraderie as another drinker's pint is used to top up your own.
Patrick Nolan, Leeds

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