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Happily wolfing down all the president's menu

Published 30 April 2006
News Review
667th article

Michael with Toby, the owner, left, and staff at the Brocket Arms (Paola Lombard)

I wouldn't call Lucerne the culinary centre of the world. Nor, I guess, would anyone else.

In my seven-day stay I only found one good place to eat. That was a three-star hotel, the Hotel Schiff, overlooking the famous old wooden bridge (recently burned down and re-built), a lovely church called Lady's Church and the River Reuss, which runs into Lake Lucerne.

It's in the old town, a quaint mix of buildings around Weinmarkt, a beautiful cobbled square where the houses have 18th-century paintings on their exterior stucco.

The dining room is panelled and candle-lit. Tables are well apart. Very olde worlde Swiss. Nice.

The owners are Sylvia Wiesner-Joller who runs the front of house, and hubby Peter who cooks.

Sylvia recommended home-made pork hamburgers served with cream potatoes and gravy.

She assured me Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czechoslovakia, came many times and ate them.

"May as well follow the president of Czechoslovakia as anyone," I thought.

Especially as I had a fling with the Hungarian lady kick-boxing champion and she was always ordering mashed potatoes. Perhaps because of that I asked for rosti, sort of Swiss hashed brown, instead of mashed. To which you may say, "You're confused. Czechoslovakia and Hungary are not the same." They are to me.

My friend Pierre Vacher, ex-manager of Sandy Lane, was with us. He'd recommended the place. Pierre is tarting up a hotel in Lucerne called the National, which he assured me was the first hotel opened by Cesar Ritz who hired a chef called Escoffier.

Just to add to the historical bric-a-brac Sylvia told me her hotel was built 400 years ago, burnt down 200 years ago and rebuilt 160 years ago.

I know she said that because it's on my tape. If true there would have been a 40-year period with a burnt-out shell sitting there! Sylvia also assured me the panelling on the wall was 160 years old. She's well meaning, bless her, but too much information can be exhausting.

For starters Sylvia recommended the fish crackling. "Every morning we pick it up," she explained. "It's the market here downstairs in front of the house." It was a load of fried fish from the lake. Very, very good.

Geraldine said their home-made tartare sauce was among the best she'd ever tasted.

She has a thing about tartare sauce, does Geraldine.

On the table Sylvia had an enormous "necklace" of large stones. There were stones everywhere. On the stairs, on the tables, smaller ones round her neck. I've never heard of a stone fetish. Perhaps it's a Swiss thing. I asked her to take them away because they took up too much table space.

For dessert I had sweet wine ice cream from Piedmont (the wine not the ice cream) and zabaglione.

I returned to Schiff twice to enjoy horseradish soup with salmon and barley, veal with pasta, and apple fritters with ice cream. Everything was superb. If you find yourself in Lucerne - well, you never know - go there. You could even stay. They've got 17 rooms.

I resided at the five-star Palace hotel, which was dreadful.

One morning we woke in our first-floor suite to a ghastly smell of paint. In the corridor outside the odour got stronger. Downstairs we found the main lounge, which has windows and a door to the lake, was covered in plastic, blocking both view and exit. It was being painted. As the breakfast room was next door, that was deluged by paint-smell.

You might think a well-run, customer-friendly hotel would have put a little note in the rooms warning guests this was happening. And apologising for any inconvenience.

Not so the second-rate Palace management.

  • Now with a hop, skip and whizz we land in Southwark where I told you I saw St Paul's from the windows of Roast, a restaurant near Borough Market.

    Last week Nicola Bryant wrote complimenting me on my eyesight. She said unless I stood on the roof with a telescope, I couldn't possibly have seen St Paul's. Twenty other valued readers wrote in a similar vein, all suggesting I'd seen Southwark Cathedral. Calm down, dears, it's only a cathedral!

    Had anyone bothered to look at a road map of London they'd have observed that Borough Market is near the Thames, east of Southwark Bridge. St Paul's is the other side of the river, a short distance to the west. Thus even I could see St Paul's quite clearly from the first-floor window of Roast. The manager proudly pointed it out to me.

    My bodily functions may well be failing in all directions, but I can still recognise St Paul's. So a cheery "yah-boo" to everyone who said I got it wrong!

    Winner's letters

    I was travelling by seaplane to the Maldives airport at Male on a very hot and humid day. The cooling fans in the cabin droned on and emitted volumes of air. The manufacturer's name was displayed prominently on them - "Winner" of course!
    Nick Brett, Guernsey

    You mentioned (Winner's Dinners, April 16) you studied economics at Cambridge. Nobody would guess it from the way you splash money around on posey accommodation and food. You should ask Cambridge for your dad's money back.
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    Peter Jolly (Winner's Letters, last week) who had to make his own toast at a Marriott hotel was fortunate. We stayed at the Marriott Swindon. After an appalling evening meal we came down to breakfast to discover they'd run out bread!
    Rosemary Rouse, Kent

    I agree that journalists tend to undervalue property (Winner's Dinners, April 16). But, Michael, don't advertise your house in Exchange and Mart or Feathered World. Use Racing Pigeon Weekly. I recently sold a desirable "executive" cree (pigeon home) journalist-valued at £100 for twice that amount!
    David Lowe, Tyne & Wear

    I was at Simpson's-in-the-Strand (Winner's Dinners, April 23) on the carving course while you were downstairs picking holes in a British institution. We don't go to Simpson's for Sunday vegetables! Now I've been taught to carve I can entertain more at home and avoid people like you.
    John Camping, Wandsworth

    At the Connaught this week my companion's beef was so gristly that she had to spit out chunks of it. When the bill arrived we mentioned, politely, that £30 seemed steep for a plate full of gristle, but the manageress just shrugged and said we should have complained earlier. I will not be going back.
    Eleanor Mills, London

    Was the surprising omission of Mr Winner's name from the Sunday Times Rich list an unfortunate error or confirmation that he really is just a poor boy from Willesden?
    Oliver Chastney, Norwich

    Michael, you wily old fox! You've salted away your zillions in Guernsey (Winner's Dinners, April 23) thus escaping entry in the Rich List yet again!
    Sonny Perry, Essex