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Under the weather, but on top of the world

Published 14 January 2007
News Review
704th article

Michael with staff members at Sandy Lane (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The greatest hotel triumph I ever saw was three years ago when the Sandy Lane hotel abandoned its pathetic attempts to mount a fully plated New Year's Eve dinner and served a glorious buffet instead.

So I was surprised on my first night there recently to hear from Henriette Skridshol, the duty manager, that the hotel manager designate, Christian Langlade, was planning to return to the horrors of a plated dinner.

When I confronted Mr Langlade over this, his face contorted. "You have been manipulated!" he exclaimed. Since I couldn't see President Putin or the KGB lurking, Langlade continued unabated.

"The tent was a great nuisance last year," he said. "Guests objected to having to move about for it on the beach."

"Mr Langlade," I responded, "no one objected to the tent on the beach at all. I was one of the guests who had to move their position for one day when the tent went up most efficiently."

"I also understand that guests could not get to the food," said Mr Langlade in certain desperation, adding to what was already desperation.

I replied, "Mr Langlade, you were not here last year, nor the year before. You live in fantasy land. On both those occasions, the food was reached very easily and massively appreciated by the guests."

Mr Langlade, in a desperate search to keep his change for the sake of change, said, "We've been given a tent by one of the owners of the hotel, Mr John Magnier, which was used for his son's wedding. It would be rude of us not to use it."

So suddenly there was going to be a tent and the guests who were inconvenienced last year, according to Mr Langlade with total inaccuracy, would have a tent this year in case of bad weather.

I have never known a junior hotel employee tell me that I am so dumb that when I say something I am being manipulated by somebody else. I consider this the most extraordinary rudeness I have ever encountered in any hotel in my life.

Before I went apoplectic with rage, another very senior guest came over, Mr Lucien Grange, the head of Universal Music for Europe, who has booked many rooms. "They're planning to abandon the buffet for New Year's Eve," I said to Lucien. His jaw dropped open.

"Why?" he said. He proceeded to give Mr Langlade his view of the matter in no uncertain terms, heading up the words, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Various other guests that evening were equally appalled and many of them made their views known to management.

I was now prepared for action. We would have a millionaires' protest. We would have placards painted: "We want our buffet back". A back-up placard taking its line from the old slogan "We have nothing to lose but our chains" would say, "We have nothing to lose but our private jets".

As my fantasy ran riot, Carl Henderson, the general manager - I've known him for years on the Orient Express - came over and said, "Mr Winner, we've changed our mind. There's to be a buffet this year."

What a magnificent event it was, massively enjoyed by everybody except, possibly, Mr Langlade. The food on offer included roast suckling pig, a grand paella, roast turbot and roast duckling. It was literally the finest buffet I've ever seen in my life and everyone agreed that it was yet another triumph. The dessert stations and the sashimi and other starters were beautifully laid out.

The food this year was of an exceptional standard. Last year's new chef, Marcel Driessen, came out of the closet. I don't mean by that, he made a review of his sexuality, I mean that he had been very shy before and guests hardly saw him. He is both a great chef and a great host.

There was a new chef in the Bajan Blue restaurant where most of the sensible guests eat every evening. Chef Dominique Martinez, and the pastry chef, Bernard Charles, get better each year. I had some marvellous jellies, a scrumptious rice pudding and little mini rum babas which are so difficult to do. The desserts not only looked scrumptious but they tasted scrumptious too. I cannot pay a high enough compliment to the food served at Sandy Lane during the new year season.

I became extremely ill towards the end of my stay through having an antibiotic which disagreed with me. Despite that, it was the most marvellous holiday and I cannot speak highly enough of Sandy Lane. Do not be put off by the prices.

  • PS The Barbadian gentleman in our photograph is Carlos Chase, the beach supervisor. He is one of the wittiest men I have ever come across.

    Winner's letters

    It was kind of you to offer to see all your readers in the new year. I think you misjudge the size of your readership. I shall be pleased to see you. Lunch or dinner? My wife refuses to read your column (can she come too?)
    Bryan Sykes, Cleveland

    I am confused. Last week Mr Mead sympathised with you over a reader approaching you whilst on holiday to discuss an article. Does this mean you work?
    Karyn Wilkes, Suffolk

    In a previous column you indicated emerging approval of the latest Corbin/King enterprise, St Alban. But your junior stringer, AA Gill, panned it. Who are we to believe? Mr Winner or Master Adrian?
    Robert Randell, London

    We made a reservation six weeks in advance at the Cliff, Barbados for 6.30pm prompt and were told our table would be required again at 8.30. We were seated next to the only other occupied table in the restaurant. Shortly after 8pm we'd finished our starters and mains and awaited dessert. At 8.10 we were told we'd have to vacate our table and have desserts in the lounge bar three floors up. We left the Cliff at 8.50. Our table in the restaurant was still vacant!
    Don Godwin, Cheshire

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