Published 18 February 2007 News Review 709th article
I didn't really want to go to Mannie's Suga Suga. But before I left for Barbados last year - you may recall that's where an insect bit me and almost destroyed my left leg - Sandy Lane's excellent new manager, Carl Henderson, rang and said, "We'd rather you weren't in for lunch on December 19. We'll give you the Bentley and a picnic.
"I hate picnics," I responded. Apparently their Bajan Blue restaurant would be closed for lunch, as well as a large area of adjacent beach, in order to put up two umbrellas. Not ordinary umbrellas. Enormous things which slant upwards instead of down. Water thus pours to the centre where great pipes take it into the hotel drainage system. They have some there already. Very effective.
"They're coming in from Miami," explained Carl.
"Let me assure you," I said, "these things will not arrive and they will not go up!"
I forgot all about this until one morning I awoke to the sound of drilling in preparation for umbrella day. My least favourite hotel employee, hotel manager designate Christian Langlade, confidently assured me, "We've made special arrangements with Barbados customs to get them through."
By midday all activity had ceased. German experts (the umbrellas were made in Germany), Barbadian specialists and others gathered umbrella-less round two holes.
"I'm off to Mannie's at my own expense," I informed Carl. "I'm even driving myself to save you petrol on the Bentley."
I had a secret mission at Suga Suga. I wanted to see if I could get its owner, Mannie Ward, to take over as manager at the Bajan Blue.
A couple of years ago they lost a marvellous local chap, Franklyn Browne. Since then they've been rudderless.
Mannie was always a great restaurant manager, and being Barbadian the local staff particularly respect him. When I first met him he managed his cousin Brian's place, The Cliff. Many consider that the best restaurant on the island.
Either way Mannie left to go to Sandy Lane as manager of the golf club restaurant while the hotel was being rebuilt by its current owner and saviour, Dermot Desmond. He even went on to manage Sandy Lane's posh L'Acajou.
But when premises became available on nearby Mullins Bay, Mannie decided to have a go on his own.
Now he runs this wooden beach bar, lovely view, very jolly and serving perfectly respectable food. We had shaved parmesan salad with vinaigrette dressing, fried zucchini, fried white plantain and garlic bread, and for dessert, apple crumble.
Mannie is an expert on Barbados. His family came there in 1652. When he opened Suga Suga three years ago he offered local food, cassava lamb, sweet potatoes, stewed and steamed codfish, Bajan beef stew, baby pork sliced and cou cou, which is cornmeal and okra as originally brought across by African slaves.
"People who come on holiday want something safe. They want to order something they recognise," said Mannie with a hint of sadness. "Of all the places I've been, the most stressful was Sandy Lane," he explained, "because of the clients. You have to be so sharp. But here it's the business side. For five months of the year it's busy, busy, busy For seven months it's empty."
Mannie has a lot of land, including a flower cave of sea anemones on the north-east point of the island. He plans to build an Arawak village there showing what life was like 1,000 years ago when Arawak and Carib Indians populated the island. He's even sent people into the Venezuelan jungle to get original artefacts for his village.
He's wonderful is Mannie, I got the strong feeling he could well be managing Bajan Blue next year.
Needless to say, back at Sandy Lane nothing had happened.
I spoke to the rueful looking Carl. "How can you possibly denude and inconvenience guests paying Pounds 2,000 a day by closing a restaurant and part of their beach when you don't even have under your control the umbrellas you intend to put up?"
Christian walked by. "I'm glad you made special arrangements with Barbados customs to get your umbrellas through today," I pointed out. "Since I understand they're still in Miami you obviously dealt with the wrong customs office!"
Luckily all ended well. The umbrellas sprouted at the end of January by which time room rates had fallen. I even hear Mannie is discussing a return to Sandy Lane.
"But dare I go there again?"
I asked my dermatologist, Professor Chris Bunker.
"Of course you can," he said. "It was a five million to one chance your getting bitten as you did."
"Yeah," I said. "But suppose the insect's got a twin brother!"
At the Fernlea hotel, St Annes on Sea, Lancashire, I was served mouldy fried bread for breakfast. I showed the waiter who took it away on a saucer. He returned to say it wasn't mould. The chef had been chopping parsley in the kitchen!
Roy Winkley, Blackburn
The curried goat you yearn for has been seen on the menu of the Hi-Lo Jamaican Eating House, Oxford. The owner had a policy of charging what he thought the customer could afford. We were once greeted by a suited businessman hanging onto his briefcase as he ran out yelling, "I'm not paying that!" being chased by the proprietor's wife. Dress down is my advice, Michael, and you'll eat very reasonably.
Richard Leadbeater, Stratford-upon-Avon
Your hospital room looks remarkably bleak for private accommodation to which you are surely entitled. Are you sure you haven't been sidelined into a National Health room by mistake? Particularly as Ensure is the favourite drink for NHS patients who can't eat solids?
Colin Nibbs, Liverpool
At La Chaumiere near Nice we observed you dining with Elton John and Michael Caine. We note you sat with your back to the room. Was it because you were shy or outshone?
Rosalind and Nicholas Springer, London
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk