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You've found the right formula here, Bernie

Published 23 March 2008
News Review
766th article

Michael and Geraldine outside the hotel Olden in Gstaad in Switzerland (Jacques Lebast)

Gstaad is a Swiss village surrounded by dramatic mountains. It's super-chic but very pleasant in spite of that. They're fastidious about seeing all buildings look like traditional Swiss chalets of yesteryear.

The picturesque hotel Olden was built in 1899. It's owned by Bernie Ecclestone, who also owns Formula One motor racing. Like my least favourite airline boss, BA's wee Willie Walsh, Bernie is tiny (will I now be arrested by the Small People PC Brigade?) and is often photographed with his large, lovely wife. I asked the general manager, Ermes Elsener, if Bernie ever showed up to help in the kitchen. "He comes twice a year," said Mr Elsener.

In the excellent downstairs front restaurant (as opposed to its other restaurants) the menu informs, "Unless otherwise specified all meat is of Swiss origin."

I recently quoted Orson Welles in The Third Man movie saying the Swiss invented the cuckoo clock. A lot of readers wrote that the Germans invented the cuckoo clock. Contradicted by other readers who assured me Austrians invented the cuckoo clock.

I remain somewhat isolated in firmly believing the cuckoo clock was invented in Holland Park, just a few doors from where I live. Debating important matters like this keeps us intellectually active. I can't remember if there was a cuckoo clock in the beautifully panelled dining room of the Olden, but if there wasn't our Bernie should get one.

There were definitely two Sealyham terriers present. That breed was developed in the mid-19th century by Captain John Edwards. There were also people smoking. Cigarettes were invented by the Mayan Indians in the 9th century. That's according to Wikipedia, the internet encyclopaedia. But since it has pronounced me dead and published my obituary twice in the last few months, it's not totally reliable.

Back at the Olden Geraldine had tuna carpaccio with extra virgin lemon olive oil followed by oriental salad with sauteed prawns. I had mountain dried beef (Swiss mountain of course) and shaved aged cheese. Swiss cheese of course. Then a gourmet salad with beef steak tartare perfumed with cognac. I'm not sure if it was Swiss cognac. Finally I scoffed iced capuccino Italian style. A sort of cold capuccino mousse. Everything was superb.

Geraldine tasted my mousse and said, "Aww!" Then added, "That isn't fattening, there's only white of egg mixed up."

"There's no question from time to time she's totally bonkers," I dictated, as Geraldine stuck her spoon in and grabbed some more.

I can also recommend to you restaurant Hecht in Faulensee on Lake Thun, near Interlaken. Lovely view of the lake and mountains.

The menu was only in German. Outside it said, "English spoken". Whoever spoke English was off that day, but we muddled along and got some felchen fillets, a lake fish. Geraldine had hers grilled, mine were fried.

To start I had home-made tomato soup, Geraldine had tomato and mozzarella. The chocolate mousse dessert was fine. I drove for miles to get there but never saw any litter. Roger Moore's son Geoffrey, a Gstaad resident, told me the reason was because the fines for littering in Switzerland are so heavy. Should be here too.

  • Now to something completely different. Me. Or rather my cars. As I'm £6m in debt I decided a third Rolls Royce was essential. So I bought a beautiful 1992 black Rolls Corniche convertible with beige upholstery. This was found for me - and he wouldn't let me pay him a penny for the considerable time spent - by my hero, Manchester Rolls car dealer, Steve Gallimore. It came from a private seller in Tolworth, Surrey.

    I told you a lucky reader would get a bargain with my all black (interior and exterior) 2001 Saab 9.3 convertible. It had many extras, including a sports conversion, and had registered only 4,700 miles.

    PC Steve George, 12 years with the Metropolitan police in Croydon, was the lucky buyer. He brought me £8,800 in a brown envelope. He also offered this joke. A man is barred from a night club because he's not wearing a tie. He goes to his car but can't find one, only a jump lead. He ties it round his neck and returns. The doorman says, "You can come in but don't start anything." Made me laugh.

  • PS: The reason I sold is, Geraldine didn't think the Saab was grand enough for me. When Lady Madeleine Lloyd-Webber once admired it, I pointed out, "Saabs are supposed to be for hairdressers, estate agents and drug dealers." "Perfect for you then," said Madeleine.

    Winner's letters

    Last week's photo proves you've finally morphed into the late gay icon and bon viveur Quentin Crisp, complete with a rather fetching bouffant hair-do.
    Douglas Brown, Leeds

    You said your look was because of the wind, I thought it was because you'd just been handed that £252 bill!
    Terence Levine, Dorest

    Saying last week that tap water is rubbish shows your ignorance. If you visit Birmingham (and please don't) you'd find the finest tap water in the world, straight from the Elan Valley in Wales. It's so refreshingly wholesome our London friends ask us to take them a bottle so as to relieve them of having to drink recycled sewage.
    Neil Maybury, Birmingham

    I realise you don't fly with lesser mortals in the rear of planes, but on a recent BA flight a 90-minute delay on the tarmac in Geneva saw us offered free refreshments - club class chose their tipple, whereas the choice economy passengers had was "Water - yes or no?" Good old BA. If I had a gold card I'd send it back.
    Gareth Owen, by e-mail

    In Ireland we dropped into a village pub at 11.30am and asked for two pints of Guinness. The bar girl said, "Sorry, we don't serve alcohol before 12." Then she added, "But would you like a drink while you're waiting?"
    Roderick Tranmer, Oundle

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