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Delightful - despite the odd discordant note

Published 13 April 2008
News Review
769th article

Michael with waitress Clair Swaine in the main lounge at the Shelbourne hotel in Dublin (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The Princess Grace suite in the Shelbourne hotel, Dublin is extremely elegant. I'm not, but I stay there in the hope something might rub off.

The hotel itself is wonderful Georgian splendour downgraded by the ugliest lot of semi-modern oil paintings ever. The main lounge is beautifully proportioned, lovely chandeliers, rotten paintings.

Its tea, beautifully served by Clair Swaine, wasn't much good either. A pianist plonked away like a reluctant child who'd rather be on the sports field.

The sandwiches were below average, the scones heavy and cloying, the cakes dreadful. Geraldine tried a chocolate thing and nodded her head from side to side. "I'm not putting on weight for that," she said.

The room service was great. Masses of scotch, soft drinks, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, chocolates. You could just eat the freebies in the room and save on meals. The bathrobes had MRW and GLE embroidered in gold. We were apparently meant to keep them. So we did.

Although it's very grand the Shelbourne attracts a buzzy group of young Irish people who fill the bars and the lobby. All the staff were charming and efficient. But why, oh why do they have dreadful, discordant piped music in the lobby and in their dining area, the Saddle Room? It's not even Irish piped music, just muck.

I dined in the Saddle Room with a delightful, Irish couple who wish to be nameless. That shows they also have good taste. What sane person would admit to dining with me?

The waiter handed out menus and said, "I'll be back in five minutes."

My billionaire host responded, "Don't go. We'll make our mistakes quickly."

Geraldine and I had foie gras torchon, fig and mandarin compote and soda bread. I followed with grilled black sole, caper and lemon dill and creamed spinach. We got a freebie artichoke puree soup with double truffles and Dublin bay prawn.

It was all very good, simple food. The chef, John Mooney, is not going for an A-level in plate decoration. He lets the food speak for itself. My sole didn't actually say anything but tasted great. If only fish could talk, I'd love to listen. I also got a fantastic onion ring and then a light and excellent apple crumble.

Daniel Day-Lewis, who I knew when he used to run past my house every day, was in a nearby booth. I said to him later in the lift, "Where you're clever, Daniel, is as well as being a great actor, you got yourself a life."

"I'm going back to it now," said Daniel. He lives half an hour from Dublin.

Then, a strange thing. The Shelbourne billed me €2,500 for car rental. They'd reduced the rate from €75 an hour to €50, which is £40 - much more than I pay in London for the same type of car and driver. But the €2,500 charged bore no relation to the hours I'd used the car.

When I told them the actual hours, they knocked €1,400 off the bill. They seemed to think when I said I wanted a car available to me during my stay that meant when I slept, had told it go away and come back the next morning, and forever. Bit naughty, that.

  • Being the only true prophet, I seldom read anything about food and restaurants. But I was bemused by an article in the Evening Standard's ES magazine. It said, accurately, that in 1981 Chris Corbin and Jeremy King successfully re-opened Le Caprice.

    It continued, "They have a secret weapon, maitre d' Jesus Adorno, soon to become one of the powerful men in central London." Just a minute. Mr Adorno was not a secret weapon when Corbin and King took over Le Caprice, he was a waiter. It took years before he became general manager.

    As for being one of the powerful men in central London, per-lease. The prime minister's in central London, as is my friend Sir Philip Green who employs thousands. So are many other captains of industry. Being in charge of a small restaurant with a few staff only makes you one of the powerful men in central London if whoever writes this nonsense is desperate to get a good table.

  • PS: Wikipedia, the mine of internet misinformation, says of me: "His love of life away from London has led him to buy a house in the Lake District and Yorkshire where he spends weekends." I've never owned a house anywhere but Holland Park. Although yesterday I was in the Lake District giving my witty one-man show (recently booked into the Oxford Union) at a Michael Winner film festival in Keswick. Sorry you missed it.

    Winner's letters

    You said Spain was a stupid place with dreary food. How dare you! Where I live there's a far greater and cheaper range of food than in London. Your comments may apply to some of the irritating and unwanted expats. They should head back to Blighty and find a place near you in Holland Park.
    Adam Osborn, Malaga, Spain

    If you don't like Spain why go there, you fat, pompous git?
    Tim Jackson, Liverpool

    What a shame I hadn't read your rabbit-warning before going to Le Cafe Anglais. Mine looked dry and while eating it I broke a tooth! I wouldn't have been so upset if it was good, but it was awful.
    Lola Monk, London

    Please go to Terminal 5 and report on the debacle since you so revere Willie Walsh. I know you'll cut him some slack as the egg on his face increases to such proportions he's already being mistaken for Scrambled Walsh.
    Phillie Hall, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

    Our bill at La Petite Maison, Mayfair, included 12% service. With the swipe card came a request for a further gratuity. The manager said it was a "first time" and would be removed immediately. A day later my host had the same problem. Disgraceful, don't you think?
    Gemma Levine, Mayfair, London