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Fortunately, Wee Willie isn't in the kitchen

Published 27 April 2008
News Review
771st article



The most stupid statement I ever heard came from Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways. A day before Heathrow's fiasco opened he stood there on TV and announced terminal 5 would be up and running smoothly from day one and no British Airways customers would ever have more than two people in front of them at the check-in desk.

We know Wee Willie is small, but his brain is obviously diminutive even in relation to his body. What a ridiculous statement to make. Any new venture may well go wrong - although Willie provided magnified meaning to the word "wrong". And there's no need to fantasise about how few people will be in front of you at the check-in desk.

The rest is history. Confusion beyond belief. Tens of thousands of lost bags sent to Italy and America for sorting out. Hundreds of BA planes cancelled. Enraged customers. A total catastrophe. Whereupon Wee Willie aka Silly Willie aka Willie Wonka (I misspelt that last word) says, "I'm sorry. The buck stops with me. I take full responsibility." Then he sacks two of his key executives. So the buck stopped not with Silly Willie, but somewhere down the line.

Polls in The Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard showed a large majority of readers wanted him to resign, as did the British Airline Pilots' Association and any sensible person on the planet. But Willie stays on. Why should he give up a highly salaried job just because he's inept?

Compare that to the chairman of HM Revenue & Customs, Paul Gray, who resigned because a twit employee in Tyne & Wear sent out discs containing people's personal information. Paul's a man of honour. Willie stays because, in my view, honour is not his strong card.

As for the nonsense, "No BA passenger will ever have more than two people in front of them at the check-in desk", I went down last Saturday, 25 days after terminal 5 opened. There were many desks with more than two people in the queue. I'm photographed, at 2.30pm on a quiet day for travellers, standing behind 11 BA customers queuing at check-in B7. You can't see them all, but, I promise you, there were 11.

When Willie Wonka became BA's chief executive on October 1, 2005, the company's shares stood at Pounds 3. Last Friday they'd sunk to Pounds 2.21. That he remains in the job is beyond belief. Now to food.

Most of terminal 5's restaurants are "airside". That's after you've passed passport and security checks. In the public area I started at Carluccio's. I wanted to murder it. Carluccio spoke very rudely about me (who hasn't?) and many readers wrote in saying how awful his restaurants were.

Charming staff led me to a nice table. The place is cheerful with piped Italian music, which I found okay. They had highly respectable Panna and San Pellegrino water. The bread was tired and clammy except for the focaccia. That was excellent. I kept dunking it in the olive oil and eating away.

My only course was tortelloni di cervo, handmade pasta filled with wine braised venison. It was very good indeed. Geraldine had a large "antipasto di verdure" and declared it terrific. So I can't blast Carluccio's.

To get "airside" I had two tickets for Geneva issued by my travel agent, Sue Roberts. There were very short queues for passport control and security so we soon arrived at Gordon Ramsay Plane Food. It's a beautifully simple restaurant with a great view of BA planes one side, a bar and see-through to the kitchen on the other.

They offered ghastly Tufa water. "We're the only Gordon Ramsay restaurant serving it," said the manager, Elton, sadly. This is the rubbish that Richard Caring has foisted on the Ivy, Le Caprice and Scott's. Whereas at his club, George, they still offer far superior Evian.

I started with a salad of watermelon and feta with toasted pumpkin seeds and lime vinaigrette. Very tasty. I loved it. Then braised lamb with honey and cloves, grain mustard mash. Tip-top. With some rather lukewarm and dreary buttered spinach. The handmade chips were excellent.

Dessert was horrible. Valrhona chocolate fondue (which was superb, runny chocolate sauce) to be poured over miserable, tough, textureless waffles and heavy, cloying marshmallows. Gordon should visit Heathrow's Virgin lounge, where I had fantastically good waffles, free, as all the food is there.

Gordon let me down badly with doughnuts at the Boxwood Cafe. His waffles were even worse. His manager said they expected 60,000 people a day at terminal 5. They're getting less than a third of that. I suggest they re-negotiate the rent.



Michael's missives

A peasant in king's clothes is still a peasant. Your picture last week with Anne Robinson showed you serve condiments in jars. When they're empty do you use them as glasses?
Jean-Pierre Frankenhuis, Bordeaux, France

Simon Kenna wrote last week that Michael had 10 songs on Desert Island Discs. Everyone else gets eight. I bet Michael stormed into the studio, re-organised the microphones and scornfully rejected the BBC brand of water. The presenter was scared Michael would make a meal of her. Giving him two more records seemed a small price to pay for peace.
Mike Simpson, Ponteland, Northumberland

What's the point of knighthoods these days when everyone from court jesters to thespians and donors to political parties are so honoured? I guess it's only a matter of time before your supercilious self is honoured for services to pomposity and culinary matters.
Srendra Andar, Stanmore, Middlesex

You can't remember what you served Anne Robinson when she came to lunch? Further proof, if needed, that you really are the weakest link!
Nigel Galloway, West Sussex

A brewery now offers a potation called Winner's Tipple, calling it "full bodied" and "no nonsense". Is this none-too-subtle self-promotion by our critic?
Robert Randell, London