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Worthy of joining the Winner Grand Tour

Published 4 May 2008
News Review
772nd article



People often say to me, "Why don't you buy a house abroad?" Because I've got a 46-room mansion in Holland Park with seven bathrooms, nine toilets, three kitchens, a cinema, Jacuzzi, swimming pool, steam room, five-car garage and every toy you could want. It's enough keeping that in good shape.

Also, I love hotels - the buzz, the lobby activity. I like to be among people. Let the hotel owner worry about upkeep, staff, pipes bursting, burglars, the bills for local taxes, water, electricity. I'm in and out.

Thus I enjoyed my visit to La Residencia in Deia, Majorca. This was Richard Branson's - he flogged it to Orient-Express, my favourite hotel group. They've only let me down one and a half times.

La Residencia sprawls over a 30-acre hillside of olive and citrus groves, looking down on the unspoilt village of Deia. It was created from two 16th and 17th-century manor houses.

My suite was the best ever. Very large sitting room, separate kitchen, good sized bedroom, beautifully appointed (I love that word "appointed") bathroom, a garden outside with two tables, chairs, sun loungers, a private swimming pool and a sensational view.

The staff were exemplary, the manager, John Rogers, efficient and charming. Two quibbles: when we arrived at 2.30pm Geraldine asked the duty manager to send up some soya milk and drinking chocolate powder. By 11pm - no sign of it. And the crude modern paintings are out of keeping with everything.

Breakfast on the terrace is a delight. They have a local, historic sweet bread called ensaimada. The chocolate brioche was unbelievably excellent. Service could not be better.

Chef Guillermo Mendez provided foie gras saute with pear and pineapple chutney; "fish from the market" with citrus fruit risotto; saddle and rack of lamb with potato puree, wild mushrooms and carrots; crispy cannelloni stuffed with white chocolate mousse; fresh cream soup with saffron; duckling breast poached in cava and balsamic vinegar; fillet of fresh sole stuffed with mussels, cockles, clams, mushrooms, foam of truffle and sprout salad... I could go on.

It was odd that in the posh dining room the bread was tired and not even warm. On the terrace I had a kobe beef hamburger with candied onions. Absolutely sensational meat. The bun was light and terrific. This hotel now enters the Winner Grand Tour.

Geraldine and I dined at the Ivy with Hilma Daley and her daughter Chanelle. When I rejected an OBE, I said, "It's what they give to people who clean toilets at King's Cross." The Daily Mirror found Hilma, from Jamaica, who's cleaned toilets for 12 years there and at Welwyn Garden City. The paper took her on a tour of what it laughingly called "Winner's World".

She went to Daphne's, a restaurant I never visit, then to an antique shop I'd never heard of and so on. Hilma and Chanelle came to my house for tea. We got on marvellously. Chanelle was working at Scotland Yard; now she's at Stoke Newington police station.

My current mission is to get Hilma an OBE. I've written to Gordon Brown and it's all moving along. Sir Michael Caine offered a letter of support: "My mother was a cleaner, I know what they go through," he said.

On one side of us at the Ivy sat playwright Patrick Marber with the actor Steve Coogan; on the other, Sir Christopher Meyer, once our ambassador to Washington. What impressed Chanelle most was John Partridge, an EastEnders actor, coming over to greet them.

I had sauteed foie gras followed by fishcakes with extra sauce. Hilma tried shepherd's pie, Chanelle the Ivy hamburger. Everything was good.

Hilma said she'd not been back to Jamaica since she left in 1965. Chanelle has never been there. "You'll go as my guests," I announced. Hilma, bless her, shed a tear or two.

Then up stepped Paul Charles, PR chief of Virgin Atlantic. He fixed an incredible deal for me at the famous Half Moon club, in the area Hilma was born. The Queen and Richard Branson have stayed there. Virgin will fly them free.

To say Hilma and Chanelle are excited would be a gross understatement. I'm thrilled.

It gives me immense pleasure to help people.

Other than the dreaded Tufa water, the Ivy is still great. But I gave a serious telling-off to Fernando Peire, who runs the Ivy club, soon to open above the restaurant.

"How dare you write asking me to pay £1,000 to join the Ivy club," I said. "You should offer me Pounds 10,000 to be there."

Impertinence. Even though he's a nice fellow. Me, pay to join a club? You must be joking.



Michael's missives

How long is it since you talked to your tailor? Were you checking in for Geneva last week, or revisiting terminal 5 to see if your luggage from a previous flight had found its way from the mix-up in Italy or America? What you were wearing was obviously from someone else's suitcase.
Tom Ditchfield, Hampshire

I felt like cutting out last week's column, making a thousand copies of it and distributing it around British Airways HQ. I can't do that as no doubt I'd be sacked (I'm a BA stewardess) but I relish the thought of Silly Willie and lots of BA employees reading it. You got it spot-on!
Name and address withheld

"The world's favourite airline" told my Thai mother-in-law she shouldn't travel with BA if she didn't speak English. She sat for 24 hours in a wheelchair without food because BA "forgot" about collecting her. They left her bag in the UK.
Mark Rodwell, Merseyside

Am I missing something, or did you actually eat two meals at terminal 5? Diet, what diet?
Derek da Costa, Antibes, France

I've never found a restaurant serving the dreaded Hildon water. You encounter it whenever you venture from Holland Park. Do you suspect a conspiracy?
Robert Colbeck, East Yorkshire

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