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No more lavish parties - apart from this one

Published 9 November 2008
News Review
799th article

Michael and Geraldine at William Kent House in the Ritz hotel, London (Chris Kewish)

I'm not the host with the most. Visitors to my house see vast antique-filled rooms and say, "Wonderful place for entertaining."

I respond, "I don't host dinner parties, lunch parties, tea parties or any group activity." My last at-home was 16 years ago, when Arnold Schwarzenegger came to London after a long absence. Responding to my toast of welcome, Arnold announced, "Michael Winner is more than a good friend to me. He is a complete stranger." We later got to know each other better.

For my 60th birthday, I hired Leighton House Museum, had 400 Victorian extras with horse-drawn carriages in the street and garden, harem girls in the Arab room, caviar galore. At 70, I flew 25 friends to Venice in a private jet, put them up at the superb Cipriani hotel, with dinner at Harry's Bar and lunch at the Locanda Cipriani on Torcello. On returning, we landed to see 18 limousines on the runway lined up to take guests home. "That's it," I thought, "until death."

Good intentions seldom last. A few days ago, I hosted a lavish party at the Ritz hotel to mark my engagement to the adorable Geraldine Lynton-Edwards. The reception was in William Kent House, an elegant 18th-century mansion attached to the hotel. The Queen uses it for dinner parties.

I considered bringing my favourite caterer, Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh of the Admirable Crichton. But it didn't allow outside firms. If the hirer wants kosher food for religious reasons, the Ritz doesn't even permit the specialist caterer Anthony Page. Now the North London Brigade, who continually write in saying I'm anti-semitic (ridiculous), can divert their wrath to Matthew Rivett, c/o the Ritz. He's in charge of private reception rooms.

Undeterred by being banned, Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh phoned me from Denver. "I can help," he said. As an engagement present, he provided incredible ornaments - Venetian glasses, candlesticks, marvellous flowered tablecloths. The place looked even more gracious than it would have done.

Guests, if I may drop a name or 10, included Lord and Lady Lloyd-Webber; the knights of the realm Michael Caine, Michael Parkinson, Frank Lowe, David Frost, Terence Conran and Philip Green's wife Tina; and the commoners Simon Cowell, Bill Wyman, Chris Rea, Sotheby's chairman Henry Wyndham, Peter Wood of esure, the editor of this newspaper and his predecessor Andrew Neil, Geraldine's family, Amparo, the principal nurse who saw me through my near-fatal illness, my assistants Dinah and Ruby and, representing north London, Hymie Pockle, Abe Schwonz and Moishe Pippick. They were distraught the food wasn't kosher.

It started poorly. A Ritz employee wouldn't let me enter the hotel where I was paying for 74 guests. He thought I should be wearing a tie. Even though Matthew Rivett told me the only dress requirement was no blue denim. Bright red, green or yellow denim was apparently okay.

Ritz chef John Williams is staggeringly good. He provided terrine of foie gras, butter-poached lobster with ginger and lemon balm, saddle of lamb belle epoque (whatever that means) with pommes soufflees -little fried potato balloons. Only John can do those in all of London. The chocolate tart with tonka nougatine and mandarin sorbet was triple historic.

Wines were selected by Serena Sutcliffe, master of wine, head of Sotheby's wine department. I bought at auction Dom Perignon 1986, Corton Charlemagne Henri Boillot (who's he?) 2002 and Chateau Lynch-Bages 1996.

Service was fantastic. From delivery of our first course to the third course took 40 minutes. Allowing for 15 minutes after ordering for the first course to be served, that was three courses in 55 minutes. For 74 people. The Ivy couldn't manage three courses in an hour and a half for two people.

The first speaker, Michael Caine, said it had taken us so long to get engaged, he thought he was being asked to a funeral. I proclaimed, "I'll never have such a distinguished audience again. Unless I'm sent to prison." Michael Parkinson said so many witty things, I can't even list them.

The Ritz is undoubtedly the best hotel in London. It's the only one that retains its original interior space and decor. All the others have been divided and tarted up by nonentities. The great opulence they once had, buried under mediocrity. The Ritz doormen are beyond belief good. The hotel is a preserved, superbly run Edwardian masterpiece which opened in 1906. Go there.

  • Two weeks ago, I wrote about Fausto Allegri, the muse of the marvellous hotel Splendido in Portofino, where all the staff are excellent. Fausto greets people like this: "Eh, Carlo, comay va, Carlo?" After some pleasantries, as if they were best of friends, Carlo moved on. "Great-a-guy, Carlo," Fausto said reflectively, "butta I don'ta like heem. I don'ta wanta 'eem at my table." This was everyone's fate.

    "I hate to think what you say about me, Fausto," I said. Silence. Fausto wouldn't commit himself. Great guy, Fausto. I like him. I want him at my table.

    Michael's letters

    I was worried by last week's picture of the four of you in front of a helicopter. Three of you had only one hand in view; one had no hands showing at all. I hope you weren't all standing too close to the blades - you talking about yourself - when the helicopter started up.
    Nadia Joseph, Manchester

    Andrew Davis, an apparent billionaire, whose PA owns a whacking slice of Somerset, slums it with a poor boy from Holland Park with a derisory £29m in the bank. Michael is in serious danger of becoming embarrassingly aspirational.
    Ian Lineker, Worcestershire

    Thousands are losing their homes and finding it difficult to feed their families while you glory in Mr Davis's £350k Rolls-Royce and fly in his luxurious helicopter promoting his enormous empire. It's quite sickening to readers having a difficult time with saving, pensions, mortgages etc. Why not use your position to help those less fortunate?
    Jeanette Jones, Surrey

    I was surprised to read Michael found it acceptable that his pud arrived 54 minutes after his first food order at the Wolseley. I think any pud not there within 49 minutes is far too late.
    Syd Bretts, Edgware

    No gherkin with your hamburger at the Ivy? That's it. I did hope to visit there one day, but no longer.
    Barry Ingham, Liverpool

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