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You just cannot get the service these days

Published 21 December 2008
News Review
805th article

Michael with Teresa Carr and Kelvin Rynhart at Locks Restaurant, Dublin (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

An extraordinary thing happened at Locks Restaurant in Dublin. It offered roast loin of pork with prune and apricot stuffing. That worried me a bit. Pork can be very bland. "Does it have crackling?" I asked Teresa Carr, who co-owns the place with Kelvin Rynhart.

Teresa checked with the chef. She returned and said, "Yes."

I said, "Terrific, I'll have the pork with a lot of extra crackling, please."

"Good choice," responded Teresa.

When my pork arrived, the "crackling" on top resembled thin chips or bits of fried orange peel. It tasted nothing like the real thing. The pork was dreary, not major at all. "This crackling is absolutely pathetic," I dictated onto my tape.

I expressed disappointment. Teresa explained, "It's crisp pork belly." Which is not the same.

Why did Teresa tell me I was getting crackling? After consulting the chef she again assured me there was crackling and that I could have extra crackling. Yet I got none. Teresa should have come from the chef and told me they didn't have crackling. Then I would have changed my order. "This is one of the worst examples of restaurant service ever and by a long way," I dictated.

The chips, made on the premises, weren't much better. Not amazing, as they are at Michael Parkinson's pub, the Royal Oak. After I discovered it, the Royal Oak went on to get the AA award for restaurant of the year. See how influential I am?

At Locks it was lunch destroyed. Never mind the hole in the ozone layer, war in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda - this is serious. The homemade ice cream that followed was extremely moderate. I don't know why people make ice cream when you can get Häagen-Dazs or Marine Ices, which are both sensational. "Why do they?" I asked Geraldine.

"Because you put your own products in, so it's pure and unadulterated," she replied.

"How do you know their products are pure?" I said.

Geraldine, not unnaturally fed up with the whole discussion, pulled a face.

  • I don't expect a thank-you letter from Locks. But when I write nice things at least 80% of hoteliers and restaurateurs drop me a note of gratitude. I appreciate that. Richard Branson sent one. So did Andrew Davis, owner of von Essen hotels. Never anything, though, from Pippa Isbell and her cohorts at Orient-Express. I've raved about their hotels in 66 reviews; 53 of them after Pippa became vice-president in charge of public relations. I even wrote, though I didn't know her, to wish Pippa well when she joined the group. I bet I've given Orient-Express more good reviews than anybody ever wrote about one company in the history of the world. From Pippa, not a note. Not a phone call. Not a Christmas card. Nothing from any other Orient-Express executive or hotel manager either. I named their hotels "best of" in my guidebooks. Still silence from Pippa.

    After years of praising them, at last I got a letter. A rude and insulting one from Maurizio Saccani, managing director of their Italian hotels. He accused me, quite wrongly, of misinforming you and of factual inaccuracy in my report on the hotel Caruso in Ravello.

    More than three months later Pippa asked to meet me. She'd personally seen and approved Saccani's disgraceful letter "Maurizio's a volatile, wired-up Italian. You're a senior representative of a public company. You're meant to advise these people," I pointed out.

    "He had no intention of insulting you," said Pippa defensively.

    "If someone calls you a liar when what you've said is true, they're insulting you," I responded. "He should have checked his facts, not just ranted on."

    "Maurizio thought he was writing to you as a customer," explained Pippa.

    "He wasn't writing to me as a customer," I said. "He wrote only about what I'd written."

    "He never intended to grumble," explained Pippa.

    I thought: what planet is this woman on? "There was not one word in Maurizio's letter that wasn't grumbling about what I'd written," I explained patiently.

    Finally, on page 11 of an 11-page transcript of our meeting, Pippa said, "I'd like to apologise."

    "A bit late," I responded somewhat ungraciously. After the meeting Pippa wrote me a ludicrous letter, still prevaricating about Maurizio. What I only go through.

    I showed my file on this debacle to a senior executive in the hospitality industry. Their judgment: "You'd make a fortune if you turned this into a PR training video showing how not to be a PR."

    I discussed the matter with Moishe Pippick, Abe Schwonz and Hymie Pockle. Moishe stood up and declared in his mid-European accent, "I propose a motion of censure on zis voman Isbell." At that point I closed the meeting. Moishe can go on for ever when roused. It's best to terminate him early.

  • PS: Although Christmas doesn't figure highly in the calendar of Moishe, Abe or Hymie, they all wish you well over the festive season. So do I.

  • PPS: I promise never to mention Maurizio's letter again. Unless he or Pippa annoys me further.

    Michael's missives

    Last week you stood beside your two huge director's chairs. No doubt one for each buttock cheek in your portly days. You'll lose more trunkage if you restrict yourself to hot water, lemon and honey, which you used to preserve your voice. What do you sit on now, apart from your laurels?
    John Lehal, Derby

    I bet this column is written by a Michael Winner clone, the real one being locked up in an institution for enfeebled film directors. Proof came when the "horrific north London woman" swore at you during lunch at the Wolseley. The real Michael Winner would have made mincemeat of the harridan well before the entrée had been served.
    Robert Sandall, London

    We recently found ourselves not where we wanted to be, but alone on the small balcony overlooking the main Wolseley restaurant. You might find it safer there to avoid the dreaded Mrs X. Even better, insist they put her up there.
    Jenni Woolf, Chesterfield

    Before ordering your private jet to Barbados for Christmas, spare a thought for all the children who were hoping to visit you at Lapland, Holland Park. They'll be terribly disappointed.
    Peter Grundy, Newcastle upon Tyne

    At Tristan in Mallorca the sommelier picks your water after you've chosen the wine. How pompous is that? It's also ridiculously expensive. Just up your street.
    Vaughan Williams, Vale of Glamorgan

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