The Lone Star movie star who's still in the spotlight
Published 1 March 2009 News Review 815th article
Geraldine and Michael with Franco Parisi, left, and Rory Rodger
Barbados restaurants are patchy.
Worst is the Cliff - snooty, arrogant staff, most tables with a lousy view. My New York steak, medium rare, was four slices of burnt meat. Daphne's is no credit to Richard Caring, who owns the real one. The Fishpot is good, Fisher Pond Great House triple historic.
The restaurant I visit most is the Lone Star, owned by Christian Roberts.
In 1967 he starred in To Sir, with Love, opposite Sidney Poitier and Lulu. He was best known as the lead in his own production of the stage musical Return to the Forbidden Planet.
The Lone Star displays old film stills and posters featuring Christian. A few years ago he fell out with his junior partner, Steve Cox. After a five-year battle (the legal system in Barbados is almost as slow as restaurant service) they settled, leaving Christian unencumbered proprietor.
The Lone Star is an attractive room, right on the sea. It's part of a small hotel with four superb suites. I've stayed there.
A drowned man lay dead on the beach when I arrived. I wondered if he'd run up a big bill, didn't pay and was left as a warning to other diners.
I always sit by the sea, facing the long wooden staircase that leads to the reception desk. A reader suggested that's because I'm determined to be seen.
Actually, it's because I like watching people enter restaurants. Their body language is fascinating. Some look nervous in case their booking has been mislaid. The men usually walk in first, often swaggering. Behind them come wives and children. The girls, dressed in short skirts and high heels, stand like forlorn extras while dad waits to find where he's seated.
By the staircase is a long bar where Christian, looking like a faded matinee idol, holds court. I don't mean to be rude, he still looks much better than me. He's not in our photo, as at Christmas Christian visits his children in England, leaving the running of the Lone Star to one of the best restaurant and hotel managers ever, Rory Rodger.
Rory was recently, and rightly, given shares in the owning company and made a director. You hear softly piped Fifties swing music. I don't object to that.
There's always a buzz. I could mention celebrities I've seen and taken there, but you'd moan I was name-dropping.
I hear you say, "What about the food? You're a food critic." If you believe that, you'll believe anything. The food is cheap and cheerful. Except for 125g of Iranian beluga caviar priced £1,000. I often have that for dinner at home. Wholesale it costs less. At Lone Star I downsized to cheeseburger and chips - excellent.
Geraldine greatly liked her chicken caesar salad. My favourite is the chicken tikka masala. They've got shepherd's pie, jerk chicken roulade, rack of US lamb, fresh local half lobster, blackened dolphin. All pretty good.
They make jelly specially for me.
On one visit the chef, Franco Parisi, forgot. Major black mark. He also totally messed up a duck pancake. I'd had this horrendous duck pancake at Sandy Lane, personally brought to my table as if it was a gem by my least favourite non-chef, Grant MacPherson.
I rang Rory and said, "I'm coming for lunch, get your duck pancake ready. I'll compare it with the rubbish I was given at Sandy Lane." You'd think with that clear warning someone would have had the brain to see my duck pancake was good. It equalled the Sandy Lane one. Dry, nasty, stringy bits of duck, leathery pancake. People say, "I bet they're on red alert for you, Michael." Franco Parisi was on deep sleep alert.
In general, though, Lone Star is a delight. The service is efficient, the ambience lively. They accept Amex, unlike in France, where, if a window sticker says, "We welcome American Express", chances are they won't take it.
Rory explained, "We don't like Amex because their commission is higher than other cards and they take longer to pay." I'm not in trade, why should I care?
Reader Barry McKay's e-mails continue apace. Five came last week. He's called me "miserable ... unreasonable . . yesterday's man". Barry even copied me on an e-mail he sent to a friend saying I looked as if I had a permanent smell under my nose. Other times Barry wished me well, sent me kind regards and offered to take me to lunch in his Rolls Phantom to meet very interesting people.
At Sandy Lane he e-mailed the manager (a man he saw every day) from his BlackBerry, complaining that the ghastly Grant MacPherson spent too much time at my table and that I'd upset his family by swearing in front of the children when I called the restaurant manager, Andrew Headley, a "bloody incompetent". Headley and his cohort, Jazz Bovell, were so useless "incompetent" was being kind.
Calm down, Barry, dear. "Bloody" is not normally considered offensive. In 1938 Eliza Doolittle said, "Walk, not bloody likely," in Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
Even in those censorious days, nobody cared. The film with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller was the top-grossing movie of 1939. I guess Bernard Shaw is a no-no for Barry's children. Pity, really..
Quickly, Michael, form an anti-Barry McKay action group. The prospect of you being "exposed" is unbelievably awful. You're bad enough to look at fully clothed.
Nick Jones, Le Crestet, France
In last week's picture you appeared to be standing in 2in of snow in deck shoes. Was Geraldine waiting on a luxury yacht on the Thames ready to sail you away to better climes? Or were you about to pop down to the lake in St James's park to sail your toy boat? Marcia Congleton, Dundee I agree with you about Richoux. I ordered my favourite dish, kedgeree, and got tasteless, lukewarm mush floating in oil. I sent it back. Fifteen minutes later an even worse attempt at this traditional dish appeared. I refused to eat it. There was no apology and no attempt to get the restaurant manager, whom I'd asked to see.
Peter Ringrose, Kent
However much you criticise Grant MacPherson it won't be enough. My friend and I always do a round of Barbados restaurants. We'll never set foot in Sandy Lane while MacPherson is involved. The hotel should sort itself out.
Benjamin Dow, Dorset
I was sorry to see you do a hatchet job on the fabulous Rampsbeck hotel. Did you travel round the lake by "dreary car" or did you just walk across?
Frank Donlon, Buckinghamshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail email@example.com