You've got a tough act to follow, chaps, and it shows
Published 21 June 2009 News Review 831st article
Luke Matthews, left, Michael and Andrew Stembridge at Chewton Glen (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
The problem with Chewton Glen, a deservedly famous hotel in Hampshire, can be summed up in two words: Peter Crome. He haunts the place. Peter was in charge for nine years. When he left six years ago I stopped going. He was the best hotel manager ever. Amazingly efficient, great charm and sense of humour, unique. Irreplaceable. Now replaced. So are the old owners, a lovely couple called Brigitte and Martin Skan.
New proprietor is Ian Livingstone who has a brother, both real estate developers. If they'd been there I'd have said, "Dr Livingstone, I presume. Dr Livingstone, I presume." Tedious for them, but would have amused me.
Andrew Stembridge, Crome's successor, is very pleasant. In my elegant suite he'd put water and ice, but no lemon slices. They were waiting on the dinner table. Why not also in the suite? At breakfast we got coffee, but no sugar.
The restaurant had a Michelin star under Crome. That's gone. It's not as good as it was. Chef is Luke Matthews. The bread was horrific, cold, clammy, tough; the menu unexciting. I missed the historic double-baked emmenthal souffle. Nothing on offer said to me, "Ooops."
The set dinner, including coffee, petit fours and service, was £65. That's £5.88 less than the ludicrous Devonshire Arms in Yorkshire. Chewton Glen's food is far better. The freebie pea and mint soup was brilliant, my lobster cocktail clumsy with strange mayonnaise. I left most of it.
The back of the menu listed extra courses. Nobody directed us to them, or to desserts that took 20 minutes. Normally they're pointed out early on. I asked for more lemon. Never got it. Geraldine thought her crab starter was great. "Not in my book," I said having tasted it.
"It's too refined for you," was her response.
"The crab seemed old," I continued. "Hope it got a birthday card from the Queen before it died."
My main course fish was a bit overcooked. Not terrible, but far from great. The panettone bread and butter pudding, crème anglais and sultana pûrée was too moist. English bread and butter pud is better.
On the way out we passed a lonely grand piano. "You had a pianist before," I observed to Andrew.
"He got past his best," was the reply. "Why not get another one? It's better than piped music," I advised.
Chewton Glen's still nice. The set tea was absolutely superb. The hotel's been tarted up. Adequately, except for the nauseating deep purple dining room. It used to be cheerful yellow.
The breakfast waiter greeted me with, "Good morning, Mr Winter." This doesn't indicate a tight ship. To Andrew's credit, he removed Peter's "no jeans" rule. Bit late for me as I now wear pyjamas.
In the morning I went to the Bournemouth International Centre to receive a major award from the Police Federation at its annual conference. Andrew said, "Allow 20 minutes." It took one hour 10 minutes. Sorry to say it, Andrew: Peter would have checked meticulously and given me an accurate timing.
Pathetic: Willie Wonka, aka Wee Willie Walsh, non-esteemed boss of British Airways, announces a loss of £401m in one year and says he'll take no salary for July. He says BA staff should lose a month's pay, too. If Willie took nil for the whole year he'd still be overpaid.
In a similar period Virgin Airways profits were £68.4m, double the previous year. Ryanair predicts profits of £260m this year. Its chief executive, Michael O'Leary, pronounced the business-class strategy of British Airways is dead. In the meantime Silly-Willie Walsh announces greatest profits are from first-class passengers but he's having no first class in new planes on order.
Doesn't worry me. I switched to Virgin years ago. Any company that produces waffles in their lounge as good as Virgin's deserves total support.
Ever since I was bedazzled by the Cinerama three-screen scenery in Song of Norway (1970) starring Harry Secombe I've been determined to visit the fjords and eat herring followed by reindeer fillets with lingonberries.
Two Norwegian companies offered a boat (crew of six) for Geraldine and I to go fjording for seven days, staying overnight at picturesque village hotels. The cheapest quote, excluding private jet to and fro, was £110,000. It would have ended up a minimum of £150,000 for a week. To add insult to insult they wanted me to pay in advance. I don't do that.
We're now calling hotels on the fjords, saying, "Can you get a boat for Mr Winner to go from your fjord to the one next door?" That way we'll see four or five fjords. Maybe helicopter to a couple more. Assuming I pull it off, you'll be the second to know.
Tom tells his friend Alan, "I think I'm going to divorce my wife. She hasn't spoken to me in over two months."
Alan considers, and says: "You'd better think it over, Tom. Women like that are hard to find."
You praised the motorboats and gondolas of Venice. Do you use them? Surely you just walk down the centre of canals.
Anton Shellim, Hertfordshire
At Cip's in Venice you were dressed as a bursting brown sausage with a dollop of white mash on top. Is that how you really look?
Marianne Bartram, Torquay
Have you noticed, since the credit crunch some top restaurants are cutting down portions with prices the same or slightly increased?
Gemma Levine, Mayfair, London
Restaurants remove one scallop from a dish and cut the rest in half to take up the space. They cut the fillet steak thinner and make it appear the same size by placing less expensive items below it. There are many other tricks to increase profit margins.
Ken Bird, Gloucestershire
I support you and Michael Caine about the Mall traffic lights entering Trafalgar Square. Boris Johnson has made matters worse with a barrier under Admiralty Arch to reserve half the carriageway for cyclists.
Ron Pearce, Surrey
I recently sent back "freshly squeezed orange juice". It tasted like orange squash. The staff then showed me the plastic bottle it had arrived in!
Debbie Goodman, Birmingham
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org