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Not everything in the garden is rosy

Published 9 August 2009
News Review
838th article

Michael and Geraldine in the garden of their suite at La Residencia in Deia, Mallorca (Toni Bujosa)

There's nobody more interesting, more accomplished or nicer than Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife, Madeleine. His lordship's talents are renowned. Just as formidable are the abilities of the lovely Madeleine. She's a marvellous influence on the mercurial Andrew. A wit, a great hostess.

Nevertheless, I politely declined to stay in their villa in Deia, Mallorca. I'm not cut out to stay with people in houses, boats, tents, caravans or any other accommodation. I opted for the hotel La Residencia. Lovely days there with Geraldine. Evenings we dined with Andrew, Madeleine and their delightful family and guests.

Deia is a magically unspoilt medieval village on a hill. The area is not in any way overdeveloped. Except for a strange addition to La Residencia to which locals strongly object.

The hotel is good. The management wobbly. An unset jelly is rock solid by comparison. One evening I was to visit Andrew for dinner. John Rogers, general manager of La Residencia, arranged a hotel car and driver. They had all day to check the route. The journey was less than two miles.

For the first time in 106 years, I was put with a driver (a hotel bellboy) who had no idea how to get to the destination. When I think of the trouble other hotel managers take to see any trip I embark on is properly serviced, this was just ridiculous.

We drove into the hills. Bellboy got lost. Eventually he found the right road and stopped at Andrew's guest house.

"We want the real house, higher up," I said. Bellboy, who spoke no English, looked baffled. "Sod this," I thought and got out. I knew there were stone steps leading from the guest house up to the main house. I started to climb. Soon Andrew's son Billy came charging down. Madeleine had seen the car on the wrong road, realised it was a cock-up and acted.

"Can't I carry on walking?" I asked Billy.

"I'm out of breath and I'm only coming down the hill," said Billy.

I returned to the main gate where Andrew had a buggy. Bellboy followed him up to the real house.

"Would you come back at 10.15 and wait?" we said. That's not a difficult instruction, is it? I've given it thousands of times. Everyone's followed it. Not bellboy. It was beyond him.

Andrew played us a CD of the main aria from his Phantom II musical, Love Never Dies. It was beautiful.

A few moments later, at 10.30pm, bellboy loomed on the terrace. He hadn't been asked to the party. Not even to after-dinner drinks. Madeleine went over.

"It's your driver; I told him you'll be going in five minutes," she said. Bellboy either appeared because he came at 10.15 as asked and felt he was too important to wait. Or he came late at 10.30 and thought he'd tell us he was there. Either way, incompetent.

Then there was the water drama. La Residencia, in its posh El Olivo restaurant and everywhere else, offered the only still water worse than Hildon. The Spanish Solan de Cabras.

"Is this all you have?" I asked the waiters.

All said, "We have nothing else."

A few days later, while eating ghastly food on the snack terrace, I asked the food and beverage manager, Toni Bujosa, "Do you really only have Solan water?"

"No, we have a water menu," he replied.

I said to John Rogers, "If you have a water menu, why don't you show it to guests? Is it in a safe marked 'Secret: only to be opened on the outbreak of world war three'?"

His answer was bizarre. "It's quite new," he said.

On the water menu all the bottles cost around £14. The first was Fine, from Japan. Dreadful beyond belief. The next, Antipodes, "from the Rotoma Hills, which has a historically low human population density". I'm not surprised. They probably drank the water and fled. Then came Elsenham, British, not terrible, not good.

In the meantime, Toni, on my recommendation, got in Evian. So I never got to try Lauquen, "created by nature in the endless heart of New Patagonia".

On bottom of all that, the garden of our superb suite had four sun loungers. One was clearly broken on arrival. A wheel dropped off a second the next day. Once, we got no bath mats. It's the first time I've ever had to lay towels on the bathroom floor.

In the bedroom a TV came out of a unit at the base of the bed. Whether guests wanted it up or not, at night it was raised with Orient-Express ads showing.

We pressed the switch by the bed to lower the TV. Nothing happened. At 11pm (boring, boring) we called down. Two maintenance men arrived. One bashed the TV on one side. His mate bashed the other side. Then the switch worked.

The piped music in El Olivo (Andrew hates piped music even more than me) was so funereal and gloomy you'd come into dinner cheerful and go straight up afterwards and take the cyanide pill.

It's a nice place in spite of everything. Most sloppy management ever. He's an extremely pleasant man, John Rogers. Soft-spoken, very laid-back.

I don't care if my hotel manager is in the Nazi Youth, the Ku Klux Klan and the Stasi. I worship efficiency. I want a tightly run ship. If La Residencia were a ship, it would have sunk.

Michael's missives

What a great photo last week. Handsome, intelligent, cheerful, professional, sophisticated, well-groomed and immaculately dressed. Alan Cook is obviously well placed to tend the Rivoli bar at the Ritz. But how did the strange little elderly guy manage to get into the picture? Scary.
David Lowe, Sunderland

You should wear a tie more often. It draws the eye away from the wrinkly vegetable perched above it.
Steve West, Cardiff

Why is everyone so rude? I think you're absolutely gorgeous.
Melanie Dixon, north Wales

At least we agree on one of your claims. Dick Mack's pub in beautiful Dingle is without doubt the greatest bar ever.
John Kirwan, Dublin

That pub in Dingle sounds like the one that informed an American tourist, "The only kind of Dubonnet we serve here, Madam, is Guinness."
Kristine Byrne, Wicklow, Ireland

Why do you keep recommending Buca di Sant'Antonio in Lucca? We found the food inedible.
M A Robinson, Hereford

Thank you for recommending Buca di Sant'Antonio. We enjoyed it immensely.
Raymond and Angela Couch Lincolnshire

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