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Move over, Rat Pack - Winner's in town

Published 20 September 2009
News Review
844th article



Michael Winner and the film crew by the pool of La Reserve de Beaulieu (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Guess how much a medium-sized main course portion of turbot, no vegetables, costs at La Reserve de Beaulieu on the Cote d'Azur. Do I hear £25? £30? Any advance on £30? Not sold to the reader who said £30. The answer is €84, which equals £76.36.

My bill for 21 nights was ... you say: "We don't really care." Good. I'll tell you: £58,123.69. Well worth it. La Réserve is one of the few privately owned and managed hotels. It's like something out of Noel Coward's Private Lives.

At dinner you sit overlooking the bay of Beaulieu and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. No high-rise buildings, just the lights of yachts and the distant harbour. A piano and violin play. By day you lie in front of the sparkling Mediterranean. High cliffs to the left, beautiful old buildings to the right. It is one of the great sights. Slightly marred by one of the few mistakes made by the owner, Jean-Claude Delion: very clumsy, heavy white balustrades that block far too much of the view from your sun lounger. Go back to the old, thin wrought iron that used to be there, please, Monsieur Delion.

They've had turbulence in the kitchen. Top chef Olivier Brulard left. A new chef from Switzerland, with two Michelin stars, started just after I departed. While I was there, cooking was handled by a sous chef, Dimitri Droisneau. It was spectacularly good. Pricy, but who cares? I was particularly impressed by the freebies. Those bits and pieces you get without asking for them. They were a blend of exquisite tastes. A terrine of carrots (of all things) with lobster, langoustines and herbs was sensational, the lemon soufflé remarkable. I could go on but I can't be bothered to describe food.

"Why not? You're a food critic," I hear you say. If you think I'm a food critic it's time for the men in white coats to take you away in a straitjacket.

All the La Réserve staff are superb. Monsieur Delion walks round elegantly checking this and that. I particularly like the chief concierge, Patrick Debuire, and the maître d', Roger Heyd.

If you stay 21 nights, however good everyone is, you're bound to encounter some boo-boos. When the lift wasn't working, why didn't Patrick (who's like acting manager) put a sign on the three upper floors telling customers there was no point in waiting for ever, pressing the button, the lift wasn't coming? Why did the wine waiter, Jean-Louis Valla, a great character, when I asked for white wine, simply bring a bottle and start to open it without showing me the wine list or asking which white wine I wanted? Monsieur Delion has the title of manager, but he's too grand for me to trouble him with these little drops in service. He should appoint a manager. I nominate his outstanding PA, Josée-Anne Klein. She could be very tough when necessary. In the midst of all this glory one employee stands out as terrible. A scar on the beautiful face of La Réserve. Gérard Lucas, the pool man, is the worst hotel worker I've ever come across.

If I had a pound for every guest who's said to me how awful he is, I wouldn't be £6m in debt. Gérard seems permanently angry. Many times, when Geraldine was struggling to move the heavy umbrellas to give us shade, Gérard watched and did nothing. My e-mail pal Barry McKay, whom I finally met at La Réserve, was driven to distraction by Gérard's attitude and incompetence. "Didn't you hear me scream?" asked Barry. I hadn't. But, boy, did I understand why. A gargantuan moment in the history of television occurred at La Réserve. Shooting started on Michael Winner's Dining Stars for ITV1. See our photo. It's an attempted homage to my friend Terry O'Neill's great pic of Sinatra with bodyguards.

My super-stratospheric boss is the innovative Peter Fincham. We report to a beautiful, dynamic, blonde lady, Alison Sharman, head of factual programmes. There's often conflict between what is laughingly known as "the talent" and the executives. Not here, there ain't. One thing is odd, though. My show comes under "reality TV". Me, real? You must be joking. Wikipedia calls itself "the free encyclopedia". Free is too expensive. It's the most pathetic purveyor of non-information ever. It even once (possibly twice) printed my obituary. The inaccuracies in my Wiki biography are gross. Anne Diamond, interviewing me for BBC Radio Berkshire, said, "I see on Wikipedia that you wear a gastric band." Two journalists came to discuss my forthcoming talk at the Henley literary festival on October 3. They said the same thing.

Will someone please tell me where Wikipedia hangs out so I can issue proceedings for libel? To say that someone who's written a much-praised book, Michael Winner's Fat Pig Diet, and not only lost 3Å stone but kept it off for four years, wears a gastric band is highly defamatory. It also stated I lost weight because I was ill. I lost it before getting ill. I demand a retraction, an apology to be published on the website and read out in the High Court and damages for my charity the Police Memorial Trust. That's presuming I can deliver the writ.



Michael's missives

I feel you might lose your superiority complex once you accept the fact that you are perfect.
Harry Gilbert, Darlington

I was delighted to read of your terrible experiences at Cliveden in 1999. At that time we were ordered to drink our pre-dinner drinks quickly as our table was ready. When I ordered tea and coffee the first morning I was told the kitchen was too busy! No one helped bring in our luggage. The concierge watched as we dragged it out on departure.
Alexandra Hughes, Northamptonshire

I admire the stand you take against soul-destroying piped music. There are hordes of us who can't bear it. When we complain we're stared at as though we are mad.
Carol Caplan, London

At lunch in our local Zizzi my six-year-old granddaughter remarked, "Nan, I think they've got it wrong. My drink is warm and the bread is cold." Watch out! Winner's Dinners has a rival.
Penny Fisher, Kent

When you go to talk at Canterbury, if you're hungry avoid the County hotel's Adobe restaurant. The tiniest portions ever! The pea soup came from a cream jug half filled; my rabbit lasagne measured about 1.52in square; the main course, no veggies, just three wafer-thin slices of beef; the panna cotta dessert was minuscule. I'm amazed no one was complaining as we did.
Carol Goodall, Kent

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