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The right hotel at the wrong time of year

Published 7 February 2010
News Review
864th article



Michael relaxes as Jonathan Wright, left, and Hans Meier watch over him

Before I went to Miami Beach, Dermot Desmond, superboss of Sandy Lane, cautioned me to take winter woollies because temperatures there would be six degrees below those in Barbados. If only. Our first week was hot and sunny. The second was the coldest in Miami Beach since 1940. Freezing.

We passed an empty shop with a sign: "Everything you want for the beach."

Geraldine said, "Fur coats, ski muffs, thermal underwear." There was a howling, freezing wind. The place was arctic.

The Setai, where we stayed, is a beautifully run hotel in the exclusive South Beach neighbourhood. The manager, Hans Meier, was the best I've come across. Hans is Swiss. But charming. Walked the hotel non-stop greeting everyone. Was always at the desk when I came down, immensely solicitous.

The executive chef, Jonathan Wright, is English. He'd been eight years with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. The food was incredible. The Sunday buffet had about 15 "stations", offering food from diverse areas - Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, American, British. You name it, they had it.

There were three swimming pools, each at a different temperature, then a walkway, a strip of palm trees and bushes, and a wide beach facing the Atlantic ocean. The sand was rather gritty. The enormous sun loungers, the most comfortable ever.

A fantastic lime piña colada was on offer. The service and staff were perfect. Lot of hands together in praying position, little bow and smiling. As it's run by the Aman group they were from Thailand, the Philippines, the Pacific islands.

I ate everything from sea bass to dim sum to lobster to hot dogs to tarte tatin with calvados and crème fraîche. All historic or brilliant.

We had an apartment in the Setai Residences - wrap-around terrace overlooking beach, sea and town; large living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms. Sweeping views, superb.

Richard Caring, restaurateur supreme, warned me the hotel was dark. It was. A guest went into the cloakroom to check her make-up and couldn't see herself in the mirror. The place was full of oriental-type jars on pedestals lit with mild spotlights. Its website advises, "Be embraced by the serenity." Serenity is not blaring beat music blasted out over the swimming pools. That's tacky.

We opted for the beach. Except for the second week, when no one was on the beach or poolside. They were huddling together for warmth. Still, vastly enjoyable. Lovely to be with Michael and Shakira Caine and family. Would I go back? Not at Christmas/New Year, that's for sure. Weather too dodgy.



  • Alison Sharman, ITV's head of factual and daytime programmes, spent New Year's Eve on a plane flying Miami to London. On December 31 she came to the Setai for lunch with her two delightful daughters and a husband. Alison is a great worker. All through her holiday and at any time of day, night or weekend she answers emails like lightning. Very rare. She also looks good, keeps in shape, has charm, will travel.

    I immensely admire the higher echelon people at ITV. So much so, I went bonkers last week and bought some shares. They're well on the rise. Should have bought them for a third as much when Michael Grade was chairman. His replacement, Archie Norman, is greatly admired by ITV staff. He's on the ball, getting right in and working away. He made a great success of Asda.

    I told him, when asked, TV is not that different. If you've got a product people buy (or see) en masse, you're ahead of the game. In my few talks with Archie, his choice of words, his attitude, his display of knowledge and desire to learn, were massively impressive. Adam Crozier, whom I've also dealt with, is an inspired choice for chief executive.

    Grade was a classic example of failing upwards. I asked a billionaire businessman friend what talent Grade had. He thought for a while and said, "He's got a good sense of humour."

    "Is that enough for the chairman of a public company?" I asked. No reply came forth.

    Grade was attacked by Lady Delfont, wife of his uncle Sir Bernard, when he took over Bernie's First Leisure group and saw it disappear a few years later. He turns up with red braces, a grin and a cigar and these deluded TV people line the hallway and clap his entry. It's the emperor's new clothes. Later, behind his back, the same people applaud his departure.

    Let's do important matters: me. Don't forget, folks, Michael Winner's Dining Stars is only 19 days from its peak-time unveiling at 9pm on ITV1, February 26. Excitement is reaching fever pitch. Well, it's a millimetre above lethargy. My life is in your hands. Watch and I'll thrive; ignore it and in come the bailiffs.



  • Joke from the Ritz doorman Michael O'Dowdall. Man goes to the doctor, says, "I think I'm a moth."

    Doctor advises, "You should see a psychiatrist."

    Man says, "I was going to but your light was on."



    Michael's missives

    As you seemed to be leaning heavily on the Rolls in last week's photo, I assume you'd just been evicted from Tesco for wearing pyjama bottoms and slippers.
    Ashley Fox, Maidenhead

    Re last week's photo: times must be hard if you can't afford a pair of socks. Has the taxman taken them all?
    Martin Langley, Surrey

    Here are some explanations for the shortcomings in your attire while slouching on the bonnet of the Roller at Stanneylands. Early hours, fire alarm-induced panic; dressing without the aid of decent lighting; or an untimely photo call while you were preparing for the hotel's celebrity pyjama party.
    James Broughton, Kent

    I asked a friend who works for a five-star establishment what he'd do if you walked in. He said, "Pretend to faint, hope to be dragged away and have somebody else deal with him."
    Marianne Bartram, Torquay

    Gordon Ramsay should use his restaurant Foxtrot Oscar in his TV series Kitchen Nightmares. Our first course order produced a completely wrong food delivery. Ditto regarding the main course. The manager said dessert would be on the house because of their errors. That order was also messed up. They said Gordon himself had dropped in the day before. Luckily he didn't order food.
    Jane Alagappa, London

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