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Man the barricades, I'm back in town

Published 4 April 2010
News Review
872nd article



Michael with staff, including James Dugan, far right, at Amberley Castle (Gerladine Lynton-Edwards)

I first went to Chichester in July 1992 to see a play by Melvyn Bragg, now Lord Bragg of Braggsville.

Jenny Seagrove was in it. As I sat in her dressing room prior to the performance there were great yells, crashes and bangs on the wall from next door.

"That's John warming up," explained Jenny. John was John Stride, once predicted to be the next Laurence Olivier. The play was a version of King Lear set in New York. It showed promise.

I said to Melvyn, "You should persevere, work on it, get it right." He ignored me. The opus is dead, if not buried.

I stayed at Amberley Castle in nearby Arundel. I liked it then and I like it now. It's a genuine castle, built in 1103. An American bought it, filled it with armour, spears, jousting poles and various medieval weapons, then came back aged 95 in 2005 and said he regretted selling the place.

The general manager, Oliver Smith, told me and Geraldine he'd been there 10 years.

Geraldine said, "You were 12 when you arrived then?" That cheered him up. He looked about 65 to me.

Jokey-jokey, not really. More like 64.

The fire in the sitting room wouldn't work because the top of the chimney had crumbled. In my house, built in 1870, we pay builders permanently to keep it from collapse.

With my champagne in the castle lounge I had the best canapés ever-a tartlet of home-made rhubarb chutney and a blue cheese welsh rarebit served warm.

The dining room was so posh the plates were designed by Versace. I had a fresh wild mushroom risotto croquette with sauce gribiche-a fried ball with risotto inside. Then maize-fed chicken breast "poached and roasted", onion purée and spinach. For dessert, mango mousse, pink grapefruit and mint sorbet. There were various freebies of equal flashiness. All extremely good. The chef, James Dugan, is a force to be reckoned with. The lunch bill was £98 for two. Worth it.

The hotel has 19 rooms. If you're lucky you'll get one haunted by me. I'll appear in the night screaming, "Calm down, dear, I'm only a ghost."

Outside they have white doves and a white peacock. The wine waiter said, "We bought him a new girlfriend and he chased her away." Geraldine advised, "You should have bought him a boy."

If ever I go to Chichester again-I've been a few times to talk at their film festival-I'd definitely stay at Amberley Castle. It's special.

I'm always disappointed when someone I thought pleasant and sane turns into a twit. Philip Howard is co-owner and chef at The Square, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair. I've praised him many times.

He recently became a partner in KitchenW8, an atrocious place that opened near me. Everything was ghastly -the food, the decor, the ambience, the service-capped by a restaurant manager who behaved like a lobotomised member of the Addams family. My review was not complimentary, although, again, I praised Philip for his culinary skills.

When we sent out a flyer about my TV show to many of the people on my Christmas card list, Philip re-enveloped it, re-stamped it, folded it and sent it back with a hand-written message, "Don't send me any communications from Michael Winner." Petty Philip. Silly Philip. Pathetic Philip.

Why do some chefs think that anyone who criticises them should be put down or banned? Would a theatre or film critic be subjected to such silly tantrums? But then most chefs are insecure neurotics. That's putting it kindly.



  • PS: Fay Maschler, doyenne of food critics, didn't like Kitchen W8 much either. I wonder if Philip sends her mail back.



  • From the ridiculous to the ridiculous. I was recommended the very expensive Auberge du Père Bise on Lake Geneva. Never in my decades of booking into top hotels, and well below top hotels, have I met such incompetence. Madame Bise, who runs it, was too grand to get involved. Confusion, confusion all was confusion. The receptionists seemed to change daily. Other days a recording announced the hotel was closed.

    We were asked to send copies of driving licences, passports, credit cards, toe prints, thumbnails. The final straw was a letter from Marianne in reception "for rent the car the woman tell me it is necessary to call us for make a reservation and see directly with them". She gave the car rental phone number.

    When I called, the lady said she only wanted to be sure I was at the hotel to receive the car. She'd received none of the items we'd faxed to the hotel for her. Why does a hotel dealing with international guests employ a receptionist who can't speak English? Marianne's letter ended, "I make a maximum for you." Maximum inconvenience. I cancelled my reservation. Guess where I went instead. Major (well minor) prize if you can.

    In the meantime, please, make a note to watch this Saturday's Piers Morgan's Life Stories on ITV1. It's me being greatly revealed. We're very funny together. Laugh? You'll think you'll never start.



    Michael's missives

    You write that whenever you stay at the Gstaad Palace hotel you expect to come down in the morning and see the body of a newly murdered guest. I suspect when you're staying there your fellow-guests have the same fantasy.
    Daniel Goldberg, County Durham

    Having seen you on the terrace of the Gstaad Palace, I was surprised to read you're using a protect and perfect beauty cream and claim to look five years younger. Could have fooled me, dear.
    Charles Holcombe, Brighton

    So you already look five years younger and in two more weeks you'll look 26. I calculate in two further weeks you'll be minus 17. So please, rub on loads more cream for a quicker disappearance.
    Nick Jones, Provence, France

    At last a way to repay your £9m debt. Boots will pay more than that if you undertake never again to let it be known you use their anti-ageing products.
    Stuart Ross, Hesdin, France

    Winner doll for a Michael's missive? Okay, but what's the first prize?
    Oliver Chastney, Norwich

    Do Winner dolls come with hat pins? And when pricked do you scream, "Dinah!"?
    John Finegan, Bailieborough, Ireland

    A Winner doll for best letter-writer? As you've said, no good deed goes unpunished.
    Peter Stancomb, Wiltshire

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