Landing in style to enjoy the height of good taste
Published 6 June 2010 News Review 881st article
Michael, John and Jennifer - with Monte the cat - at Ston Easton Park
My friend John Cleese loves the city of Bath and Jennifer Wade. Possibly in reverse order. I'm very happy about this as John went through emotional and financial hell in the divorce from his grasping ex-wife Alyce.
She was living in a council flat when the relationship started. After a 15-year marriage she ended up with more of his money than he did. A psychiatrist friend of mine who met Alyce recently said, "She's got all that money but she's got nothing." John, on the other hand, has a tall, lovely blonde for whom he bought a maine coon cat, which Jenny named Monte. John wanted to call it Schopenhauer. Face it, in no relationship do people see eye to eye on everything. John says the cat will end up bigger than a dog. Not a St Bernard I hope.
We lunched at Ston Easton Park, a sensational Palladian hotel outside Bath. John came in his little-used 1986 green Bentley - "Only worth £7,000," he observed wryly. I arrived in a rented Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. Costs a bit over £8.5m. That's in case you feel like buying one. In times of austerity it's always cheering to spend money.
While waiting, I had coffee, flapjack and a chocolate biscuit in the library. Exceptionally good. I dictated, "Geraldine burped." Although I'm not sure that was fully relevant.
Ston Easton is marvellously grand. In the main salon is a Nollekens bust of Pitt the Younger, taken from his death mask. I have one. It faces me as I write, resplendent atop a 19th-century Dutch commode, surrounded by 15 teddy bears and a police helmet presented to me by the City of London constabulary.
When I acquired the bust at auction I was grabbed by the curator of Hampstead's stately Kenwood House. He said, "I was meant to buy that. Will you take a profit?" I declined, putting beauty before money. Although beautiful William Pitt is not.
For lunch I started with asparagus, more al dente than I like, sitting on a bed of spinach with a soft-boiled egg. John and I had lemon sole; John asked for hollandaise sauce. He took my tape and dictated, "About the lemon sole, I'd forgotten that it has quite a savoury taste. Right at the end of the taste there's something a tiny little bit bitter, so I asked for a slightly sweet sauce with it which made it perfect." That's more food detail than you've ever read in this column.
I like Jennifer Wade. Marriage could be on the cards. "She brings you down to earth," I told John.
"You think I'm not down to earth?" asked John.
"You're from another planet," I replied. "A planet so distant it isn't even in the known universe." That shut him up for five seconds.
Jennifer does a line in jewellery which is sold at the Carlton Tower hotel in Knightsbridge. She flogs it herself at the Chelsea Harbour Club.
"You should go on QVC," I suggested. "I could sell ashtrays to non-smokers," observed Jenny. I believe her. The perceptive among you may have noticed I was not on QVC recently as I'd told you I would be. Little drama-ette there. I stormed out. They were wrong and most graciously sent flowers to me and my lovely PA Natalie. So I may be back.
To finish lunch I had "apple tarte fine, bramley cream and five spices". That and the home-made petits fours were superb.
I chatted with the talented chef, Matthew Butcher, when I arrived. Then he said, "I must get back to the stove."
I said, "I agree, Matthew, I think you should have gone two minutes ago." As ever, I'm all charm.
Next week: my largely positive views on the newly re-opened hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech.
Now I'll relate bizarre hotel employee behaviour that drives me mad. A short journey you might say. The old chief concierge was the marvellously efficient Abdelkrim Temsamani, now replaced by Taoufiq Aitelhaddad. Not efficient.
I asked the general manager and the operations manager to see I got a private plane from Marrakech, leaving at 10am for Taroudant, a town over the Atlas mountains. They passed this on to Taoufiq. When I got the written flight plan on the day before departure it showed me leaving at 11am. When asked, Taoufiq told me that was the only available slot. Nonsense. No such things as slots for a short local journey. I went berserk. Within 20 minutes the flight was changed to depart 10am as I'd originally requested. I asked why I hadn't been told of the earlier departure before I noticed it on the flight plan.
Taoufiq said, "I came to the pool. You were asleep, so I told Geraldine." Nonsense. Taoufiq came to the pool only once when he handed Geraldine a list of different planes I could take and the prices. I hadn't even booked the flight so how could he have told her it was to leave one hour earlier? This is not great hotel service.
PS: When concierges recommend a restaurant they aren't offering what they think is the best - they usually suggest places that give them a good "commission" on your spend. Once in Venice a Cipriani concierge told a reader a restaurant I'd recommended was closed because they didn't give him commission. Learn.
You looked as posh as the Rolls next to you last week. Have you changed charity shops?
Steve West, Cardiff
You're so right - La Petite Maison is ghastly. In addition to serving horrid food at inflated prices with haughty service, it makes a virtue of serving dishes as soon as they're "ready". Surely the kitchen could co-ordinate delivery of dishes in a proper order and together?
David Forcey, London
Have you mixed up the two La Petite Maison restaurants? The Nice original has a record of behaviour you ascribe to the Mayfair version, which I found to be welcoming and to serve excellent food.
Drew Borrett, Sneem, Ireland
Last week Pétrus's Jean-Philippe said he'd taken Prozac. Is this not a prerequisite for all managers who know you are coming to lunch?
Tony Lindup, Bristol
Your absence from the photo of the waterfront on Sipan island two weeks ago can only be explained by Geraldine's satisfied smile. Clearly she'd acted for all of us and shoved you off the harbour wall.
Christopher Weaver, Powys
I appreciate the way in which The Sunday Times has its crossword on the penultimate page of News Review. It means my enjoyment of it is not dimmed by having to look at photographs of Michael Winner.
GI Lumley, Wrexham
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