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Lock up your grannies, I'm in town

Published 11 July 2010
News Review
886th article

Michael with diners at the Travellers Rest in Llanidloes, Powys (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I didn't intend to be in Llanidloes. I was meant to be on the A487 taking a wobbly way to the toll gate at Penmaenpool for lunch at a pub I'd been recommended. By mistake I went right on the A470. When my error became clear I'd gone from page 63 of the roadmap to page 52. In order to get back I had to turn right at Caersws down the picturesque B4509 Roman road. We ended up in Llanidloes around lunchtime.

The Mount Inn looked pretty. Outside, little flower boxes; inside, ghastly beyond belief. Didn't matter because it was 1.50pm and the chef had closed the kitchen. We cruised Llanidloes's main street. On the left a fish and chip shop that also did Pukka Pies in an olde worlde building; then the Bengal Brasserie. I was in Wales: I wanted local produce.

The Travellers Rest restaurant sign indicated "Open". Geraldine checked, put her thumb up and said, "You'll like this - it's little old ladies, and youngsters serving. Very sweet." As I entered, an attractive blonde girl gave me a kiss. I'd gone into the kitchen, which was next door. She was the chef-owner, Margaret Owen.

"Are you a good cook?" I asked.

"Brilliant," was the reply. "Been doing it for 11 years."

In the restaurant were four lovely old ladies (see photo) and a chubby waitress. It's nice to see overweight waitresses - I assume they enjoy the food they're serving. Wooden chairs, shiny-topped tables.

Onto ours a local server, Sarah Mills, dressed in black, put a Coca-Cola with ice and a slice of lemon. For £6, I got roast beef, yorkshire pudding, carrots, mashed and roast potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and peas. "Unless that's inedible it's bloody good value," I dictated onto my tape. It was inedible. Stringy, thin beef, watery veg, soggy carrots, soft, no-substance broccoli, diabolical yorkshire pud. Geraldine had a baked potato with onion and cheese. She greatly liked it.

Sarah told me she'd made the sherry trifle that day. There was also blackberry and apple pie from a local baker. The pie was okay; the sherry trifle, full of catering cream, not great.

Behind me, three Welsh ladies spoke in lilting voices. They were having tea with toasted tea cakes. I purloined a tea cake. It was absolutely marvellous. In front of me were the four white-haired old dears whom I'd said hello to when I came in. Cheerful, lovely faces, very animated. They all seem so positive, these Welsh ladies.

I paid the bill for the four old ladies. Also for the three people I took the tea cake from. It was like a western movie when a man says, "Drinks are on me," and everyone rushes to the bar. Was it a good meal? No. Did I enjoy myself? Greatly. News flash: the Travellers Rest is now for sale. Probably because when I came in Margaret reckoned it was time to end her life in catering.

  • The redecoration of the Cipriani hotel in Venice, supervised by Maurizio Saccani, vice-president of Orient-Express in Italy, was superb. He's now upgrading two hotels the group recently bought in Sicily - the Grand Timeo and the Villa Sant'Andrea.

    The Cipriani's charming manager, Giampaolo Ottazzi, should tighten up his staff. Five hours after I'd left my suite housekeeping had done zilch to clean up.

    There were other funnies, also. The new Fortuny restaurant manager, Emiliano Milza, messed up our reservation. He's all talk, little action. Why give written and verbal notice that guests require jackets in his dining room when I saw seven men in shirtsleeves? If you say it, mean it. If not, shut up.

    The hotel's lagoon restaurant, Cip's, overlooks St Mark's Square and the church of Santa Maria della Salute. It's fantastic. No jackets required. The chef, Roberto Gatto, produces historic food. The best bellinis. Extraordinary cannelloni with meat sauce. Adamello Bianco, the manager, is marvellously experienced. He should give lessons to his colleague in the main restaurant. Greatest of all is the giant swimming pool set in large gardens. Next to it the Porticciolo restaurant faces the St Giorgio church and the distant Lido island. As at Cip's you dine inches from the water. These are the two best restaurant views I've ever come across.

  • My favourite caterer, Johnny Robertson-Roxburgh of the Admirable Crichton, became a restaurateur for Art Antiques London, an exhibition in a tent by the Albert Memorial. He produced an elegant room and menu. The food was delicate and tasty.

    Johnny was asked to do an encore at other fairs and events, but declined. "Not enough money in it," he told me.

    I was surprised to see no tuna in Geraldine's salad nicoise, interested to see his staff, unequalled at catered events, fumble when not serving a set meal. The waitress declined to use a pad and returned endlessly to check what we'd ordered. Plates of food arriving from the kitchen were held up at the pay desk, where everyone seemed to be voting on which table they should be given to.

    As usual, I'm being over-picky. It was massively the best dining experience I've ever enjoyed at a glorified boot sale.

    Michael's missives

    Why was Marley's ghost featured in last week's photo [shown right]? It's not even Christmas. And where was that old chap usually being wheeled out of the care home by the lovely lady? Has he died at last?
    Ray Norman, Suffolk

    It's good to see that at long last you're dressing for your age.
    Penelope Waiter, Aberdeenshire

    Simply love the massive potential of your role in the Burke & Hare film. I assume you refused the services of a stuntman for the Dover cliffs carriage crash.
    Ian Lineker, Worcestershire

    As a film extra on Burke & Hare, you already look as if rigor mortis has set in. You had better watch out, the well-known body snatchers could be after you. But wait a minute, how could your cadaver advance medical science in any way at all?
    Ashley Fox, Maidenhead

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