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Grand's not enough for me - I prefer a Palace

Our columnist finds that Gstaad's Grand Hotel Park may have had millions spent on improving it, but to no avail

Published 9 January 2011
News Review
912th article

Michael and Geraldine on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Park (Alan Cruer)

Gstaad is lovely, more or less unspoilt. They're building some monstrously large whatever overlooking the pedestrianised main street. How the local canton let it go ahead I'll never understand. Also, zillions of Swiss francs, deutschmarks, yen, French francs, Israeli shekels and boiled sweets were spent upping the look and standard of Gstaad's Grand Hotel Park. A total waste of money.

I went for lunch with Geraldine and Alan Cluer, a witty man who presented Sinatra concerts and produced movies and plays. Then he hopped it to Geneva.

The lobby had what seemed to be four black cow skins on a wooden floor. Easy to trip up on. Otherwise it was bleak, as was the single man at reception who cheerlessly directed us to the first-floor restaurant. Another design abortion. Chairs with stripes, lampshades that looked like the 1950s gone wrong.

I ordered carrot soup and then "fillet of solettes grilled". Alan explained that meant small soles. The waiter returned to check what I'd ordered. I'd asked for it only two minutes earlier.

The staff took forever to give us bread. When I went to peek-a-boo the buffet I saw a large bread selection, far more than I was finally offered. It was all heavy and poor. I took tasteless smoked salmon from the buffet. The mozzarella seemed to have been hanging around.

Only two of us ordered a main course; Geraldine was served mine and I got hers. "How difficult can it be to remember two main courses in an empty restaurant?" I dictated. The solettes were very dry; everything tasted of zilch. I should have got a hotdog from the village stand and brought it with me. I asked Geraldine about her main course fish - she pulled a face and moved her head left to right. Then said it was horrid.

Alan observed, "I don't want to join in the general opprobrium but my salad is chewy. If you wanted to do a murder this would be the perfect place because there'd be no witnesses." He also queried the inequity between the number of waiters and the number of diners. The waiters were all fluffing about doing nothing.

After our abysmal main courses no one cleared the plates. When someone eventually did, no one produced a dessert menu. We just sat there. "I'd like to stay and count the time until they ask us about dessert, but if I do a week will go by," I remarked. So I called over the waiter. "Why do you not give us a dessert menu?" I asked. "And why do you not crumb down the table?" Whereupon the waiter produced a silver scoop and removed crumbs from some, but certainly not all, of the table.

My millefeuille was useless - I left most of it. Alan had apple crumble, then said again, "I don't want to join in the general opprobrium but I wouldn't enthuse about my crumble. When I came in the door and took one look at those polyester-type rugs, I knew the game was up."

Thus we finished one of the worst meals of all time with service to match. While waiting for a taxi downstairs in the horror-lobby we checked out a bar serving better-looking food. "We should have sat here," said Geraldine. "We should have sat in another hotel," I responded.

By contrast the Palace Hotel, Gstaad is exemplary. A huge lounge with log fire and mountain view. The sheer volume of people was cosmic. I saw Roman Polanski handing out his latest DVD, The Ghost, Sir David Barclay and his beautiful wife, and a parade of interesting visitors plus a great gypsy band, led by Youri Farkas. Lightning service everywhere.

I checked out the newly designed restaurant. Shock, horror. Dividing the room was a ridiculous high-backed banquette with two heavy lamps on top.

The superb restaurant manager, Gildo Bocchini, was unhappy. "I can't sell those seats," he complained. "We've told Andrea Scherz [the owner] how awful this is, customers told him, what else can we do?"

"Your saviour has arrived, Gildo," I said. "Leave it to me."

Scherz's wife's decorator had done the deed. We sat down to another historic dinner from the hotel's marvellous chef, Peter Wyss. Scherz came over.

I said, "You must get rid of that monstrosity dividing up the room. The theatre of the restaurant is destroyed. I know it was done by your wife's decorator, so what? Throw it away."

"It's easier to throw away my wife," replied Scherz.

"She's lovely. If there's a choice, keep your wife and lose the banquette. If not drop the wife and the banquette," I said.

"It is on wheels," explained Scherz.

"Wheel it out," I said.

The next day the banquette had gone. Scherz asked, "Did you see the fire blazing when we burnt the banquette? It lit up Gstaad."

I said, "I got more congratulations for getting rid of that than on my bar mitzvah."

What a hotel this is. For New Year's Eve, usually a disaster, they had 730 diners. Beyond belief efficiently dealt with, service impeccable, great food, more caviar than I've ever seen, lovely entertainment, no drunks.

The Park hotel is the worst. The Palace is the best. But be warned: I've already booked for next Christmas-New Year.

Michael's missives

My wife and I look forward to dining with you on January 19. However, it seems hotels close to the Belvedere won't guarantee reserved parking for overnight stays. You have a large house . . . would you consider a bed and breakfast arrangement at a reasonable price? You and Geraldine could share our taxi. This may be a way of solving your debt crisis.
Alan and Carol Horton, Berkshire

Your reader recommended dining in the Savoy Foyer due to light and service. If only. Four of us were refused a pot of coffee at 10.10am and asked to return after 11.30. The reason: busy breakfast service. We saw six people - four of them were staff!
Rob Whittington, Hampshire

Why are you £9m in debt? Having spent your life doing exactly what suits you, you are now too old to change. And I'm just jealous.
Jo Nicol-Simpson, Dorset

Your debts can't be due to your generosity if you're giving only £100 for the prize, so it's some other indulgence that you keep quiet about!
Jenni Woolf, Derbyshire

Jeremy King's story about an American diner reminded me of an Australian tour guide I met who emphasised that Australia was 14 hours ahead of America time-wise. An American asked, "You're 14 hours ahead of us?" "That's right," replied the tour guide. "So why did you not warn us of 9/11 then?" demanded the American.
Ann Lawson, Warwickshire

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk