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Kids on the menu - but I didn't scream

Ickworth is an 18th-century mansion set in 1,800 acres of beautiful parkland where children are free to roam around the dining room

Published 20 March 2011
News Review
922nd article

Michael at Ickworth with David Williams, left, Nick Claxton-Webb and the Upton family (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Sarah Taylor was firm. "Mr D does not wish you to go to his Ickworth hotel," she announced. "I want to go there," I said. "It's reasonably close to where I'm doing my one-man show in Saffron Walden."

"Mr D says it's full of children; you'll hate it."

"Tell him to get an extra 100 kiddies in for me," I suggested.

"Do you really want to go?" asked Sarah, sensing defeat.

"Sarah," I said, "if you look out of your window you'll see three letters each 90ft high with lights flashing on them and the letters are Y-E-S." Thereafter Andrew Davis, the mythical "Mr D" (closely related to Dr No), capitulated.

Ickworth is an 18th-century mansion set in 1,800 acres of beautiful parkland. The hotel is grand but decorated and furnished with the biggest load of tat I've ever seen.

The porchway displayed two dozen pairs of tiny wellington boots. David Williams, the manager, explained, "The children can run around and rampage."

We were ushered to its one elegant room, which had 18th-century Chinese wallpaper. Hidden on it is a dragonfly. David gives half a bottle of champagne to guests who can find it. It's above the door to the lounge. There, that'll cost him a few half-bottles. I had a very good carrot and coriander soup, excellent bread and some fruit.

"We'll serve you lunch tomorrow here in the Chinese room," suggested David.

I responded firmly, "I want to be in the dining room with screaming kids."

The next morning we drove to Lavenham in Suffolk to see the Church of St Peter and St Paul, which was built in the year 1000. There was a sizable shop in the church. No one there. A sign read, "Please put money for shop purchases in cash slot." Say that in London and they'd break open the money box. We purchased a lot of very good chutneys, jams and a few other bits and pieces.

Back at the ranch (Ickworth, actually) we went to the conservatory for lunch. I was quite hungry because breakfast hadn't been a total success. Lumpy croissants; reasonable kippers but served on cold plates; jam so stringy you could hardly get it out of the jar.

David showed us to a table. The restaurant has a special menu headed "Lord Bristol Menu". "Is this what killed him?" I asked. I had tomato and pimento soup, organic salmon fishcake, coriander and lime potato salad, baby cress and lemon oil. Plus chips. The food was surprisingly good. The chef, Nick Claxton-Webb, deserves credit. Geraldine thought her lobster thermidor benedict the best she'd ever had. My fishcakes were exemplary, but why sit them on cold salad? The panettone bread-and-butter pudding was a bit heavy.

The room had been peopled with kids, but by the time we finished lunch there was only one family left. Except for a child in a high chair with muck all over its face. "Let's forget him," I advised.

Instead I grabbed Helen Upton, the woman seated next to us. She had two children: Freya in a pink T-shirt with a cat on it, and Evie in a striped sweater. Stuck 'em in the photo. Left for London.

If I regress to childhood I'll go to Ickworth. For kids, it's great. Adults must grin and bear it with nobility.

  • Back last Tuesday from Los Angeles. The American Cinematheque/British Academy of Film and Television Arts tribute to me and my movies went well. Six movies screened over three nights. I did my one-man show to start things off, then spoke between movies on the other two nights. Superbly organised for the Cinematheque by Grant Moninger and his brother Ed.

    Good to see John Landis in the audience and my cameraman Richard Kline, who got a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers. Also Jay Kanter, who put three of the six films into a "go" position when he was the head of Universal in Britain. Jay, a messenger boy for a big agency, was sent to greet Marlon Brando at the airport and became his best friend and agent.

    I travelled on Virgin. Superb lounge at Heathrow with genuinely good food: bread, rolls made on the premises, variety of smoked salmon - great choice. Even the scrambled eggs were perfect. Virgin personnel were cheerful and professional.

    At Los Angeles airport the airline uses the less amusing Air New Zealand lounge. London airport is horrific; LA, even worse. I remained calm, charming, witty and obliging. Killed two airline employees and three passengers.

    When I went to LA I used to be taken out by Brando, Mitchum, Bronson, Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster. All dead. The only way to have a good dinner is to organise a séance. Still, I ate out a lot. Most of the food was grossly disappointing. I'll tell you about it over the coming weeks, months, years, decades, centuries. Hang around.

  • Hymie has a kosher restaurant. His friend Abe comes in. A Chinese waiter goes over. Abe orders and speaks to the Chinese waiter, who responds in Yiddish. When the waiter goes, Abe says to Hymie, "Unbelievable. Only you could find a Chinese waiter you could teach to speak perfect Yiddish."

    Hymie says, "Not so loud. He thinks it's English."

    Michael's missives

    We look forward to Michael's picture on Sunday so we can gloat: we dress better than a man who hires private jets. It gives us hope that someone so photographically challenged can dominate the back page. Therefore it was with sadness that last week we saw only the lovely Geraldine. I scoured the background for Michael, knowing he must be lurking somewhere, but finally gave up.
    Geoff Smith, Cardiff

    No Juliet on the balcony last week? She obviously saw you first!
    Don Roberts, Cheshire

    "This broad, Juliet", as you called her, was not looking for Romeo. "Wherefore", as every schoolchild knows, means "why", not "where". Your ignorance is unfortunate.
    Nick Pritchard, Southampton

    How can you owe all that money when the photos are taken by your fiancee? Now the secret's out: you are Arnold Crust and I claim the £5 reward.
    David Bradley, West Yorkshire

    At Le Caprice we spent 10 minutes drinking at the maitre d's stand, before getting a table next to the ladies' loo. A 15-minute wait for simple soup starters, then another 25 minutes before being taken pity on by the one trained waiter. Our main courses finally arrived after complaining. They were adequate but not outstanding. The manager was apologetic but only offered free drinks at the bar as compensation. It's back to the Wolseley for me.
    Richard Perret, Sheffield

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