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Dreadful in many ways - but I still like it

A poor gastronomic experience at the Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire would not put off Michael from staying there again

Published 16 October 2011
News Review
952nd article

Michael with Daniel Galmiche, left, and Andrew McKenzie (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

There's an odd hotel that I greatly like. It's the Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire. I stay there when attending Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sydmonton festival, a memorable weekend of art and culture at his Victorian mansion nearby. As Andrew provides all main meals I've only ever eaten breakfast and tea at the Vineyard. Both good. Recently I sampled its lunch. The restaurant has strange wrought iron decorated railings made by a Cumbrian blacksmith.

They're like the Queen Mother's gates in Hyde Park but less fun, with less kitsch and less colour. Tables are well spaced. There's a view of a pool outside the hotel with fire and water. The fountains were on strike but the flames were healthy.

The first thing I ate was a fantastic slice of rosemary and potato bread bought in from the Bread Factory in Hendon. The butter was nicely salted, the combination the best slice of bread and butter I've ever eaten. I ordered my starter: scallop soufflé with wild mushroom sabayon. Then I waited. And waited. After 40 minutes - nothing.

I said to Geraldine, "If this was London I'd have walked out. But in the middle of Berkshire there's nowhere to go."

Geraldine observed, "If it's going to take this long to make a souffle they should tell you." At the Jumeira Carlton Tower hotel in Knightsbridge I was served a made-to-measure dessert souffle in 11 minutes.

Eventually we got a freebie starter: orange jelly on the bottom with carrot spaghetti salad in a little glass. It was a runny yellow liquid - tasted fine but, exhibiting idiocy beyond belief, the staff gave us only a small fork to eat it with.

Geraldine, who is immaculate, dropped some on the table. You couldn't finish it because it needed a spoon. Nobody noticed Geraldine arranging her napkin over the stained tablecloth. In a well-run establishment a waiter would have come and done that properly.

The restaurant manager, Nick Walley, could be seen standing in the background by a grand piano. I waited for him to play, but he didn't. Nor did he walk round checking the room as good restaurant managers should.

My main course was cassoulet morteau sausage, pork belly and ham hock with beans and tomato. Tasted of absolutely nothing. Incredibly bland.

Dessert was described as praline and chocolate cheesecake, caramel, poached pear, chocolate sorbet. If this cheesecake saw a piece of real cheese it would have a seizure. No hint of cheese, just a tiny nouvelle cuisine mush. The pear was anaemic. There was a mass of froth. What's that to do with anything? Geraldine liked her meal but was disappointed with the tasteless foie gras. Breakfast was tepid coffee, soggy, cold toast and kippers that were so tough I took one bite and left them. The French chef, Daniel Galmiche, is a very pleasant person. I'd rather he was deeply unpleasant and came up with a good meal.

I drowned my sorrow by counting the number of nude paintings in my suite. Just outside was a huge oil of a naked woman with a man on the grass holding her leg. Ooh, you are awful but I like you, as Dick Emery pronounced.

If you're not looking for a gastronomic experience the Vineyard is fine. The managing director, Andrew McKenzie, is as good a hospitality person as I've come across. Impeccable. His hotel is strange. I like strange.

People ask me, "Is there anything different about life now you're married?" I respond: "Now I'm married I say, 'Darling, you're absolutely right,' much more than I used to."

Geraldine's son, Fabrice, is a successful actor in Paris. I announced to him, "Fabrice, your mother is mad."

He said, "You married her."

Garry, John Cleese's assistant, sent us some Peggy's Cupcakes. The owner, Rosalind Miller (the company is named after her mother), bakes them in Forest Hill. They won a big prize for best decorated cupcakes.

Rosalind's uncle, Maxwell Vine, was my tailor for years. He did some of my movies, including clothes for Bob Mitchum and Oliver Reed.

Rosalind was a lecturer at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. The college cut her hours so she left, saw a cupcake in New York and was inspired. She couriers them to customers, sells them in markets and via the internet. Rosalind deserves a plug. I was anointed (by myself) the No 1 world expert in cupcakes. I assure you, they're fantastic.

  • From John Fingleton: Hymie decides to give a dinner party. To impress his north London friends he hires a butler.

    He says to his wife, Becky, "How many people should we have?" "Eight guests is enough," replies Becky, "so there'll be 10 of us."

    Becky is out having her hair done when Hymie comes home from work. He sees the table is laid for 12 people.

    "Why did you lay the table for 12?" he asks the butler. "We told you 10 only."

    The butler replies, "It's all right, sir, Mrs Isaacs phoned to say she's bringing the Bagels."

    Michael's missives

    Last week you described a course at Chuflay as "flat pasta with a brown sauce". A leading food critic at the top of his game?
    Nick Peeling, Worcestershire

    More moans and groans from you about the Chuflay restaurant. As the wine harvest, or "la vendange", here in the south of France is over, I'll ask some vendangeurs to pop to Holland Park to gather in your sour grapes. On the other hand, they could be there for years.
    Nick Jones, La Drôme, France

    You've revealed the lovely Geraldine suffers the pain and distress of gluten allergy. I would think after dealing with you such tribulations were a piece of cake - wheat-free of course!
    Heather Tanner, Suffolk

    Being allergic to gluten, I took gluten-free Bisto granules for my Sunday roast at Alec's in Essex, as gravy has flour. I was refused a jug of hot water to add them to - health and safety, apparently. I asked the chef to put them in a jug of hot water. Refused, as the restaurant doesn't allow food which it hasn't prepared to exit the kitchen. I asked the chef for a gluten-free gravy. He said no, as his gravy was made "last Thursday". My daughter's birthday lunch was ruined.
    Barbara Abrams, Essex

    Better that David Cameron quotes Michael Winner - "Calm down, dear" - than Michael Winner quotes David Cameron: "Hello, I'm your new prime minister."
    S Dickson, Edinburgh

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