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Sorry, Geraldine: I'm cuckoo about this Merry Widow

Published 5 February 2012
News Review
967th article

Outside the Grand Chalet, Gstaad, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards with waitresses, restaurant manager Pedro Ferreira and chef Steve Willie (Arnold Crust)

I'm a stick-in-the-mud. Change to me is like the sun to a vampire. When people say (which they do with tedious regularity), "Have you been to any new restaurants?", I say: "Why should I? Whenever I go to new restaurants, I'm disappointed."

I have a small coterie of favourite places, which is quite enough for me. The only exception last year was Downtown, which is terrific. In Gstaad I go to the Sonnenhof, although I didn't on my last visit because it's high up a rutted road and I didn't want to get snow sickness. Other than the hotels Olden and Palace, that's it.

A very distinguished tycoon I greatly admire recommended I try the Grand Chalet. I expected it to be a restaurant but it's a small hotel, not too far up a hill, with 21 rooms and two suites much inhabited by the super-famous. It's an attractive place built in 1989. "A Malaysian gentleman took it over in 2007," explained Pedro Ferreira, the restaurant manager and a director, I assume of the owning company.

Pedro kept two tables for me. A lot of places do that so I can have a choice. They don't do it for you? Too bad.

One table was in the dining room, which has a log fire and is very Swiss. The other was in an atrium with views overlooking mountains and snow. Coming from Holland Park, where snow is rare, I chose the outer area. But not the balcony covered in 2ft of snow, which could have made eating difficult.

Roman Polanski came to the next table, so I assumed I'd made a good choice. Then the tycoon who'd recommended the Grand Chalet, and who lunches there most days, came over and said I'd have been better in the log-fire area, where he sits.

There's a menu of the day offering three courses for 65 Swiss francs. At SFr 1.37 to the pound, which I got, that's £47.44. The waitresses wear Swiss national costume. I think that's what it was; could have been Ruritanian. They looked as if they'd come from a touring version of The Merry Widow. They were all charming and efficient.

"Do you take the order?" I asked one of the lovely ladies.

"That's my job; I do that," she answered.

"Then why hasn't she got a pad?" I thought.

I started with ravioli with white truffles: excellent. That was followed by "sliced veal from Gstaad in a cream sauce with mushrooms and rosti". Totally great. My dessert was a cube of passion fruit and mango with coconut lime sorbet. Throw in the starter freebies of cold pumpkin soup and fried tortellini with vegetables and it was all extremely satisfying.

The chef, Steve Willie, has been there for 18 years. That has nothing to do with anything. But my hobby is passing on useless information. It's your good fortune to receive it.

Here's more. A taxi from Bern airport to the Palace, a one-hour drive, cost £280. I usually rent a modest car, which costs about £4,000 for 12 days. This time I took taxis. Saved at least £3,000. When I first "did" Switzerland in 1945, you got SFr 17.35 to the pound, from that nice Mr Draper of Coutts & Co. (Have to be polite to them; owe them £2m.) This time I got SFr 1.37 to the pound. Could it be the Swiss are doing so well because they're not in the common market or the eurozone?

PS: On the terrace outside Bernie Ecclestone's Olden hotel in Gstaad there's a champagne bar made of ice. We watched staff ironing the ice to make sure it was smooth. Hands up any of you who have ironed ice. As I thought: nobody.

  • I went to Mosimann's in Belgravia for lunch. Anton Mosimann is one of London's great chefs. His front of house is less great. I left at 2.30pm on a Wednesday. Forgot I had a coat and scarf. No one at the desk reminded me I'd worn them when I came in. Three days later, at lunchtime on Saturday, I realised my coat was missing and phoned Mosimann's.

    The lady there said: "Your coat is here; I can see it." When I picked it up, the hanger had a tag with my name on it. So why, when only seven people were lunching on the Wednesday, didn't they phone me then or on the following days and say: "You left your coat here, Mr Winner?" My Saturday lunch at Bar Boulud was superb. Except for the virgin mojito, which was horrid. Geraldine thought their hamburger was the best ever.

  • I know you have sleepless nights about my £8m debt. You'll be relieved to know I repaid £2m to Bank of Scotland on January 12, even though it wasn't due until February 14. Now let's have a whip-round. Send what you can afford. Preferably more.

  • From Geraldine's friend Suzy Kinsburg, who lives in Paris: Becky, Hymie's wife, is giving advice to her niece.

    "Ruthie," she says, "here are five tips for a woman looking to be married. 1: It's important that the man helps you around the house and has a job. 2: It's important the man makes you laugh. 3: It's important to find a man you can count on and who doesn't lie to you. 4: It's important that the man loves you and spoils you. 5: It's important that these four men don't know each other."

    Michael's missives

    The restaurant 34 certainly doesn't deserve the "excellent" designation you gave it. Three of us came away to tell our friends it was overpriced and second rate and to ignore your reviews for all time. In spite of being virtually empty on a weekday lunch, they apologised constantly for serving the wrong drinks and the 45 minutes it took to bring the only course we ordered. The food was mediocre, the prices extortionate. Caring is a genius and owns Harry's Bar, the best restaurant in London. But even geniuses trip up.
    Christopher Mackenzie, London

    You announce that your shirtmaker made that patchwork object you wore outside the Mount Street Deli. What's his day job? Johnny Hok, Hampshire You say your patchwork shirt made from 11 pyjama bottoms is "the most expensive garment ever". Have you considered wearing the remaining 11 pyjama tops as shirts? With your dress sense, no one will tell the difference.
    Anne Dyer, Devon

    I'm worried about a choice of a shirt made of pyjama bottoms, given your perilous financial situation. Under recently published guidelines, when your credit runs out you'll be banned from visiting your local benefits office.
    Ray Dean, Sheffield

    You "returned" to retake the photo and "ate a second superb lunch". This was on the same day, I presume.
    Jack Harris, Leicestershire

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