A nice rose washed down with a glass of Uncle Harry
Published 9 September 2012 News Review 998th article
Geraldine and Michael at the Four Seasons hotel with the manager, Maria Jagla (Julian Whatley)
The early 1970s were the most appalling period for British architecture and design. A site in Hamilton Place, at the bottom of Park Lane, was cleared and a grotesquely ugly hotel created. It was called the Four Seasons Inn on the Park.
It later had a dreadful chef called Jean-Christophe Novelli, pathetic staff and gloomy rooms, in one of which they served tea. An assistant manageress assured me they only ever served loose tea. I pointed to two tea bags littering a pot of hot water.
“Oh,” she said. “That’s very unusual.”
It was recently closed for 2 years for a total interior rebuild and redesign, opening under the name of the Four Seasons hotel at the end of January 2011.
They did a pretty good job. Most of the public rooms are cheerful. The dining room looks out onto a pretty paved garden. There’s still too much dark red or sort-of-dark-brown on the walls — “terracotta”, Geraldine explained. That was gloomy. They didn’t need any additional doom and gloom: I was there.
The still mineral water has the same name as the hotel’s restaurant, Amaranto. It tasted stale, as if it had come from a graveyard and six people had died, their bodily fluids joining the water. I think I tasted a touch of my Uncle Harry in it. He left us 10 years ago.
The food was pretty good, although the restaurant manager never stopped asking about it. “What did you think of your cold soup/main course/bread?” He went on and on.
“I’m doing two reviews,” I said to Geraldine, “one for the public and one for him.”
It was most annoying. All the staff were charming, though, particularly the hotel manager, Maria Jagla.
We started with Geraldine tasting the rosé wine. She knows a lot about wine. She sniffs it, swills it round her mouth. Everyone waits with bated breath for the result. Then she looks severe, and then she smiles and says: “Lovely.”
Mind you, I have seen her declare that wine is corked and back it goes. Sometimes more than one bottle.
We simpletons (me) started with cold lettuce soup with cucumber, ricotta and basil. That was superb. I risked black cod with aubergine parmigiana and red onion chutney. A mere snip at £39, including the service charge. I don’t know why black cod is so expensive. Next time I meet one that’s alive, I’ll ask it.
Geraldine had sea bass carpaccio followed by slow-cooked veal. The big disappointment was the coconut panna cotta with fresh mango purée, black olive caramel and white chocolate granite. Sludgy, sickly-sweet, nauseating.
The Four Seasons is opposite Les Ambassadeurs, now a chic gaming club. When its restaurant was for members only, our most wonderful royal family member (my favourite of the bunch) was seen there wining and dining one of our great musical comedy stars, Pat Kirkwood. It was generally thought — although always denied — that a liaison was rampant between the two. Some say this prevented Pat from receiving a well-deserved royal honour.
I’m ashamed to bring up such tittle-tattle but it was for years the talk of the town. I met Ms Kirkwood. I can assure you our relationship was purely platonic.
I've always avoided cruise ships. They frighten me. But if you’re one of the 2,620 passengers on our finest boat, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, travelling from Southampton to New York on October 14, you will have the added delight of my one-man show. If you’re returning from New York on October 28, I will be there again to haunt you.
I’ll celebrate my 77th birthday on the return journey, so it’s a bottle of champagne for all who sail with me.
Note that I said “a bottle of champagne”. I know that won’t go far spread among 2,620 people but we are in a financial crisis. And, after all, it’s the thought that counts.
The last time I was on a large boat was in 1959 when I got my first movie job making a documentary on HMS Victorious, then our prize aircraft carrier. A petty officer accompanied me. The ship was moored off Malta. I came on deck, where 2,500 sailors were sunbathing. Every one of them looked at me and hissed. That’s a memorable sound, 2,500 men hissing.
I said to my petty officer: “Why are they all hissing?”
He said: “That means they fancy you. And if they don’t have you, I will.”
I thought: “Welcome to show business.”
From Nick Peeling of Worcestershire:
Becky says to Hymie: “Our daughter Rebecca, she has a stalker.”
“That’s terrible,” says Hymie.
“Not that terrible,” Becky responds. “He’s a doctor.”
I was saddened to see the delectable Geraldine reduced to sitting on the streets of London with you standing resolute behind her. With the prescient lottery ticket machine in the background, Hans Holbein could not have created an image of such rich symbolism. I wept buckets at this portrait of financial ruin and hope.
David Keeble, Staffordshire
It was nice to see a photo with a gentleman standing and a lady seated - just as it should be! Then I realised you could not get up from a chair unless it had arms. Welcome to the club.
Don Roberts, Cheshire
For a man who is able to select the best table, it seemed an odd choice for you to be on the pavement outside Akkadia. At least Geraldine had a chair. Were you planning a picnic? Or wouldn’t they let you in?
Tudor Phillips, West Midlands
It looked as if last week’s photograph was taken outside an arcade with a lottery terminal in the doorway. Maybe you’d just popped out to buy a ticket to try to reduce your overdraft.
Philip Weisberger, London
David Lean did, indeed, live behind you, and Ann Todd did live nearby - both at No 1 Ilchester Place, as they were married. Opposite us (Ann Todd was my mother) was the great Ray Harryhausen.
David Malcolm, London