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Scaling new heights at my latest No1 hit

Published 2 September 2007
News Review
737th article

Michael and Jools sit in front of Daisy, chef Derek Quelch and Stuart Geddes (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

In Travel and Leisure magazine they recently listed the 10 best hotels in Europe. Number one was Inverlochy Castle, near Fort William. Been there, got the T shirt. It's good but I wouldn't rate it best in Europe.

Then it goes through various foreign hotels until, at number six, we have the only London hotel - the Goring near Victoria station. What happened to the Connaught, the Berkeley, Claridge's, I wondered? Obviously the list was rubbish. I'll go to the Goring and murder it, I thought. You might call that unfair - so what? Fair is boring.

I had a slight tremor of doubt as we arrived. It's in a lovely backwater street and looked immaculately preserved. It's an Edwardian place with the inevitable flags flying and window boxes of flowers.

The restaurant manager, Stuart Geddes, came out to greet me and led me through a marble tiled hall, turning left to the restaurant. An extremely elegant Georgian-style room, very discreet, very old-money, lots of windows.

Only one thing seriously tarnished the ambience. There were four ghastly beyond belief, modern, cheap-looking, horrific chandeliers which looked like they were leftover Christmas decorations from a bad day at B&Q.

They were totally out of keeping with the lovely plaster work, the subtle furnishings and the overall excellence of what would have been, minus these electric, spindly lights, one of the best dining rooms in London. I was told the room had been redecorated by Lord Linley a couple of years ago and these atrocities were his doing.

The hotel owner, Jeremy Goring, should get a stepladder and pull them down immediately. Be brave, Jeremy. Admit an error of judgment and put it right.

The only other minus in what is undoubtedly a superb hotel with fantastic food, immaculate service and a unique old-world atmosphere, was that they served Blenheim water. Why not Evian or Malvern, which have some class and taste to them?

Enough moaning, let's deal with the positives. That great musician Jools Holland was at the next table with his lovely daughter Daisy.

"I come here regularly because the food is like my gran used to make," observed Jools. I know what he meant. This is English food at its best. Served in an atmosphere that Claridge's used to have in the days before it became Gordon Ramsified.

You could tell all the staff were, in the very best sense of the word, of the old school. As indeed were the clientele.

Stuart Geddes had worked under Simon Girling at the Ritz. The chef, Derek Quelch, whom I cannot praise highly enough, had been number two to John Williams who moved from Claridge's to the Ritz. Both Girling and Williams are great role models.

Among the many foods I'm not an expert on, which in fact is every food on the planet, the one I know least about - ie, a million below zero - is jellied eels. But they were my starter, with a lovely sauce. I thought they tasted very good.

Geraldine had smoked salmon followed by gateau of spinach and wild mushrooms with roast garlic and baby vegetables. Both courses were exemplary.

My superb Castle of Mey roast beef was served from an old, slightly chipped trolley. It was as good as I've ever eaten. The gravy was delicious. The Yorkshire pudding a tiny bit tough, but still in the "good" category, the roast potatoes excellent. I had a little copper pot of mangetout and another of peas and onions. Both perfection.

The pudding menu looked beyond belief tempting. I tried a knickerbocker glory, a baked custard tart and a lavender pannacotta. They all looked like a coffee table cookery book illustration. They tasted just as they should.

There must be something more wrong with this place, it's just so great. Ah yes, Jools said when Lord Linley re-did it they got rid of the pianist. That disappointed him. Didn't bother me.

I was absolutely wrong in my original bias. The Goring is very special indeed. Never mind being number six on the European hotel list, I'd put it number one.

  • Now for something different. I wrote recently how much I hated the Albagold ice cream at the Bombay Brasserie. Kim Jackson, who supplies it, wrote to me that (a) I'd never eaten it and (b) why did I bang on about my "friends" at Marine Ices being so much better?

    Of course I've devoured twit-Jackson's ice cream. It's horrible. And I have no friends at Marine Ices. I've never set eyes on or spoken to anyone there at all. It's pathetic that when an honest view is given, he who is detracted has to invent dishonourable and untrue reasons for my genuinely held opinion.

    Winner's letters

    Last week you mentioned the names of Marlon Brando, Pierce Brosnan, Meryl Streep and Julie Walters. Name-dropping is a shameless practice, as Sir Sean Connery so often tells me.
    Gordon Casely, Aberdeen

    Are there any restaurants in London where you didn't dine with Marlon Brando? With his name making such regular appearances in your column, was his enormous girth your fault?
    Jonathan Klineberg, Cornwall

    Like you we had dinner at the Baglioni hotel (Winner's Dinners, August 19). Two items were unacceptably horrific, the food and the price! The chef should be sent back to Italy to learn how to cook a good meal. The ravioli must have been prepared well in advance, it tasted as if warmed up in a microwave, namely dry and leathery. My vitello Milanese was served as cubes with tired vegetables. It was sent back as the meat was literally raw. My friend's dessert was a bad-tasting and expensive joke! The bill was Pounds 122 plus tip. Ridiculous!
    John Lawrence, London

    How come, Michael, whenever you're reminiscing about long-gone restaurants the owner is always referred to as a "nice man"? I suppose when we hear a restaurateur saying, "Michael Winner was a nice fellow," you'll be dining in another place.
    Jeff Cohen, Surrey