Published 16 September 2007 News Review 739th article
Michael with Simon Cowell and Terri Seymour at the Belvedere restaurant (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
It was Ross Stevenson, in my not-humble opinion the worst hotel manager I ever came across, who caused me to meet the famous Simon Cowell.
Simon was not famous in December 2000. He was only known to his family and that because he frequently reminded them who he was.
Ross Stevenson once managed Cliveden so appallingly that I slated it beyond belief. As did another newspaper that went initially to prove me wrong.
Mr Stevenson left Cliveden, I guess under a cloud, but I could be mistaken. He turned up at a second-rate St Lucian hotel pretentiously called the Royal St Lucian.
There Simon was denied entry to the breakfast area because he was wearing a towelling robe. His brother's girlfriend was excluded for daring to wear a highly fashionable, elegant sarong. Such clothes as are worn regularly at Sandy Lane, one of the best hotels in the world.
Not unreasonably the Cowell party walked out of the Royal St Lucian, including Julie, Simon's mum, who is one of the great people on the planet. They turned up at the Jalousie Hilton (now the Jalousie Plantation), which has one of the best and most dramatic beach views ever.
The Cowells and I became friends and when I moved on to the try-out opening of Sandy Lane for Christmas and New Year, the Cowell group went to another Barbados hotel. I asked them to my New Year's Eve dinner for 18 people and was immensely impressed when Simon absolutely insisted on paying half the bill, which I certainly did not intend him to.
Unless you've just arrived from Mars you'll know Simon is now very famous on television and has, deservedly, made millions. He's also acquired an absolutely delightful, ever-smiling, charming girlfriend, Terri Seymour.
We met recently for lunch at the Belvedere restaurant in Holland Park. I've known this place since 1946 when I moved into a house (mansion really, but I'm feeling modest) a few yards away.
At first Holland Park was closed and its slightly bombed Jacobean mansion left to rot. Eventually it opened as a public park where the Belvedere, for decades, served some of the worst food ever put before an unsuspecting public.
It has recently improved beyond belief, having been bought by Jimmy Lahoud, whose name sounds like a Damon Runyon character, but is a very pleasant and extremely professional restaurateur.
He employed a first-rate chef, Billy Reid, has Billy's fiancee Julie Blay as first-rate front of house manager and even took my advice and got in a pianist. Things are looking up. It's still a bit gloomy in winter, the more so because Jimmy refuses to floodlight the area.
As we sat in the elegant main room Simon said to me, "You look very good, have you had botox?" He then asked Geraldine if I'd had botox, adding to me, "You look like you had a face-lift or something. Are you sure they didn't sneak up and do it?"
Then Simon turned to more serious matters, recommending and ordering the kipper pate. Geraldine had foie gras. Terri enjoyed her starter enormously because she didn't have one.
I'd asked for chilli con carne, which wasn't really on the menu that day. Simon, Geraldine and I had that as a main course. It was superb but could have done with some grated cheese and onions. But Billy runs a very big menu (unwieldy in my view) so he was obviously too busy for these extra bits and pieces.
The set weekend lunch, including roast beef, is £28.06 for three courses including the "optional" gratuity. There are 24 items on the set menu and an enormous a la carte.
Then a woman came over to me and said, "I've always respected you and it's an honour to meet you today."
As she went Simon said, "You paid her to do that."
"She obviously had no idea who you were, Simon," I said smugly.
Simon thought for a mini-second before adding, "She's also drunk." She wasn't really, I hasten to add. Just a lady with exquisite taste.
We all enjoyed our lunch. I finished with a warm chocolate muffin with vanilla ice cream and double cream. Not only can you eat well at the Belvedere, it has a car park, which is a great help.
I hate not paying for lunches and dinners. Simon put down one of those unbelievably special credit cards glistening with diamonds and gold.
"Don't take it," I ordered the waiter. "Put this lunch on my account." Simon told him not to. The waiter obeyed Simon. This is clear and depressing evidence that he is more highly regarded than me. In limited circles only, of course.
Does Michael Winner ever consider that the cost of one of his meals out is equal to the state retirement pension of many of his readers? I'm tired of his cavortings. He doesn't live in the normal world.
Jane Hodges, Walsall
You say Evian water is "classy"? Here it isn't. It's bottom of the range cheap stuff along with Badoit, St Yorre and Contrex. I can see Evian from my bedroom window!
Graham Harris, Switzerland
So you admit you're not an expert on food. What you are expert on is name-dropping. The definition of an expert is EX, a has-been. A "spert" is a drip under pressure. So now we all know.
Maurice from Sheringham, Norfolk
I and many others share your dislike of moronic or any piped music. I've calculated the approximate amount of CO2 generated by each restaurant and it amounts to 32g annually. One million restaurants add roughly 23 tons of additional and unnecessary pollution. Keep up the protest.
David Morgan MSc, Buckinghamshire
Like you I was appalled and am still horrified by the chandeliers, totally out of keeping with the rest of the decor and, unlike the food and service at the Goring hotel, quite tasteless and intrusive. Management should "see the light" and replace them.
Robin Ollington London