Loch Lomond looked fantastic but all the tables except those by the window had the view blocked by high banquettes. What genius designed that?
Published 15 May 2011 News Review 930th article
Michael at Cameron House with Alan Grimes, left, and Joe Lavery (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Geraldine sat with me in an immaculate white Range Rover, going from Glasgow airport to Oban. The driver, Shazad Bakhsh, was a 33-year-old multi-millionaire Scotsman of Indian descent. He owns the car company, publishes educational books, is a big-time property developer. He was brought up in a Glasgow council hostel because his father, a gambler, lost the family house when Shazad was 14.
Shakira Caine's original name is Bakhsh. "He must be a relation," she said.
"Hope so," I responded. "You're quids in if he is. Anything happens, Shazad'll take care of you. He already bought his mum a £250,000 Rolls Phantom for Christmas and she can't even drive. She saw one in her neighbour's driveway and wanted to match it."
Shazad reacted well when I told him to send Shakira £6m at once. "Does she take American Express?" he asked.
I knew he was bright when I said I'd left two mobiles and my BlackBerry in London. A few mutters on his mobile phone and Shazad announced, "A friend's buying you a new mobile in Glasgow; it'll be with us at Cameron House as we lunch." It was.
Cameron House is on Loch Lomond.
Looks good and that's about it. A concierge, Alan Grimes, and a hotel porter, Joe Lavery, led us to Steve Strachan, the restaurant manager of their so-called posh restaurant, Martin Wishart. What a fiasco. An airport waiting room was perfection by comparison.
Loch Lomond looked fantastic but all the tables except those by the window had the view blocked by high banquettes. What genius designed that? Best thing is the view - only good thing, actually - and it's hidden from most of the diners.
We waited for ever for a menu; had to ask for bread to get any. Shazad was lunching with us. Driver he may be, but a millionaire gets access.
"You have to live a long time to get through a meal here," I observed.
"We arrived at 12 noon. It's more than an hour later and we haven't got our first course," added Shazad.
Very quietly - that's when I'm most ominous - I gave the restaurant manager my views. The starter of okay shrimps and rubbery snails came shortly thereafter. The main course arrived at 1.40pm. A totally tasteless Buccleuch steak, insipid vegetables. I left nearly all of it. The dessert: pink sorbet, creme brulee and rhubarb was pretty good.
"We've got a very serious situation here," I said to Geraldine. "My credit card is in the car."
"We can always leg it," suggested Shazad.
Card located, we continued on our journey in bright sun, passing spectacular lochs and mountains, to Oban and the trawler I'd booked.
Two days after we left for London, Shazad had a serious speedboat accident on Loch Lomond. He was in hospital.
"Shakira may get her money earlier than she expected. From my insurers," he told me.
"I'll let her know," I assured him. "We can plan a party down south."
If any of you ladies are planning a trip to Glasgow to bag a young, handsome multi-millionaire - forget it. Shazad has a beautiful wife, Sonia, with a baby soon to appear. And I'm spoken for. That's two wonderful human beings beyond your reach.
On our trawler trip up the west coast of Scotland, to avoid seasickness, the chef gave Geraldine and me armbands with a pill embedded in them that had to be three fingers down from the wrist, the pill on your artery. It worked. Even when the captain said, "Don't be nervous but we're going to lash the table to the wall. There are rough waters ahead."
Am I a mariner? Answers on a postcard, please.
PS As we disembarked at Oban, the Majestic Line arranged for a bagpiper, Angus MacPhail, to greet us. Angus gave me a CD called The Wedding Dance, played by Skipinnish, his local ceilidh band, based in Fort William. "I'll chuck that," I thought.
Instead, I played it. Fantastic. Magical. True. Unaffected. Simple. Angus is the accordionist on the CD. They all play beautifully. I have it on as background music in the office.
My friend Ken Loach, one of our truly great film directors, was in Glasgow. I rate his film Kes one of the 10 best movies ever. He rang to tell me about a local restaurant called Rumbling Tum.
"What sort of food, Ken?" I asked.
"They do bridie [that's a Scottish pastie] and chips; they also do lasagne and chips."
"What else?" I asked.
"Anything with chips," explained Ken. "Have you eaten there?" I asked.
"No," said Ken. "We're using it as a location." Then Shazad told me it was in a newspaper as providing the best fry-up in Scotland. My type of place.
Here's a joke from Brian Price of Chester: Hymie is driving his new BMW convertible down a country lane. As he approaches a bend in the road, a car comes round the corner in front of him and the lady driver shouts out: "Pig!" Which, for a good Jewish boy, is probably the lowest insult.
Quick as a flash Hymie responded with the worst thing he could and screamed, "Woman driver!" Then he turned the bend in the road and hit the pig.
Easily the worst restaurant in Los Angeles is Gordon Ramsay's Boxwood Cafe in the London hotel. Tables so close you almost wear your neighbour's food. Incomprehensible utterings from well-meaning staff, who couldn't even boil an egg - 100% failure rate in three attempts. The eggs were either cold and solid or raw.
Ed Atkinson, Abu Dhabi
You dined in Los Angeles at the Ivy, Cecconi's, the Grill on the Alley, Bouchon, e.baldi and Shutters on the Beach. You didn't mention the second day's restaurants. Perhaps you were a trifle unwell by then.
Tim Burton, Wokingham
An email from Dedham Hall in Ludlow confirming my luncheon reservation included the condition that we were "not allowed to talk about Michael Winner".
Steve West, Cardiff
In Swansea's Grape & Olive, our starter was lukewarm, tough squid. My chicken and pancetta tagliatelle was cooked to death. My friend's pork cutlets were dried out and fairly tasteless, with cold vegetables. We didn't risk pudding, instead venturing to the wonderful Verdi's in the Mumbles, Swansea, for home-made ice cream and proper-quality desserts.
Siobhan Ferguson, Swansea
At Hide in Durham, the music was so loud you couldn't converse. The noisy pub downstairs competed with the Hide music. Diners all had to bellow. Why do places do this?
Bob Hudson, Co Durham
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