Published 9 June 1996 Style Magazine 153rd article
Resting place: Winner, Charlotte Gilbey and Stephen Spooner (Vanessa Perry)
Vanessa's mum Sheila is an ex-chairwoman of the Chiltern Quilters. This is not an internationally known organisation, but it has its devotees in south Buckinghamshire. One recent Saturday, the Quilters held an exhibition at Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham. Naturally, Vanessa wanted to support the family. I decided to tag along and have lunch outside London for a change. But where? I would "drop in"!
I took out my lovely, old, 1969 blue Mercedes 280SL sports car. It was a sunny day, the roof was down, the world was okay. I cruised into Beaconsfield like the shark in Jaws looking for its next victim. What about the Royal Saracen's Head? No, it's gone by already. The White Hart Hotel? The Hit and Miss in Penn Street? The Romna Tandoori? It was getting near lunchtime and I was in Old Amersham.
There's a nice-looking spot. Gilbey's. Old house, little, flagstoned courtyard in the sun with wrought-iron chairs and tables. I cruised by, then turned at a small roundabout and came back the other way. This was to be it! I parked the car down the road thinking that Old Amersham was rather pretty and walked back to book a table. A gaggle of waitresses were in a room with odd paintings of the south of France, waiting for customers. A nice girl said she'd reserve the table I pointed at outside. It being early, I strolled round some antique shops, bought a Victorian potty (don't ask why) and carried it back to Gilbey's. I had noticed, on my first visit, a chef who fled as I entered. Were they forewarned? A taller waitress served us, Miss Charlotte Gilbey - now get this right, please - the daughter of Bill and Caroline, who, along with Michael and Lynn, own the place. The bread was excellent: no choice, but so what. Vanessa had sweet pepper and tomato soup, good but certainly not hot. I had spinach and dolcelatte tart with a fresh herb salsa. Pleasant, if unremarkable. I liked the nippy green sludge that I assumed was the herb salsa.
At this point I noticed two road signs facing me. One indicated a crematorium, the other a hospital. I concentrated instead on the colourful flower beds in a little square opposite and the old houses all around. Then I clocked a poster for a traditional Russian circus at Chorleywood featuring "Captain Soyuz the Human Cannonball as seen on The Big Breakfast".
Main course for me was grilled cod fillet served on a pancake filled with radicchio leaves, served with a goat's cheese and basil salsa. The basil salsa turned out to be exactly the same green gunge as the herb salsa in my first course. I think diners should be warned. Otherwise, it was pretty good: some of the customers spoke to me and the setting was excellent. I was not unhappy. I also had an uninterrupted view of the A404, which I do not remember having seen before. In answer to a probing question (I am ever vigilant on your behalf), Miss Gilbey said they bought in the chips and only microwaved the side plates of vegetables and some puddings. "The chef recommends a creme brulee and the lemon tart," said Charlotte, so we had them. Both good to excellent. Stephen Spooner, the young chef, was dragged out for a photo. "What did you think?" he asked, nervously. "Fine, a few quibbles," I said. "What quibbles?" "Soup was cold," I muttered. He asked no more.
But did I go to the quilt exhibition! Yes, and it was very interesting. The quilts were absolutely superb, far better than one I bought fur a fortune on Madison Avenue in New York years ago and which was nicked from my house. They were exquisitely designed and extraordinarily well made. Vanessa's mum had a quilted patchwork jacket on show, similar to the expensive ones available at Eze village in the south of France, but nicer. Sadly, nothing seemed to be for sale. But ah! A stall selling sheets, napkins and some amazingly cheap and good silk embroidered table mats. The sheets were of terrific quality, as good as Bond Street and infinitely less pricey. I took the man's name for future examination. He came from Monmouth. Perhaps I should go there and drop in to some unsuspecting restaurant. Difficult, though. I have no idea where Monmouth is.
PS: I have given British Airways a lot of stick about their food. But, at last, a triumph! On a return flight from Venice, they served, before take off, small Mars ice creams. One per person. I had four.
Michael Winner's derisory use of the term "suburban married couple" (Winner's Dinners, May 26) is misplaced. As a film director, he must have been grateful for many suburban married bums on seats in many suburban cinemas.
Lynn Field, Droitwich, Worcester
Mr Winner's article of March 10 regarding the Savoy hotel, London, has prompted me to write about my weekend at the Lygon Arms hotel, Broadway, Worcestershire, part of the Savoy Group and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. My husband and I and some friends went for a champagne break to celebrate my birthday and our 20th anniversary. The hotel itself is very cosy. The champagne was there, but the fruit platter and the bouquet of flowers a disgrace. The torn sheet on the bed is worth a mention, as when we did eventually receive a letter from the hotel, they did not think this was an important problem with their housekeeping. On the first night our food arrived cold and the steaks were tough and inedible. On the second night we ordered lamb and pointed out on ordering that we would like the food to arrive at the table hot but no, and back it went. The deputy manageress arrived at the table and asked if my husband could spare her five minutes in the morning, which he did. We left the matter with her, paid our bill and left. The letter we received from the manager was not what we had expected. He had the impudence to say the food was hot and Scottish beef can never be tough! I am not sure when this establishment received its commendations in so many good food guides, but I, for one, will not be recommending it!
Evy Paul, Little Bollington, Cheshire
I was wondering if Mr Winner, in his gastronomic globetrottings, has ever come across a "Restaurant Gillieru". One of its ashtrays white pottery, in the form of a tortoise with its shell inverted has come my way, and I should like to know its origin. Any help would be appreciated.
Roger Musgrave, London SW19