Published 8 June 1997 Style Magazine 205th article
Deauville and the deep blue sea: Michael Winner and Gerard Feuillie at the Hotel Normandy (Vanessa Perry)
I have a golden rule. Never book anywhere unless you are sure it is good. You are lucky, you have me to guide you. I have me, too, but occasionally I let myself down. It was a bank holiday weekend; I wanted to go away, but not too far. Should I try the old favourites - Portofino, Venice, Florence, South of France - or somewhere new? I decided new.
Mumsie, who did in most of our £7m at casinos in Cannes, made occasional sorties to Deauville. I recalled it was a place of class and elegance. I had meant to go before, but no aeroplanes seemed to make the trip. Now I was into private jets. I made a reservation for the best available suite at the Hotel Normandy. It had the highest rating in the Michelin Guide, "luxury in the traditional style" - the same as another hotel in the Lucien Barriere group, the excellent Majestic in Cannes.
I arrived at Deauville airport to be met by the Normandy's chief concierge, an extremely efficient chap named Gerard Feuillie. The self-drive Renault Safrane was at the steps of the plane, and he drove us to the hotel.
The moment I entered, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. It was dreadful. Run-down, tacky, funny guests. I asked the general manager, Marco Zuccolin, to assure me I had a wonderful suite. "It is very beautiful," he Said.
It was diabolical. The sitting room had two hard, just padded, upright wooden chairs and a matching sofa against one wall. In the middle of the room was a central table covered in dust. On the opposite wall, a commode with a marble top, also dusty. The bedroom matched in awfulness, so did the bathroom. There were small windows overlooking an inner courtyard. If I'm at the seaside, I like to see sea.
I called the front desk. An assistant manager showed me a nasty room that overlooked the sea, and another horrid suite that didn't. I returned to tell Vanessa I had failed in room improvement. I looked out of the window at a central courtyard with some people, dressed even worse than me, eating off cheap plastic chairs and tables.
But what was that? Balconies. I phoned downstairs again. The assistant manager had vanished, as had the general manager; each room trip was guided by some staff member further down the totem pole. A young lady showed me a bright room with french windows onto a large terrace with a table, chairs and two sun loungers. Unfortunately, it was on the raised ground floor and looked onto the main road and tennis courts covered with advertising. Somewhere behind them and further buildings was the sea. Next door was another terrace. I decided they should clear that room of beds and turn it into a sitting room. Thus I would have a two-terrace suite - the best I could do before total exhaustion set in.
Gerard the concierge had worked at the Majestic. "This isn't quite the same, is it?" I said, plaintively. He agreed, then walked us to the Brasserie Miocque in an attractive street nearby, introduced us to the owner, Jacques Aviegne, and left us, to enjoy a marvellous dinner.
There is something about a French brasserie at full pelt that is a wonder to behold. The sheer activity, like a co-ordinated ballet, the good cheer. I had first-rate langoustine. Vanessa had a historic onion soup. Then I had nice tagliatelle with butter and Vanessa the same, with salmon added. I ogled the most wonderful bowl of moules served to two French ladies at the next table. Walking back, we passed through the hotel garden with the white plastic growths and I noticed only half the fairy lights on the trees were working.
The suite faced west and had become extremely overheated by the sun. Vanessa laughed. "I can't believe you're here," she said. "It's like a cheap hotel chain." I was too busy looking for air conditioning, which didn't exist, to see the joke.
In the morning, we had the worst breakfast ever. The orange juice that we'd asked for newly squeezed was bizarre. Vanessa tried a croissant and said: "These are very unfresh." I took a bit of chocolate brioche awful - and gave up.
"I cannot stay in this room a moment longer," I announced. "I will throw myself on the mercy of a French farmer, offer to drive his tractor to blockade English lorries - anything to get out."
Gerard had recommended the nearby Fertne St Simeon for lunch. "Very pretty place," he'd said. I looked it up in the Michelin. It had rooms. I phoned them. With one bound, I was free. We checked out and set off for Honfleur. But that is another story.
It would appear there is a lack of understanding of the term "discretionary" when applied to service charges. We recently ate at the Oxo Brasserie in London, where the food was well thought out, the waiters charming and the setting beautiful. However, when we used our "discretion" to add 10% service (we never give more), rather than the recommended 12.5%, we were subjected to a Spanish Inquisition-type investigation by the head waiter and the manager. Their thrust seemed to be that we had short-changed the establishment. Perhaps Michael Winner could clarify the meaning of "discretionary"?
Julia Stewart-Scholes, Egham, Surrey
A few weeks ago, Michael Winner claimed he had been served his worst-ever milk shake at the Cafe de la Plage, Juan-les-Pins (Style, May 18). We recently stopped at the same cafe and found the iced coffee similarly disappointing. It was weak and watery, and topped with enough ice to sink the Titanic, which I had to scoop out before the coffee was diluted to extinction. There was no cream or ice cream as I had anticipated - these had doubtless been reserved for use in the aforementioned milk shake. I have always admired Mr Winner's articles for their lack of reverence, which, until now, I took to be artistic licence. I now know that his words are to be taken seriously.
Jacqueline Gershon, Regusse, France
While on holiday in St Lucia recently, I was amused to see a picture of Michael Winner displayed in one of the local restaurants. It was accompanied by the following notice: "We have banned this man from all our restaurants. If you spot him loitering, let the staff know and you'll become a Winner - of a bottle of house champagne."
Shirley Rose Camberley, Surrey