Published 8 November 1998 Style Magazine 278th article
Check mates: Alyce Faye and John Cleese with Vanessa Perry and Michael Winner at The Beim Schlenkerla in Nuremberg (Harald Zippel)
My friend Mr J Cleese, Weston-super-Mare's favourite plenipotentiary, decided to take to the water with his lady wife, Alyce Faye, the Texas belle. The water was the River Rhine. I'm not crazy about boats, even though my greatest ever trip was on a Rhine steamer going up the River Irrawaddy in Burma, thanks to James Sherwood, head of the Orient-Express group, who named the experience the Road to Mandalay. Mr Cleese's trip could have been called The Road to Nuremberg, although it doesn't have the same ring. I decided to call Marwan and grab the Learjet to join Mr and Mrs C in Nuremberg, where they had a two-day stopover.
Nuremberg may not sound like everyone's idea of fun, but it, and the exquisitely preserved surrounding towns, provided a terrific experience and some marvellous food. I started out totally ignorant. My Michelin Guide showed two hotels in Nuremberg with two black "castles". Not the best hotel rating. Which should I take, the Grand or the Maritim? I phoned a lower-down-the-list hotel, Lowe's Merkur, and requested the general manger. Brigitte Kaltenecker came on line. She seemed vastly unamnsed when I asked her which was the best of the two. She eventually recommended the Grand and laughed in amazement that I'd picked her with a pin, as it were, to be my guide.
The Grand is a solid, turn-of-the-century Meridien hotel opposite the railway station. Mr and Mrs Cleese booked in for a night to join us. Horst Berl. the general manager, assured me that the small, dark suite I was ushered into was their very best. "Personally decorated by Rocco Forte's sister Olga," he said. Mmmm. In general, it was efficient. I even grew to like it, although my first impression was of a hotel for upper-class travelling salesmen. They had great difficulty providing cars on time. I fretted at endlessly waiting on the pavement outside while Sebastien Deitner, the front office manager, rushed around to find replacement vehicles. But the breakfast room was very well run by David Stern, I definitely love Bavarian sausage, and if you sat by the window you had an uninterrupted view of the old town, an awful lot of which someone had bombed, so it wasn't that old.
We set out, the four of us, on a day trip, stopping to admire very beautiful churches and ending up, prior to going round Albrecht Durer House, in the picturesque Tiergartnertorplatz with a castle here, an old doorway there, ramparts galore and gabled houses all around.
Mr C and I inspected in the hot autumn sun and chose the exterior eating area of the Beim Schlenkeria. Nice red-checked tablecloths, opposite Albrecht Durer's house. I had ogled the enormous shoulders of pork people seemed to eat at every turn, enough to feed a family of six, but served for one person. I ordered that. Historic. John had chicken soup with dumplings, which I tried and it was excellent. He said: "What we don't have in England now is a tradition of English regional cooking. This is what they would have served us here in the 1920s." The menu offered home-made cheese, but only from 2pm.
We were recommended the local smoked malt beer. John guessed it was made from ashes from a grate. We all thought it disgusting. I had a Coca-Cola but they didn't have any ice. John had turkey slices in a mushroom and cream sauce with rice. It was quite good. The local cheese looked like a cake served with cream on top made of paprika, onion and mayonnaise. Harald Zippel, sitting opposite, took a photo for us. He's president of Noris Tarasch, Nuremberg. Not a vast example of German industrial might, but a chess club - Herr Zippel assured me the best in the region.
After lunch, and a look at the Durer House, we went into a rather posh shop offering local chess sets and other special games where the smell of marijuana was so great you needed a gas mask. Alyce, Vanessa and I came out breathless. John, who is very thorough, stayed inside with a totally zonked-out attendant lolling in his chair by the cash desk. "I can't wait for those two to have a conversation," I said as we strolled in the sunlit square. Unfortunately, John soon joined us as he didn't want to get too high. So we went off and had hot chocolate on a terrace by the river on the way back. In the evening, we had one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Tell you another day.
Michael Winner was unfair when he described Dean Malouf, the new general manager at the Belvedere in west London (Style, October 25), as "dour". We have been planning our silver wedding celebrations at the restaurant and have found him anything but. No effort was spared and Dean Malouf himself was courteous, helpful and patient throughout. His sense of humour was evident - a prerequisite in our case - and we look forward to celebrating our special occasion in an atmosphere that is far from dour.
Heather and Michael Baim, Borehamwood, Herts
On a recent visit to the Cotswolds village of Lower Slaughter, we were told in imperious tones by the owner of a teashop that at 5.20pm we were patently too late for tea. If England has such a rich tradition of tea drinking, why can't one get a cup after 5pm?
C Checkley, Didcot, Oxon
When, after a recent meal at Teatro in central London, I queried the cover charge of £1.50 per head, I was told that this was for bread and butter. As none had been offered, I asked for the amount to be removed from the bill, which it was. The waiter explained that the charge was "policy". Isn't it time to end this unnecessary charge?
Brian Grant, London W2
So photographs of Michael Winner are mysteriously being removed from the best restaurants in Europe (Style, October 25). Might it just be a case of wishful thinking?
Hector Miller, Scunthorpe, Humbs
Any chance of a signed photo? I've got one from the Pope and that nice Mr Mandela. If I know you, you won't want to be left out.
David Jiggens, Colchester, Essex