Published 22 November 1998 Style Magazine 280th article
Heart to heart: Michael Winner and John Cleese at Gasthaus Schwarzer Adler
"The Romantic Road - Germany's best-known holiday route" runs from Wurzburg to Fussen. To which I hear you saying, loudly and in unison: "So what?" I, too, never considered Germany high on the romance calendar. But when I arrived at the Gasthaus Schwarzer Adler in Kraftshof, near Nuremberg, in the company of Mr and Mrs J Cleese and Miss V Perry, a whiff of amour stirred in some strange part of my body. And Kraftshof is not even on the "Romantic Road" - only adjacent to it.
The Schwarzer Adler is an old inn with a Michelin star, situated in a pretty Bavarian village. Vastly comfortable, lots of room, posh without being overbearing, pleasing oil paintings, wattle walls. "Nice big chairs," said John, making the point that "nine out of 10 restaurant chairs in London are too small for anyone over six foot". "And me," I chipped in.
We were given an aperitif of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, a little bit of cassis and port, home-made raspberry schnapps, topped up with Franconian sparkling wine. Almost equal in excellence to the bellinis at Harry's Bar in Venice.
The food is quite simply amazing. If you happen to be in Nuremberg - and I'm sure you drop by regularly - it's on offer about 20 minutes from the centre. I had mushrooms in herb sauce with dumplings to start. Brilliant. We considered three pork dishes, including saddle of piglet with smoked beer sauce and potato dumplings. "Germany is not a good place to be a pig," Mr Cleese mused. I had venison on savoy cabbage with a cassis sauce, Vanessa had skate, Alyce, lamb . . . oh, it doesn't matter - it was all absolutely exquisite. The boss, Gunther Hertel, was "on a journey", said his daughter Tanja. So she and the others took charge. Waiters of great charm; daughter, ditto.
They served a millefeuille of chocolate, apple fritters with rum sauce, and Mrs Cleese had cheese with little grapes from the waiter's garden. "I'll tell you what they are," said John. "Put this down on your recorder. They are very small grapes. They are so small that they only consist of grape seed and the skin around it. There is no room for any grape." "And they look pretty," said Alyce. "He has tried to sell them elsewhere," added John. Anyway, we all agreed it was a spectacular meal.
The next day, under my inspired - nay grotesque - driving, we set off for Rothenburg, seriously on the Romantic Road. It took an endless time for my rented Mercedes to be produced from the hotel car park. "Where's it coming from? Munich?" I asked Sebastien Leitner, the front office manager of the Grand Hotel Nuremberg. "Yes," he said, "that's right." It was only later that I thought: "Why are they hiring a car from a city miles away? And how does the air conditioning work?"
The string of old German towns, remarkably unspoilt, on the Romantic Road are beyond belief. They date largely from the 16th century; thereafter the modern world passed them by. Timbered, shuttered houses with luxuriant window boxes, old iron signs, cobbled streets, beautiful churches, all totally preserved, as if one had gone back in time. At Christmas, the photos show everything alive with snow and Christmas trees. You could do a lot worse than nip over. Rothenburg even sports a thoroughly gruesome museum of torture and a heavily disguised McDonald's. There is a wonderfully carved iron sign with gilded and painted sculptures stretching out on a bracket over the street. You have to look closely to see that it advertises a hamburger joint. The famous logo is not allowed above the shop window; there the writing is in old script. Only, small and unobtrusive, in the window itself is the dreaded looped "M". A bit Disneyland it may be, but how much better London would look with this sort of preservation.
We settled at little tables outside the Hotel Meistertrunk, with an ornate iron sign above saying Herrn Gasse. I showed the owner one of my Winner multilanguage mini brochures printed for film festivals. It was its greatest and only failure. The owner looked positively hostile. Still, we sat in the medieval street in hot, late-autumn sun and got by on my renowned charm. I had duck, Miss Perry, rose fish, whatever that might be, Mrs Cleese had pork shoulder, and John, Bavarian duck with blue cabbage. At this point John and I started wittering on about something in a typically cantankerous, Scorpio way. "You two really are the odd couple," said Alyce as a wagon pulled by two carthorses and full of tourists clopped along. "You should get married." It is very rare that Mr C or I are lost for words. That shut us up.
Having read Michael Winner's review of the Gwynn Arms (Style, November 1), I couldn't help feeling admiration for its manager and chef, Dave Cowley, whose red-hot curry struck a blow for restaurants around the world. It must have made Mr Winner's eyes water that night - but I bet it was a lot more painful in the morning.
Brian Steele, Hove, Sussex
I don't go to restaurants for the food. With the exception of The Ivy, they are a rip-off - and, with a little discreet help from Harrods or Selfridges, I can cook just as well at home. Like most people, I eat out so I can enjoy the company of friends without the hassle of preparation, serving and clearing away. However, the trend nowadays - as evidenced by the increasing number of vast eating emporiums - is to render this nigh impossible because of the noise. Could someone compile a guide to restaurant noise levels? I would suggest standards varying from Suspiciously Quiet to Pleasantly Quiet, Buzzy and finally Conversation Stopper.
Judge Barrington Black, London NW3
Someone should give the staff at The Lexington in Soho, London, a damn good slap. At 11.30pm on a Friday night, we were told at the end of dinner that we couldn't have coffee, because it was "too late". To prove the point, at 11.45pm the music stopped and the lights were turned up. When we complained, the waitress said that some of the staff were going clubbing, which is why they wanted us to leave. Of course, we appreciated that their social lives were more important than ours and left immediately. But we won't be going back.
Louise Graham, London W5