Published 28 January 2001 Style Magazine 394th article
Carib cool: Michael Winner at the new Sandy Lane with Jean-Luc Naret, back, and Mark Patten, right (Georgina Hristova)
Great endeavours induce great cynicism. The Irish entrepreneurs Dermot Desmond and JP McManus bought the famous Sandy Lane hotel, Barbados, in December 1996. Richard Williams, the managing director, announced it would close in May 1998 to be demolished, rebuilt and open for guests 17 months later. We regulars viewed the project as optimism bordering on total insanity. Of course, the hotel was nowhere near ready in 1999, whereupon the managing director, an executive possibly from another planet, announced it would be open for October 2000. A second prediction of outstanding absurdity.
Somewhere along the line, it finally filtered through to DD and JP that Mr Williams was unlikely to lead them to glory as supremo of the new Sandy Lane hotel. He was replaced in May last year by a formidable, charming Frenchman, Jean-Luc Naret. He's what they needed. A man with considerable international experience at running luxury hotels. With building still going on - I estimate it will open around July - Dermot Desmond took another step of unparalleled bravery. He invited me to join his few guests at Sandy Lane's soft opening over Christmas and New Year. Anyone who invites me to a soft opening creates new meaning for the word "soft".
By now, tales of unbelievable expenditure - £250m among the lowest - fed the Sandy Lane gossip mill. There had been traumatic changes of construction and design teams, dismissals, walkouts, litigation; all highly predictable for such a venture in Barbados.
None of that matters now; it's nearly over. The hotel was operating, with 300 staff, and I resided there for more than two weeks. I am able to make a finite and unequivocal judgment. The new Sandy Lane hotel is a triumph. It is a beacon illuminating the steadfastness, stamina and good taste that Dermot Desmond, as principal operator, exhibited during his baptism of fire. Dermot, with disarming charm, described the venture to me as a folly. The pyramids were a folly. The Taj Mahal was a folly. The castles of King Ludwig of Bavaria were follies. But they stand as edifices of excellence to those who produced them. Thus, on a smaller scale, the new Sandy Lane fits in. It towers, in all aspects of quality, way above what was there before. There is no hotel in the Caribbean that comes anywhere near it. It is now one of the greatest resort hotels in the world.
In case you think I've lost my marbles, or was freebie-induced to make such ecstatic statements, only my room was gratis. We paid highly for everything else. On New Year's Eve, food alone cost £300 per person.
When I got my bill, I noticed a £452 dinner on it, which had already been paid for on the night by someone else in my party. Another £666 dinner charge was down for the night we ate it, and then appeared again on a night I wasn't even in the hotel. Mr Naret must get his accounts department sorted out. He should also abolish and reconstruct his so-called butler service, which was the biggest cockup, disaster and fiasco I've ever encountered in any hotel anywhere in the world. Incredible butler stories, recounted with amused frustration, fuelled the beach talk every day. I'll tell you some another time.
For now, I'll stick with the outstanding achievements of Messrs Desmond and Naret. Sandy Lane looks absolutely beautiful. It offers the coral stone fascia and carving, together with the intricate white-painted ironwork, of the old hotel. The mahogany and machineel trees still tower in front of it. The famous rotunda is re-created. There are inner courtyards with fountains, gardens and palm trees. The rooms are vastly improved. Simple but elegant, much more spacious, and beautifully laid out with carefully detailed marble mosaic. There are carved marble door frames and skirting boards and stone ceiling cornices. The woodwork is immaculate. A panel permits you to open and close curtains, change temperature or turn on the lights with the push of a button. There are large, flat, wall-mounted plasma television screens. Visit next Christmas and you can pay £1,400 per night B&B for a room. The one-bedroom suite I clambered over rubble to look at, and booked, is £2,100 a night. I offer two words of advice: start saving.
The food, which was previously poor, is now superb; the best on the island. The executive chef, Mark Patten, produced endless great meals from dinner-time duck to marvellous lunch pizzas. His pastry chef, new from France, even made a perfect rum baba, a sight so rare it's an endangered species. The staff are recently selected, and all display the Bajan humour and charm. Except for the so-called butlers they're terrific. I did my bit, too. I was, as ever, an exemplary guest.
I liked Michael Winner's article about his meal at the taxi shelter (Style, January 14). Could it be that the cook, Tina Jenner, is from the same family that used to run Jenner's cafe for drivers in Paddington Street years ago? It was a place where you could get a good, filling meal, with good-natured banter thrown in.
Brian Metcalfe, by e-mail
My experience of correspondence with Sir Terence Conran was quite the opposite of David Lambert's (Style, January 14). On the one occasion I wrote to complain, I received a reply by return from Sir Terence's office, followed by a letter from the manager, addressing each of my complaints in full. I was also sent a generous voucher towards the cost of another meal. When we next visited, we were treated like royalty.
Lesley Millar, London
I was interested in Michael Winner's comments about serious wines (Style, January 7). The wines we drink may not be as serious as his, but we would appreciate his wisdom on whether we're breathing too much or too little.
John Scott, Colchester
I've always felt that kedgeree is one of those few quintessential English dishes, and whenever away from home, I long for its comforting qualities. If only it were available in hotels to soothe home- sickness - after all, the Yanks have "pancakes with maple syrup" on menus throughout the world. Alas, after eating a £24 bowl of kedgeree from The Ritz recently, I think it is doomed to stay within our shores. No visitor to Britain would ever feel compelled to export the dish after paying for an overpriced bowl of slop from The Ritz.
Joshua Van Raalt, by e-mail
I heard a wonderful waiter's excuse for an hour's wait for our main course at The Mirabelle recently: "The chef, he has to cook all the meals himself." However, it was the best sole I've ever eaten.
Norman Norrington, by e-mail
I recently visited a diner in Hawes, N Yorks, where the menu listed soup of the day. I ordered this as my starter, and from where I was sitting I could see it being prepared. A tin of Heinz soup was opened, the contents poured into a plastic jug and popped in the microwave for three minutes. I made a hasty exit. How would Michael Winner have handled the situation?
J Hobbs, by e-mail