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Done to a tea

Published 25 August 2002
Style Magazine
476th article

From left: Michael Winner, Miroslav Milnusevic and Nicola Broke (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I last visited The Carlton Tower, Cadogan Place, in April 1997. I went to their Rib Room restaurant. It was unspeakably terrible. I reported: "Come in, Sheikh Mohammed. Forego a day at the races, maybe more, and sort out your Hyatt Carlton Tower hotel. To call it a mess gives new kindness to the meaning of the word."

It was a while before Sheikh Mohammed got round to my way of thinking. In December 2001 he cancelled the management contract with the Hyatt group and appointed his own people at Jumeirah International. He made Andy Abram, who'd been working at one of his Dubai hotels, the general manager. I called Mr Abram because a famous film star wanted to use the Carlton Tower pool while on a visit from America. Mr Abram obliged, but the star never turned up. I did. Not to swim, I have my own indoor pool. Doesn't everyone?

I made my presence felt in the Chinoiserie. This is a rather grand name for the lobby-lounge. In the Carlton Tower's heyday, it offered superb tea and marvellous after-theatre snacks. Like the Rib Room, the Chinoiserie also slid into mediocrity.

I returned because I was going to see a play at the nearby, revitalised Royal Court theatre. It appeared very buzzy. A cheerful pianist played rather well. In the middle of the room, a table exhibited various goodies. I took a couple of home-made biscuits. They were exceptionally fine. Also a battenberg cake: four squares of sponge with jam between them and marzipan round the edges. This was close to historic. Then I ordered the Cadogan Afternoon Tea with a glass of champagne, £25.50 including service and Vat. The tea took a very long time to arrive. I continually asked for news of it. When it came, it was very good earl grey tea, made with tea leaves (unlike at the Four Seasons) plus fresh sandwiches (unlike the Four Seasons), excellent scones that crumbled too easily, inferior so-called French pastries and a delicious piece of English fruitcake.

I said to the waiter: "Isn't there something else to come?" The waiter replied: "You have nothing else to come." I said: "What about the fresh strawberries?" The waiter said: "You want fresh strawberries?" I said: "They're on the menu as part of the tea." The waiter looked surprised and went to get them.

A man in a black suit walked continuously between the tables and sofas, studiously avoiding eye contact with any of the guests. It was as if looking at them would have turned him to stone. Then he stood by the piano.

I asked the waiter: "What's his function?"

"Guest relations manager," he replied. As I left, the guest relations manager said: "I hope you enjoyed your tea, Mr Winner." Why couldn't he have said that while I was sitting there?

I'd been impressed with my tea, so I returned two weeks later. This time I phoned Mr Abram and warned him. The service, now by the Chinoiserie manager, Francoise Barbieux, was noticeably better. Unfortunately, they didn't have the superb biscuits or the battenberg cake on the central table. I took a yellow sponge cake with white icing. It was definitely good, but it might have been better six hours earlier.

On both visits I went with Miss Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, a lovely girl who used to live in Paris. Being a lesson to us all, Geraldine took only a peach and an apricot from the centre table, now rather low on produce. "Do you know why I take the skin off peaches?" she asked. "Because they're full of insecticide?" I guessed. "No," said Geraldine, once a top dancer, "because returning from New York with the Royal Ballet, the choreographer John Cranko choked to death on a piece of peach skin on the plane."

I noted a hotel official, in a grey suit with a yellow tie, was doing a serious hosting bit around the room. He greeted everyone, but never came near me. On the way out, I asked his name. "I'm Martijn van der Valk," he said, "the assistant food and beverage manager. I'm overlooking the troops." He certainly overlooked me.

I approached the beautiful young harpist, who'd replaced the pianist. "This looks like trouble," she smiled. She was Nicola Broke. It transpired I'd known her father since the days we trawled the debutante dances in the 1950s. I asked Miroslav Milnusevic, the doorman, to join us for the photo. "I'm from the former Yugoslavia," he volunteered.

"Much better than last time," Geraldine said as we left. "Then the whole thing was sloppy," I agreed. It's amazing how things improve when I tell the general manager I'm coming.


Having just sampled a historically below-average pint of supposedly real ale at an establishment in Edinburgh, may I suggest that Michael inaugurates a new column under the title "Losers' Boozers"?
Hilary Robertson, Gourock, Inverclyde

Many of us must mourn the departure of the lovely Georgina (not that one can blame her for going), but has Michael considered the horrendous implication of her leaving? Without her to accompany him, he might well find himself barred from every restaurant in the land.
John Elder, Southampton.

I note Michael Winner's bewilderment when he says: "I'll never know how they got away with destroying Claridge's dining room" (August 11). Is that, by any chance, the same dining room described by Michael only eight months ago as "glamorous and excellently designed" (December 16, 2001)? It has to be said, there's nothing like a man who knows his own mind.
Gordon Ramsay, London.

I have no idea of the culinary merits of Salloos (July 14), but thought Ms Salahuddin's response (Letters, August 4) was a masterpiece of public relations. Her ability to rise above Winner's criticisms was an object lesson in turning adversity to advantage. While I would be unlikely to patronise other establishments after such exchanges, her good humour means I would be much more likely to give Salloos the benefit of the doubt. Has Ms Salahuddin missed her vocation in PR?
Steve Parfett, Stockport.

Michael Winner must be approaching the age when he needs more from his delightful companions than a pretty face and the ability to hold a camera steady. For this reason I shall not be offering any of my beautiful sisters as candidates to replace Miss Georgina Hristova. Instead, I scoured the Encounters section in this newspaper. Of about 135 ladies advertising, just one seemed to fit the bill. She's attractive, 33, 5'4", has blue eyes and enjoys travel and food. She's also a qualified nurse.
Oliver Chastney, Norwich.

So Mr Salmon (Letters, August 11) didn't like his kippers at Dromoland Castle. Brian Boru, the founder of that ancient castle, would surely have kippered him if he had ventured to raise his voice in complaint.
Francis Bennion, Budleigh Salterton, Devon