It was the gravestones that first aroused my suspicions
Published 22 September 2002 News Review 480th article
The Wilmslow boys: Walshe, Winner, Gallimore and the Silver Wraith (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
Last time I went to Manchester I stayed at The Lowry, a minimalist, nightmare hotel with appalling service and furniture that looked like it came from Ikea on a bad day. This visit was to Oldham where I was to be with the prime minister for the unveiling of one of my police memorials
I chose a place in Wilmslow, a posh suburb of Manchester. The Stanneylands Hotel has two rosettes in the AA guide. They wrote as if the food was good. Liam Walshe, the owner, hails from Kildare. Like all Irish people, he exuded charm. He was welcoming on the phone and stood in the lobby to greet me.
He suggested a walk in the grounds of the hotel, originally built as a family house. As we crossed the drive I tried to flog him the 1978 Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce owned by my driver, Steve Gallimore, a marvellous local car dealer. It was a snip at £12,000. But Liam kept walking.
In the woods I noticed three gravestones. "Are these guests who died of food poisoning?" I asked. They were for dogs: Tag 1928-1942, Raven aged 15, a retriever and a gentleman, and Flipper 1945-1957.
I was then shown round the hotel's pleasant public rooms. My suite was tiny, but okay for one night. I was assured it was the best they had. I knew we were in trouble when I surveyed the restaurant menu. It offered far too many elaborate things. It was impossible for them all to be well cooked in the small kitchen of a suburban hotel. I had no idea that they would be done so badly.
I ordered goat's cheese wrapped in filo pastry filled with green tomato chutney, then leek and potato soup and then pan-fried fillet of beef with button onion, crisp bacon and peppercorn sauce. Geraldine (note she's Geraldine this week, not Miss Lynton-Edwards) requested agparagus spears with smoked salmon sabayon glaze, then the soup, then grilled sea bass fillet served with coriander, bean sprouts and lime soya dressing. "I'm sure it will all be wonderful," she announced with the misplaced optimism of Little Mary Sunshine.
It took a long time for anything to come. I asked why we didn't have bread and they said they served it with the first course. "They don't do that anywhere else," I responded. But it made no difference.
A series of utterly ghastly freebie starters arrived. Some canapes in forgettable pastry, then, according to the waiter, "cheese on a crouton on some beans". In fact it was cod on a horrible blini. "If I had a car I'd get up and leave," I said to Geraldine. But Steve Gallimore and his long-wheel-based Rolls had retired for the night.
My goat's cheese in filo pastry eventually arrived. It tasted like low-level mass catering. Geraldine pronounced her salmon far too salty.
A man in a black shirt at the next table spoke loudly. "To sail round Majorca is the opportunity of a lifetime," he announced. I stifled a yawn.
"What would you describe that as?" I asked Little Mary Sunshine, referring to the soup. She pursed her lips in a scowl and nodded her head in a No. "It's salty again," she said. We left most of our soup.
The main course eventually turned up. It was all propped up. Four bits of beef leaning on each other. I'd asked for medium rare. It was well done and dreadful. It didn't seem fried at all.
Geraldine, who's an excellent cook, said: "It looks as if they put it in the frying pan and covered it, so it's stewed."
I noticed there was no crisp bacon as promised on the menu. I drew this to the restaurant manager's attention. "It must be the pressure," he said.
"What pressure?" I asked. "You being here," was the reply. I left nearly everything.
I asked Geraldine about her sea bass. She pulled a face and turned her head to and fro. "Even the fish isn't good. And I'm always an optimist," she said.
"I'm not. That's why I'm less disappointed than you," I replied with experienced sagacity.
My apple tart was cold and under-cooked. Some of the pastry was runny inside. "It's the worst meal I've ever had in England," said Geraldine. I agreed.
As we walked through the lobby Liam showed me what appeared to be a brand new visitors' book and asked me to sign. It can't have been that new because it displayed only two signatures - one was Princess Diana, the other Prince Andrew.
I signed on the third page. "He'll tear it out when he reads the review," I said to Geraldine as we walked towards the suite.
My wife and I ate well, recently, at Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon, Paris. Later that night, however, mulling over the issue in a hotel bed, I realised that the reason for our smiling escort from the restaurant was that we were among the few who had unwittingly paid the full (and high) unsolicited tip percentage that had been added to our bill.
Nick Kaufman, Jerusalem
In Michael Winner's photograph for last week's review of the Bar du Port, a gentleman is shown smoking at a table in the background. Does Michael have any strong views on this disgusting, anti-social habit?
Eric Whiteley, York
Traditionally, the River Restaurant at the Savoy has been staffed by waiters well past their sell-by dates. Their shaky snail-like waltz to one's table was always a little fraught, with the customers urging them on to deliver the food while still hot. However, all has changed. I recently booked a dinner dance and endured a buffeting from every quarter by rabbit-footed Latin waiters determined to create the wind that should have been provided by the inadequate air conditioning.
Norman Norrington, London
Me an' me mates reckon that for a couple of East End lads we've got it sussed. But you keep blowing the gaff on all our Cap Ferrat secrets! Still, I am going to tell you about a couple of other top gaffs for next time you're down south. First, try Le Troubadour at Eze - top quality nosh and it won't break the bank. If you can't get a table, mention my name. Second, that posh hotel in Nice, the Negresco - its Sunday lunch is 30 quid and with all the wine you can drink. Not bad for two Michelin stars! Lastly, if La Voile d'Or is full, there is a charming little B&B on the Cap just behind David Niven's old house called the Bagatelle. It ain't posh but it's clean and has sea views for about £70 a night for a room.
Alan Carter, Cambridge
Having read last week's column I thought you might like to know more about Popa Chubby. I saw him perform blues live in Marseilles in 1998. He is a vast man and his performance matched his size in every way. Next time he is playing, go along; www.popachubbby.com is also very interesting.
Humfrey Hunter, London
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