Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

Mad Margrit, the marvel in the middle of nowhere

Published 9 April 2006
News Review
664th article

Winner with Margrit and Ruedi Kaufmann at the Sankt Wendelin (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I rented a boat to go round Lake Luzern. Normally it ferried 42 tourists. It had tables and seats downstairs and an enormous upper deck. The intrepid sailors were Geraldine, me and my friend Pierre Vacher, ex-manager of Sandy Lane hotel, where he was extremely cheerful and full of marvellous stories.

One New Year's Eve Pierre came on the beach in high dudgeon, saying: "You won't believe what's happened! I've just been offered $20,000 in a Swiss bank account from [he mentioned the owner of a famous Italian electrical company] if his son can have a table for 10 people tonight."

"I hope you took it, Pierre," I said, "It's the best tip you'll see for a while." "Certainly not!" said Pierre.

Another time I came back from New Year's Eve dinner out and asked Pierre: "How did it go here?" "Terrible!" said Pierre. "Mr Cohen and Mr Greenberg had a fist fight in the rotunda."

Apparently, Mr Cohen, seeing his after-dinner table for the dancing was not good, switched his place name with Mr Greenberg, who had a better spot. Greenberg was rather upset. Hence the fight. "I'll never allow them in the hotel again!" said Pierre. "Let 'em in," I advised, "we could do with some geriatric gladiator cabaret. I'd enjoy that."

When I've gone on boats before, the hotel that booked them always offered champagne, fruit, flasks of tea, coffee, canapes, whatever. At the Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda they even threw in a butler. The Palace hotel offered - nothing! Not even a packet of crisps.

Didn't matter. It was a lovely trip. Past little villages, lakeside villas, old hotels. Snow on the mountains. Pretty cold on the upper deck, too. Downstairs they had tea, coffee and chocolate from a machine.

We landed (if that’s the word) at a village called Greppen. Very untouched. A field with a pathway beside it that led to old houses. One of them was the hotel Sankt Wendelin, built 400 years ago but much reconstructed in 1910. Lovely dining room with an old stove, views of the lake, wooden ceiling and, in the middle of nowhere, a lot of Swiss people having lunch.

The owners are Ruedi and Margrit Kaufmann. He cooks, she manages the restaurant. "Are you ready? Because then I do go get the paper," said Margrit. "There's an intelligent woman," I thought. "She's not going to rely on remembering our order." I asked for bisque de crustaces soup. "This is hit from the house," explained Margrit, referring to her main course of three local fish, perch, sandray and fera.

As she left I admired the rather twee little net curtains with net sashes, flowered main curtains with tassels, and the candles on the tables. It was immaculately run. I got three fish knives and three fish forks. Apparently, my fish came in separate servings. The lobster bisque was hot, tasty and totally superb. The first portion of perch was terrific.

Then Ruedi the chef turned up to see how things were going. "Who's doing my next bit of fish if he's walking about?" I thought. When Ruedi reached us, I told him I was staying at the Palace hotel, Luzern. "What do you think of the food?" asked Ruedi.

"Absolutely horrible," I replied. Ruedi promptly went to the man sitting behind us, who was apparently an ex-president of Luzern, and reported gleefully: "He thinks the food at the Palace is horrible."

Margrit said: "We've been waiting for someone famous to come here [she meant me!]. I'm not Sophia Loren, I'm Mrs Kaufmann." This was fairly obvious. I assume she'd been reading a little multi-language brochure about me I generously gave her on arrival, hence the reference to dear Sophia.

Apart from the fact it took a very long time to get three main courses of fish - mind you, I wasn't exactly inundated with important things to do - they were all absolutely delicious. If I ever go back I'll ask them to plonk all three on the same plate.

For dessert I chose prunes in red wine with caramel ice cream. Geraldine had creme brulee, which was very good but more like custard. I suppose creme brulee is custard really, but this was particularly custardy. The desserts were excellent.

I said to Margrit: "We'll take your photo now." She said: "A picture!" And promptly pulled her hair out of a bun. Then she asked: "Can I make up? Are my legs in the picture and my hands?" I dictated quietly into my tape: "She's completely mad, this woman." But Margrit was also very charming. She could teach a few pompous restaurant managers in London a thing or two. In-fact, I wish she would.

Winner's letters

I should imagine the tables were indeed fully booked when Michael phoned to reserve a table at Roast (Winner's Dinners, last week). They were presumably nearly all empty when he arrived because word got out that he was going to be there.
Tim Burton, Wokingham

Last week Michael said: "I drove the Princess through appalling streets full of horrible cars." If Winner is driving an Austin Princess something terrible must have gone wrong in La-la Land. Michael Thinner not driving a status symbol? Surely some mistake!
Cliff Canning, north Wales

Last week a reader asked Michael how he should recycle Mateus Rose bottles as they don't fit through the hole in the bottle bank. Everyone knows you don't recycle Mateus bottles, you turn them into table lamps. I'm sure Mr Winner's home has several.
Keith Scrivener, Dartmoor

I hope that the disappearing Mr Winner would agree with me that Mateus Rose and Blue Nun bottles should be disposed of unopened.
Andrew Kirby, Herefordshire

I was most upset to hear of your problems with London traffic (Winner's Dinners, March 26). I always thought you had a police escort and outriders when you travelled!
Brian Johnson, Norwich

Oh dear - kilograms, foreign muck (Winner's Dinners, March 26)? Like foie gras, French inspired haute cuisine and French guide Michelin-starred restaurants? Never mind, you look very tasty 16 kilograms lighter. I've got 10kg to shed. Any Winner dieting tips?
Roz Wilson, London

May I thank you for your weekly efforts and assure you that - however bad the service - your culinary experiences are considerably better than my daily fare here in rural China.
D W Roberts, Zheiiang province

At Gordon Ramsay in Claridge's the food was so salty I couldn't eat the main course. The waitress removed £15 from the set meal price of £80. It seems starters and desserts were far more expensive! When bringing the dessert the waitress said, sarcastically, she hoped my ice cream wasn't too salty. Apparently, whatever it was called meant ice cream with salt!
Beverley Patterson, Harrow

Send letters to Winner’s Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co uk