Published 19 August 2007 News Review 735th article
My friend, the impresario Michael White, reported they gave him a lousy table at the Brunello restaurant in the Baglioni hotel and wouldn't move him.
He was lucky. The only improvement they could have offered was a table in a completely different restaurant. Because Brunello is the worst. The most miserable example of mismanagement, decor and dreary food I've ever encountered.
The hotel faces Hyde Park near the corner of Palace Gate. It's one of those pretentious places that thinks it's very chi-chi but is, in fact, beyond belief abysmal.
I entered the lobby where the restaurant manager, Leigh Allan, greeted me and then handed me to a waitress who showed me a pathetic, small table, where one person faces the wall and the other the room.
"You are empty," I said. "Why are you offering me this ridiculous table?"
"Where would you like to sit?" asked the waitress.
"There," I said pointing to a table for four by a french window to a small paved terrace adjacent to bus routes and major traffic. At least the traffic noise helped drown the ghastly piped music.
The room itself was like some backward child had been given free rein to commit design hara-kiri. There were a variety of chandeliers most of which seem to be metal sprayed with glossy black Dulux paint. There were black curtains, yellow curtains, rough-hewn grey pillars in what looked like cement. It was a nightmare.
I've never seen an uglier room.
Their brochure describes it as "sumptuous Italianate surroundings". Whoever wrote that has probably never moved further afield than the toilet of McDonald's.
After an abnormally long wait the barman brought us menus. Then the wine waiter appeared and said, "Good morning, Mr Winter." That was not the name I booked in. Some water arrived and I was offered a slice of lemon before Geraldine.
I said, "Ask Madame first. It's normal to serve the lady first." Normal not being a word that you could apply to any aspect of Brunello.
Then something occurred more bizarre than anything that has ever happened to me in a restaurant. We were brought a small bread basket with two offerings of white bread left and right and some foccacia in the middle. The two white breads were appalling. I took a tiny sample bite and left them.
After I'd eaten my first course, an utterly dreary version of spaghetti al pomodoro, I looked to the serving table.
There was a bigger and much better looking bread basket with different types of rolls, breadsticks and other stuff. Why wasn't I offered that, I thought. Whereupon the barman brought it to the table.
Now what dimwit restaurant manager is so inept as to offer a critic from a distinguished paper a lousy offering of bread and then, to make amends, produces something better (but still not great) after the first course? Does Mr Allan not realise bread is served before the first course? Is he so divorced from professional behaviour that he fails to have himself or his staff put their best foot forward when he knows they're going to be reviewed?
Geraldine said her champagne was okay but not cold enough. She was silent about her ham and buffalo mozzarella but liked the olive oil.
My main course of grilled chicken paillard was lifeless and bland. The vegetables were ludicrous. Geraldine quite liked her red onion tart with slow-roasted tomatoes, goat's cheese and rocket.
Then came the final, abysmal disgrace. I asked the waiter what the dessert of the day was. That threw him completely. "Just a minute, sir, you caught me by surprise," he said.
Then he scarpered and returned to say it was "pandan mousse, made from some sort of Thai leaf which is very popular in Thai restaurants". If Thai folk like eating shaving foam then I guess it may be. I eat the most disgusting desserts because I'm a pig. This atrocity beat me. I left most of it.
At the end of this fiasco I looked at my bill and saw they'd only charged me £20.85. I insisted on a proper bill, which came to £73.50. The worst food-spend ever.
Their brochure says, "Our menu offers an original and inventive interpretation of authentic Italian dishes, utilising only the freshest and most interesting ingredients to ensure that the memory lingers with you long after you have left the restaurant." The memory indeed lingers with me. Like a bad dream. Who writes this drivel? Can they really believe it?
There are dozens of good Italian restaurants in London, the River Cafe, Scalini and San Lorenzo to mention but three. Brunello is a waste of space.
Michael, you must be joking! I quote: "'Let's move,' suggested Geraldine. I seldom do that, I make the best or worst of where I am." You were always doing it! Often more than once in the same place. If you're not doing it these days it must be because you now have less weight to chuck about.
John Elder, Southampton
I'm sorry, but I just can't think of anything rude to say about Michael this week.
Tim Burton, Wokingham
Thank you for your little photo tip last week about always using the camera flash. As with most rules, there is an exception. If all the power of the National Grid could be used in one almighty flash I doubt it would be enough to raise the gloom on your miserable face. Poor Geraldine!
Trevor Skidmore, Surrey
As Alf Garnett would have said: "What a miserable looking old git." Any man photographed with a stunner like Geraldine should be grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Dennis Pallis, Kent
When is the Big Day? Have you booked Hello!, or are they fighting with another glossy? You can't keep us on tenterhooks. At the rate you're losing weight, Geraldine will be able to carry you over the threshold!
Sheila Benard, Kent