Published 28 December 2008 News Review 806th article
Michael with John and Rain Chandler at Fisher Pond Great House in Barbados (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
After 26 years of going every Christmas-New Year to Barbados I've at last found a great restaurant there. One that ranks with the finest in the world.
The owner, John Chandler, responded indignantly, "It isn't a restaurant, it's my home."
I said, "John, any place that sells meals is as restaurant to me."
John's home and/or restaurant is a beautiful plantation house originally built in 1635 in the middle of cane fields. You drive down a rutted track. It's Barbados as it used to be. The place is furnished with exquisite antiques, the table settings, napkins, everything is perfection. The gardens are alive with the sound of brightly coloured macaws in enormous cages. The whole thing is an experience of total delight.
John's wife, Rain, is co-conspirator. Her brother, Craig Barnard (I like him), owns Le Sport, a great hotel in St Lucia. John's family came to Barbados in 1638 from Scotland. He and Rain are the finest example of old-school hospitality. We lounged in the garden, following in the sitsteps of Prince Harry, the Tony Blairs, Drew Barrymore, Helen Mirren et al.
A 70-year-old macaw, Melvin, was next to us. They had trouble finding him.
"Perhaps he passed away," I suggested. But Melvin was sleeping at the bottom of his cage. Nearby macaws were called Columbus and Orinoco.
John said, "Don't put your fingers through the bars, because you'll lose them." I wasn't planning to.
I had a pina colada, Geraldine rum punch in a shell. Terrific canapes.
At lunch, pumpkin, carrot and ginger or callaloo soup were served at the table. The rest is a Sunday buffet. Eighty-seven-year-old Betty Sheppard, splendidly dressed in satin, played the piano. I took red snapper pâté, sword fish and steamed flying fish with plantain as my starter. Followed by brilliant plantain fritters, peas and rice, chicken fricassee, macaroni pie, pepper pot in a big bowl, stewed pigeon with peas, corn soufflé and curried green bananas.
"All done to perfection," I observed.
John said, "It's just a labour of love."
I've never seen Geraldine eat so much. There was a whole local pig with pepper jelly, the pork so soft it was triple historic.
Desserts I tried included, but were not limited to, bread and butter pudding with butter sauce, chocolate mousse, trifle, coconut baked sweets. "I've eaten so much I'm going to burst," observed Geraldine. I was stuffed speechless.
I nearly forgot to tell you the name of this amazing place. It's Fisher Pond Great House, St Thomas, Barbados. Only available to the public for Sunday lunch. During the week, if you're six or more, they open specially. That's no good for me. I haven't got five friends, so I'd never get in.
From my lounger on the Sandy Lane beach I praise the lady who helped me overcome the loss of three balancing tendons in my left leg, including the Achilles tendon: my physiotherapist, Heather. A top surgeon said I'd always have to wear a plastic splint up to my knee and use a walking stick. I don't. Heather's jolly. "Here's a new game," she says. "You're not gonna like it." I call her the torturer, but she's done me proud.
I lunched at the Ivy club with the owner, Richard Caring. It had start-up problems, which seem to be over. I found it superbly designed, comfortable, good food, fine service. Mind you, if staff can't take their fingers out for the boss and me, what's the point of their being alive? I clocked other tables. They were well treated.
I went again, anyway, this time with Robert Logan, Sandy Lane's new general manager. Had one of the best chicken pies ever. The place was full of celebs. This could hit the Ivy restaurant where punters like to see stars. If they're in the Ivy club, will it disappoint?
In November I made half a mistake in referring to Sarah Taylor, PA to Andrew Davis, owner of Von Essen hotels, as Sarah Russell. She and Andrew are a great double act. Andrew's saucy. A mixture of Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd. Sarah is the perfect straight man. They're a delight. I, on the other hand, am a total moron. "So what's new?" I hear you say.
I sent out 1,875 Christmas cards with a fetching photo of me in my new esure ads holding a mobile of exotic fish. The line underneath should have said, "Calm down, dear, these aren't real fish." Just before, in the ad, a lady had been shocked to see her lounge full of water. Fish swam about, me in the middle waving "Hello", bubbles coming from my mouth.
By mistake I gave the printer a line from the next commercial, "Calm down, dear, these aren't real ducks." So the caption says ducks. The photo is of fish. Don't smirk. You're not always clever.
PS: This is the 805th food column I've written for the ST. You don't care? Didn't think you would. Happy new year, anyway.
I'm used to lurid headlines in other Sunday papers concerning "romping" by footballers and celebrity chefs. Your confession about romping in the garden of your first home in Willesden was bad enough. Then you admit to handing photos of the event to strangers! This is disturbing. What next? Photos of you eating!
Roger Williams, Kent
My late uncle Nat bought your old home in Willesden. Whenever I visited the house I felt a weird sensation as though something other than those physically present was there. As you're such a spiritual person, I guess it must have been you.
Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire
Last week you mentioned the chips at Michael Parkinson's restaurant were historic. What about the chocolate fondue? I was so moved I asked the waiter if the chef was single. Geraldine, take my advice. Ditch Michael and marry the chef at the Royal Oak. You'll live happily ever after eating chocolate fondue.
Lyn Scott, Windsor
Your experience of fine dining will not be complete until you enjoy the culinary masterclass performed by the staff of the Limehouse police station canteen. Their delicacies include the famous 999 breakfast, mouthwatering moussaka and the ever-popular Mac and cheese. I invite you to sample these delights with me. You'll need to bring cash. No Amex, I'm afraid.
DC William Lexton, Limehouse
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