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Flying high one day... sinking fast the next

Published 25 January 2009
News Review
810th article

Michael with the crew on board his Virgin flight to Barbados (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The return flight for two to Barbados, best available class, is £14,708 on British Airways, £9,504 on Virgin, which is better anyway. So I saved £5,204 on my trip.

Just as well, because my Sandy Lane bill, after adjustment for double-charging, was £93,726 for 21 nights. £4,463 a night. Could end up more with the pound dropping like the Zimbabwean dollar. No wonder the rich were squealing.

Captain Geoff Patterson from Barbados, led me to the cockpit. He explained there was an indicator for when he turned left, another for turning right, an automatic kettle and a tin of biccies, a TV with satellite channels and that the pilots' seats turned into double beds. Something like that. As Geoff walked me back, a man who looked nothing like me said, "I want to thank you. Because I look so like you, they think I'm you and I get much better service."

"More than I do," I responded.

My stewardess was Nikki Maidment. Her boss, Sarah Louise, lives in Benny Hill Close, Eastleigh, Hampshire. He was a mean, nasty old bastard, Benny Hill, but I liked him. He was very funny on TV.

I ate some excellent garlic bread, perfectly reasonable broccoli and stilton soup, followed by chicken tikka masala. The naan bread was a bit stodgy but the curry was as good as they served on Air India. That's a compliment. I finished with dark and white chocolate bread and butter pudding with champagne cream. Later I had a first-rate tea, sandwiches, cakes, scones.

I always enjoy Virgin - polite staff, efficient. Unlike Wee Willie Wonka Walsh, boss of BA, Richard Branson, who created an airline from scratch, is a serious person. Willie Walsh is a joke.

On arrival, the Sandy Lane Bentley took us on the scenic route through cane fields, past little huts and villages. We wandered into the Bajan Blue beachside dining restaurant for dinner to be assailed by the most ghastly, discordant jazz music.

"Why do you have this awful music?" I asked the chef, Grant MacPherson. "I know no place of quality that throws piped music at you."

The next day at breakfast the trash music was still there. It drowned the sound of birds and sea. As I dictated how dreadful it was, a lady diner said, "You're so right, Mr Winner. If I want music, I'll move my table into the lift."

I asked Robert Logan, Sandy Lane's new manager, "Whose decision is it to have this revolting music?"

He replied, "We have the food and beverage team who conceptualise the restaurant." One of the dumbest remarks I've ever heard. You're the manager, Robert. Manage.

Here's an example of MacPherson's idea of conceptualising a restaurant. On the afternoon of New Year's Eve he told me, after their main course, 350 people would be moved from the dining tent to "auditorium" seating in the rotunda to see some Cirque de Soleil cabaret he'd arranged. Then everyone would move back.

Guests revolted. One VIP said, with marvellous political incorrectness, to Sandy Lane's Irish owner, "Cirque de Soleil are in the air. What's this? The Irish version, on the ground."

MacPherson's pathetic plan was abandoned. The so-called Cirque de Soleil performed in the tent. It consisted of five people flown from Atlanta. The juggler dropped the hoops, the man who juggled with a frame dropped the frame, the two acrobats were useless, so was the fourth act. "More like Cirque de clumsy," observed one famous TV presenter. It was 20 minutes of the worst cabaret I've ever seen. As another guest put it, if they even made it onto Britain's Got Talent they'd be out in round one.

When this fiasco ended, MacPherson said to me, "I'll have to start thinking about the entertainment for next year." "Start thinking about another job, Grant," I mused. Who gives this man so much authority? I wouldn't let him boil an egg. New Year's Eve, costing at least £1,000-a-head, also had guests demanding the band be removed at 12.30am because it was so awful no one could dance to it.

The three best meals I had in Barbados were at Fisher Pond Great House. I took Sandy Lane's chairman, with his terrific family. They loved it. The chairman wrote great praise in the guest book.

I said to MacPherson, purveyor of the worst food ever, "I had the most marvellous lunch at Fisher Pond." He adopted his usual look of sneering boredom.

Eventually he said, "I've been there. Twice."

"What did you think of it?" I asked. A silence.

Then through gritted teeth he said, "It's a nice building."

"I wasn't asking about the building," I said. "What about the food?"

MacPherson sniffed, "It's Bajan," and walked away. Not only do I have to be insulted by his food, I have to be insulted by the chef as well. The man is beyond belief.

Robert Logan asked my advice about the hotel. "Buy a cannon," I suggested. "Stuff Grant MacPherson in it. Light touch paper. Stand back. Then watch him shoot out and drop over the horizon into the Caribbean Sea." Best advice I've ever given anyone..

Michael's missives

Thank you for putting things into such wonderful perspective in your diatribe on the falling food standards at Sandy Lane. Here we are wallowing in self-pity as friends lose their jobs, pensioners struggle to pay their fuel bills and spirits are crushed by economic Armageddon. All nothing compared to the travails of the Sandy Lane faithful. We should be ashamed of ourselves!
Peter Gray, London

So the new head chef at Sandy Lane has heard of Hawaiian pig. I wonder what his views are about Willesden pig and Holland Park pig?
Tony Pike, Surrey

I showed my mother-in-law my letter you published about Fisher Pond Great House, Barbados. She said people shouldn't persecute "poor Michael Winner". I think unwittingly I've found you an admirer. Would that make it into double figures?
Alan Lewis, West Sussex

I could never understand your love for Sandy Lane. I stayed there twice, found it very provincial, full of boorish people and with no style.
Tony Harley, London

Sorry your Barbados holiday was ruined by an incompetent chef. Try the Digby Tap in Sherborne, Dorset. You get a perfectly cooked main meal, a glass of real ale and still have change from a fiver. The locals only like to see refined people of good taste, but they'd make an exception for you if you brought Geraldine along.
Len Horsley, Dorset

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