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I've always been one for a grand entrance

Published 1 November 2009
News Review
850th article

Michael at the Grill in the Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo, with, from left, Franck Cerutti, Luca Allegri, Nina Wood and Adam Kenwright (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Not many grand hotels are left. The buildings are there but inside they're so messed about, redecorated and ludicrously updated, the magnificence and grandeur has gone.

The Dorchester replaced its old Grill Room with the worst-taste dining room in London. The revamp at Claridge's is undistinguished. The splendid dining room carved up, reduced in size and looking like an airport lounge.

The Connaught is the worst. Millions of pounds spent changing elegant period rooms into an over-hyped French brothel.

Even the Ritz, far and away the least degraded and best hotel in London, had to change its entrance from the grand, pillared frontage on Piccadilly to a side door in Arlington Street. It still has the best doormen, while the ones at the Connaught are dreadful beyond belief.

The only untouched, rampantly opulent, marble-pillared, carved stonework exterior edifice to days of wealth and largesse is the stunning Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. The lobby is gargantuan, set with turn-of-the-century tables. And occasionally naughty ladies. On the right is the three-Michelin-starred Louis XV - Alain Ducasse restaurant. Gilt everywhere, painted ceilings, a mini Versailles.

On its terrace overlooking the main square of Monte Carlo and the casino, I lunched with Sir Roger and Lady Moore. There were gold plates, gold cutlery, impeccable service. Never mind what I had, it was all fantastic.

For my dessert rum baba they brought eight rums and asked, "Which one do you want?" A question too far for me. I left it to them.

I asked, "Can I start my rum baba?"

Geraldine said sternly, "No, wait until Kristina (Lady Moore to you) has had her strawberries served." Then she commented to Roger, "I'm trying to teach him some manners."

"Too late," said Roger.

At the top of the hotel is my favourite eating place, the Grill. It boasts only one Michelin star, but the food is a delight. Its terrace, overlooking Monte Carlo and the royal palace, is a terrific place to sit.

I took the theatrical advertising agent Adam Kenwright, now seriously challenging Dewynters as number one in the field, and his fiancee Nina, daughter of my occasional employer Peter Wood of esure. I introduced the young lovers. If all else fails, this could be my new profession - matchmaker.

The freebie starter was a superb white bean soup. The excellent general manager of the hotel, Luca Allegri, has relaxed the "ties must be worn" rule. I didn't know, so I wore one and gave one to Adam. They came from Makro cash and carry. Who says I'm a toff? Answer: nobody.

I had baby chicken - crispy skin, wonderful taste. I dictated, "I don't know what they had done to it." Served it to me, for sure.

The hotel was built in 1864. The waiter said, "The history of the souffle was served in this hotel since 1898." Long time for a souffle to stand about. My choccie one was historic. I've never seen Geraldine finish a dessert but she had all her hazelnut souffle and then nicked a bit of everyone else's. Marvellous meal. Great credit to the executive chef, Franck Cerutti.

One problem: if you sit on the terrace with your back to the view, which almost half the diners do, you look at a tacky cream-painted wall. I told Luca to mirror the back wall. Then people facing it could see both the view and their fellow diners, thus becoming part of the scene. Luca said he'd do it. If I go again and he hasn't, I'll throw a major tantrum. He won't like that, believe me.

  • On the flight to Nice (private plane from 247 Jet) was a bottled water called Celtic. I couldn't open it. Geraldine couldn't open it. We attacked it with keys, knives, heavy road drills and finally with dynamite. Nothing. The co-pilot had to come and unscrew it. It wasn't any good anyway.

  • A reader was kind enough to suggest that at my increasing age (I was 74 last Friday) and with a depleted left leg, I should be slowing down.

    In the past two weeks I've flown to Canterbury as well as Stamford in Lincolnshire to deliver my talks. "Gales of laughter" response, as they used to say on theatre posters. Signed 3,000 Winner's Dinners books at home and elsewhere. Been to Cornwall and other places for the filming of my ITV1 show, Michael Winner's Dining Stars, including one typical 18-hour day when I rose at 6am for work and finished at midnight. My dressing room in the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill Gate was a tiny concrete area at the bottom of some stairs by an entrance door to the auditorium and beside the ladies' lavatory. Furniture was one ageing, chipped metal chair. People wandered through. No food in 18 hours except one hour off for lunch.

    My views on that are clear and unequivocal. I'm bloody lucky.

    Michael's missives

    So Michael just stared at a couple occupying the restaurant table he wanted and they immediately got up and left. Don't blame them. Sometimes that may not work, so I suggest he keeps a Gordon Brown mask in the car - should work every time. I have a Geraldine mask. Gets me a table anywhere.
    Tim Burton, Berkshire

    After one week of you looking reasonably smart, I noticed that last week, with your pink shirt, rosy face and snowy hair, you looked like a knickerbocker glory. Glad things have returned to normal.
    Katrina Golden, Northamptonshire

    In the Aberdovey sea air, sir's barnet (cockney for hair) looked more plentiful than ever. Is some new lotion being applied? Or is he planning to star in a new musical, Einstein Meets Liberace? If so, which part is he planning to play?
    Edward David, London

    You tell us of your long day filming. Up at 6am, make-up 8am, finish 11pm. Just think, if you didn't bother with the make-up you could be finished filming by mid-afternoon.
    Barry Joseph, London

    As a pompous, show-off young man (sound familiar?) I once asked the waiter at a Cannes restaurant I visited annually if he still had the 10-year-old calvados I'd enjoyed the year before. "Oui, monsieur," came the answer, "except this year it is 11 years old."
    Rodney Burbeck, London

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