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Let sleeping dogs lie - but not sloppy websites

Published 20 June 2010
News Review
883rd article

Michael and Geraldine at the Elms with the general manager, Adam Salter, left, and the head chef, Daren Bale (Nic Guttridge)

A large chocolate-coloured labrador dog named Tickle obstructed my triumphal entry into the Elms hotel in Abberley, Worcestershire. He lay there, just inside the hall, uncaring that guests had to come in and out. The general manager, Adam Salter, negotiated a way round Tickle as if to go close would set off an explosive device. As far as I know, this was not a suicide bomber dog; just a lethargic labrador.

"All von Essen family hotels have a dog," explained Salter. If the Elms is a family hotel, it's for those who won the lottery. The grand Queen Anne mansion is exquisitely furnished and decorated as if Queenie were actually living there - enormous grounds, old fireplaces, oil paintings and . . . what's that? I don't believe it. DVDs and loudspeakers. Lucky nothing's playing. I'd have gone nuts. How tacky in a place of such style.

To revive ourselves after this horrendous discovery, we had some tea. The best scones I've ever tasted, light with a crispy exterior. Could have been a bit warmer, but I'd ordered them, then walked around inspecting, and returned. Gave them time to cool, perhaps.

Geraldine had gluten-free cake. "I'm glad they didn't offer me another, because it's so good I'd have accepted," she remarked. This girl keeps trim. Our bedroom was very elegant, slightly marred by Wenlock spring water. That's unfair. Wenlock may be marvellous. I didn't try it because the hotel had got Evian in just for me. A reader pointed out Evian spelt backwards was "naive". That's me. A simple country boy.

I was frightened at dinner by two balloons rising from a corner table with the number 21 on them. Drunken revellers coming, I surmised. Wrong. The young couple were demure and delightful.

We waited far too long for the bread to arrive. When it came after 30 minutes (ridiculous) it was warm but didn't taste good or fresh. We got freebie starters - cream, cauliflower and Oxford blue cheese veloute (soup to you) and a beignet (fried doughnut to you), both superb.

My first course, Brixham crab tian, was impeccable. To follow: pork three ways. This was a famous Marco Pierre White dish, which he did brilliantly when he was an exciting chef rather than the total bore he's become. I got a rolled boneless bit of pork, a pork cheek and a tenderloin of pork. Perfectly good, but nothing could compare to Marco's.

Can't be bothered to tell you about the desserts, but both mine and Geraldine's were excellent. The chef is Daren Bale. The decoration, which didn't look like decoration - the highest compliment I can pay - is by von Essen's creative director, Andrew Onraet. When we left, Tickle was no longer on duty as doorkeeper. Having a kip somewhere else, I suppose.

  • Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the rudest of them all? Not me, silly. Many readers nominated staff at La Petite Maison in Mayfair. "What a dreadful place," wrote Erica Worth. "Staff arrogant and rude," said Brian Green.

    Some picked Nicole Rubi, who runs the original Petite Maison in Nice. I always found her to be a fantastic, charming professional. The French government agrees. I was recently invited to see Nicole being appointed to the Legion d'Honneur, one of France's highest awards. Didn't go. But I'd gladly turn up to see Arjun Waney, owner of the London version, get his award for rudest man ever to enter Winnerworld.

  • Wikipedia has recorded my death. Twice. The second time it was right. It's a grotesque organisation. Idiots galore can add nonsense to any biography, true or false. Wikipedia just publishes it. Newspapers silly enough to rely on it repeat it.

    To sue, you have to find the person who originated the inaccuracy. We had the site remove the libellous allegation that I had a gastric band fitted, when my diet book shows how brilliantly I dieted and kept the weight off. When we objected, a Wikipedia rep, Joe Daly, complained that we wrote to him in capital letters. That's a joke, innit? His colleagues are publishing rubbish and he's concerned with typography.

    Recently, a 10th-rate comedian, Dom Joly, proudly boasted in a national newspaper that he'd been "tweaking" my Wikipedia biography. He'd added a host of untruths to amuse himself. Get a life, Dom.

    We wrote once more, pointing out 10 further inaccuracies. Another Wikipedia genius, Guy Chapman, also complained we'd written in capital letters. A famous philosopher said, "Believe nothing of what you hear and absolutely nothing of what you see." He was surely referring to Wikipedia.

  • The 90-year-old film director Lewis Gilbert (Reach for the Sky, Alfie, Educating Rita, many Bond movies) has written a terrific autobiography, All My Flashbacks. This recalls his days in music hall and as a child actor with Laurence Olivier. His account of how we met is totally inaccurate. But he's a great man. Read his book.

    Michael's missives

    So Monsieur Picot of La Mamounia replied to you "as if dealing with a retard". The truth can sometimes be unpalatable, can't it?
    Nick Jones, Provence, France

    I thought La Mamounia's French restaurant fabulous, the refurbishing magnificent but the Italian restaurant - sorry to disagree with you - quite awful. I hope you didn't lose a fortune in the new casino. We don't want you turning into your mother.
    Ken King, London

    At La Mamounia we lay like beached whales crammed together on a cruise ship around the gruesome communal pool. The fact that guests wore lots of bling made no difference to the space.
    Helen Gobat, Surrey

    I'm sure many people agree with you about tacky, intrusive piped music in restaurants. It's spreading to even upmarket and expensive places. When my friends and I ask for the noise to be reduced, we're met with incredulity and indifference.
    Janet Morgan, London

    At the Cipriani, Venice, we stayed in the Palazzo Vendramin, with butler provided. Sounds great, but he was like a resident peeping Tom, for ever looking in the window. Curtains had to be closed. He was efficient: a nod or raised eyebrow had him rushing to do our bidding.
    Jenni Woolf, Chesterfield

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