Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

An island of calm away from London

Michael Winner samples the delights of Guernsey on a trip to find a tax haven away from overpopulated London
Published 14 November 2010
News Review
904th article

Michael at La Fregate with Guernsey guys and doll (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

In June 2001 my friend Tone (Mr Blair to you) and I were staying - but not sharing a room - at the Lowry hotel in Manchester. No sign of an important fax. With people of such stupendous significance there - me and the PM - the staff had no paper in the fax machine. The Lowry was a mess. In 2005 I was at a literary lunch there with Earl Spencer. The food was so horrific it was a miracle we had the energy to make our speeches.

The fax fiasco was under the non-control of a manager, Chris Sharp. He later wrote from Guernsey inviting me to the hotel La Fregate, where he was working.

Two weeks ago, on my birthday, my friend Andrew Davis gave me one of his PremiAir luxury helicopters for the 1¼-hour flight from Battersea heliport. I wanted to check out Guernsey in case I need a tax haven and a change from overpopulated London, now full of strange people in funny clothes. I loved it. Peaceful, orderly, everyone pleasant.

The first house I looked at was fantastic - right on the sea, uninterrupted view of a vast bay. It was owned by a Jewish man who told me this joke: Hymie says, "I'm going to be buried at sea." His friend Abe asks, "Why?" "Because my wife said she'd dance on my grave," replies Hymie.

Open-market house prices are very high in Guernsey. Buy one of those and you can become resident. We stopped at a small beach cafe advertising crab rolls, scones, jam, cream and Guernsey gache - that's sticky bread with currants. The staff added a generous spread of rich Guernsey butter. Sensational.

Showing me round were David Shiel, a charming local accountant who's raising money for the only good film script I've been offered in years; his very bright Ukrainian friend Natalie; and Antony Matheson, an elegant, thoroughly professional, old-school estate agent.

Lunch was at La Fregate. With no need to worry about fax paper, Chris Sharp was jolly and ran the place well. The restaurant looked onto St Peter Port - a car park, a yacht marina, some ugly buildings and a sliver of sea.

The food was better than the view. The home-made bread was warm and exemplary. My starter - crab meat with shrimps - was historic, caught that morning. Then an enormous portion of local salt-water fish and shellfish - sea bass, skate, monkfish, lemon sole and scallops. Well cooked, no stupid plate decoration. Excellent veggies.

Dessert was "warm apple Guernsey cake with vanilla ice cream and almonds". The warm apples were little squares round the edge. The cake was an incredibly fine sponge with a crisp top, all made with Guernsey cream and butter. Then the staff gave me yet another birthday cake. Service was good. Cost £327 for five people; no tip on the bill, so I left £50 cash.

Our photo shows, left to right, Natalie, David, the hotel manager, me and the estate agent. Good cast for an Agatha Christie thriller. Who gets murdered first, I wonder.

  • Raymond Joabar, the chief of American Express in Britain, should watch more television. He'd see his company's commercial, announcing, "If we find something unusual in your spending we'll alert you straight away." Er . . . no, Raymond, you don't. My Amex card was rejected at a West End theatre two hours after it was accepted at the National Theatre. Nobody alerted me, straight away or any other time. Nor was there anything unusual in my buying theatre tickets.

    Finger out, Raymond. You're not in step with the Amex ethos. Your predecessor operated in much the same way. After a brief run he's no longer in the job.

  • Last year readers were offered my Christmas card. I distributed 1,800. A man in Dubai, after I'd paid expensive postage, complained he didn't like it.

    This year, being £9m in debt, I decline to pay the postage. If you want my lovely card I've arranged with the Sparkle Direct fairies via Fairy Queen Kelly Barnaby, who with her pixies and elves runs The Sunday Times Bookshop (0845 271 2135), that for the knockdown price of £13.59, including postage, (£16.99 in shops) you'll not only get my book Unbelievable - My Life in Restaurants and Other Places, but you'll also get my Christmas card.

    And - wait for it - if you've already bought the book, write in again and Kelly will send the card separately. If you want a signed MW sticker with a personal message and a cartoon, she'll provide that. Or I will, if you write to me. This is a good spiel, isn't it? I should have been a barrow boy. Could I move fruit and veg . . .

  • Returned last Sunday to London's second-best hotel (best is the Ritz), the Goring in Belgravia. Great lunch from the chef, Derek Quelch: glazed Scottish lobster omelette (fantastic), roast beef with trimmings and coffee arctic roll with pistachio cream.

    The Edwardian splendour is beautifully maintained, except for Lord Linley's tacky chandeliers in the dining room. His silly little lights on wires are like cheapo Christmas tree decorations gone wrong. When I said that before, I was told people flocked to the hotel just to see the chandeliers. Unbelievable.

    Michael's missives

    I have a technique I use when I ask for the restaurant manager and a receptionist dragon says, "What do you want to talk to him about?" I reply, "About his affair with my wife." That gets me put through.
    Mike Barclay, Buckinghamshire

    Never mind your 23-year-old jacket; the low, strangely orangey lighting in Bar Boulud imparted such a youthful bloom to your octogenarian-in-waiting visage that you appeared even more ravishing than Dame Judi Dench, pictured alongside your column. Ian Hearn, Leicestershire I'm surprised you didn't join Twitter when it started - especially as it was named after you.
    Jo Nicol-Simpson, Dorset

    I had a dream about you last night; you were actually quite nice. Am I losing it?
    Eils Digby-Rogers, London

    At the revamped Savoy's American bar we got two cocktails with an appropriate name: Hanky-Panky. The bill was £28 plus an "optional" service charge of 12.5%. The credit card machine invited me to add a gratuity. I'd hoped this tradition had died.
    Christopher Fogg, Surrey

    If you're still dieting, I recommend Peel's restaurant near Solihull. We got a battered hake, barely a teaspoonful of pea puree and a 1in cube of chip. The restaurant had run out of two puddings on the table d'hote menu. It was a third full. I wonder why.
    Jane Hollier, Solihull

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, E98 1XY, or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk