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Glitches can’t spoil a polished performance

'I don’t mind a few rough edges in a hotel with incredible stained-glass windows. That’s the Métropole. Looks good. Odd. Loved it'
Published 28 November 2010
News Review
906th article

Geraldine and Ayako Ueno at Le 19ieme in the hotel Metropole, Brussels (Arnold Crust)

I don't like modern hotels. Why go to Brussels, a city steeped in history, and stay in a dump that could be anywhere? The hotel Metropole, built in 1895, is still run by the founding family. Its splendid grandeur remains.

The hotel sent its fey housekeeping manager, Richard Clay, originally from Derby, to meet us off the Eurostar. He resembled the hotel. Flaky, eccentric, at times incompetent - but delightful. No wonder Richard preferred it to the Hilton, where he once worked.

"The posh area is the Avenue Louise," he explained, "but we're in the lively part, the Place de Brouckere."

My suite had cracks in the walls and ghastly reproduction oil paintings, the hot rail in the bathroom leaked, but there was an elegant Maria Theresa chandelier, pleasing furniture, a nice view of 19th-century buildings opposite.

The staff had left us very tasty strawberries with whipped cream and sugar and some marvellous smoked salmon. Richard told me it was smoked on the premises.

I wanted dinner at 10.30pm because we were going to see Geraldine's future daughter-in-law, Ayako Ueno, in a show, but by then the restaurant was closed, as it is also for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. It's a fantastic-looking room.

"Not available much, your restaurant," I commented to Richard.

"The chef is French," he replied.

"That says it all," I responded.

I settled for breakfast. Bread and croissants, poor; smoked salmon omelette, excellent; coffee, okay. There's a fantastic, ornate bar, Le 19ieme, with people sitting outside under a canopy. Very times-gone-by. So was the lift. The general manager, Wouter Liekens, explained it was the oldest in Belgium. "Made by the French company Edoux, who did lifts for the Eiffel tower," said Liekens, adding, "It's a bit like the Titanic."

"You've obviously got another job to go to," I suggested.

Outside, when we took our photo (not used - I thought you'd prefer the ladies) I said, "You sit here, general manager."

Mr Liekens protested, "I'm not a German manager; I'm Belgian." Brownie points for Wouter.

These diminished when he got ratty after not sending back some trousers I'd left. Emails from the hotel assured us the matter was being dealt with. It wasn't. After 17 days we got onto the staff again. Mr Liekens considered that pushy - dared to say my lovely PA, Sarah, was being difficult.

Also, Richard booked a limo for the evening, but didn't tell the driver where we were going. That produced confusion. I don't mind a few rough edges in a hotel with incredible stained-glass windows and ceilings, amazing ironwork and gilt bronzes. That's the Metropole. Looks good. Odd. Loved it.

  • Two opportunities coming your way to see me in person. Radiant. Witty. Modest. On December 3 my one-man show is at the Saffron Screen cinema, Saffron Walden.

    On January 19, The Sunday Times offers another Dinner with Winner at the Belvedere, Holland Park. Geraldine and I will greet you. I'll entertain with a stupendous after-dinner speech. There's free parking, a champagne and canape reception, then a three-course dinner with wines and coffee thrown in. Well, they would be thrown if I was serving. Luckily for guests, I'm not.

    In the Belvedere's elegant dining room you'll see important paintings by Damien Hirst plus Andy Warhol lithographs. It's £150 per person, which includes a signed copy of my new book, Unbelievable!, and, in case you overeat, a signed copy of my Fat Pig Diet, explaining how I lost 3½ stone and kept it off. They're more than 25 quid for a start. To book, telephone 0871 620 4027. See you there.

  • Talking of books, here's my Christmas choice. At Nos 1 to 4,806, my own, Unbelievable!. Marvellous stories of eating with stars plus ST reviews for the past year. That great raconteur Michael Caine has a very amusing book, The Elephant to Hollywood. Another Sir Michael has Parky's People, a fascinating collection of his best TV interviews.

    "Plugging any other pals?" you ask. I know the impresario Michael Codron. He can be waspishly amusing but his ghastly autobiography is a self-aggrandising dirge.

    The most historic book ever - Walter the Farting Dog - reached No 1 on the ST bestseller list. Geraldine gave it to me. Was she trying to tell me something? It's an intriguing, illustrated yarn.

    Apparently hard to find. But if you ask for it, maybe Frog Ltd of Berkeley, California, will reprint. Screen rights have been sold, a big movie announced. It really was No 1 on the Sunday Times bestseller list - the children's list. If Christmas ain't a time to be childish, when is?

  • The most pathetic thing I ever saw on TV was Nigel Havers in I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!. What a moaning, arrogant, petulant person he revealed himself to be. If you decide to do that show - I turned it down for years - then be gracious. Join in the stupidity.

    I'm told Havers did a TV series called The Charmer. In Celebrity he was charmless. He's a bore and a quitter.

    Michael's missives

    You suffer so many lousy meals with lousy service, I invite you to my house. I guarantee the service will be as lousy as the cooking if my wife maintains her normal standard. If you can't make it, perhaps you'd just like to send the tip. After all, it's the thought that counts.
    Geoff Smith, Cardiff

    In homage to your gourmet jaunts, my wife and I eat out every night. Out of cans . . . out of packets . . .
    Bob Cove, Oxfordshire

    Your valued assistant Dinah has been with you 22 years, so why take her to a terrible restaurant where neither of you can eat anything? What do your staff get after 30 years' service - a discount night at McDonald's?
    Suzanna Simpson, Cheshire

    You find London full of strange people in funny clothes. Check out the motley crew pictured with you in Guernsey. No wonder you think you'll fit in there, although the loose shirt may be a bit avant-garde for them. Tax haven or not, they certainly don't splash out on clothes.
    Geoff Tabor, London

    At the Churston Court inn, Devon, the brochure offered a "welcoming inglenook fire". We put some extra logs on. When we asked for more, the manager said, "You've used our night's quota; you can't have any." When I pointed out, "You manager, me customer" a wet log was plonked on the fire, which promptly went out.
    Mike Crow, Buckinghamshire

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