Michael Winner has made more than 30 films in his career as a director, but is arguably better known for his outspoken restaurant reviews. His weekly Winner’s Dinners column for The Sunday Times features visits to the world’s great eateries.
My friend Gordon Ramsay famously said, “Michael Winner knows nothing about food.” At last I’ve found someone who knows less about food than me.
Not only less about food, but less about presentation, about how to treat people . . . in fact I’ve met the most awful example of the so-called “hospitality industry” I’ve come across in 70 years of eating in the finest restaurants all over the world. Quite a nonachievement. This man is ridiculous.
Stop. Don’t get overexcited. “Calm down, dear, it’s only a chef.” He’s Grant MacPherson, culinary director and head chef of Sandy Lane, Barbados. His food is unbelievably awful. He struts round the dining room like a waxwork on display, a carefully tended little triangle of white hair under his lower lip. One lady on the beach said, “I’d like to rip it off.” I understand her angst. If I had £1 for every guest who said to me, “Be sure to hammer that ghastly chef,” I’d be . . . well, about £53 richer.
MacPherson is far and away the worst choice of chef since Dermot Desmond so beautifully rebuilt and improved Sandy Lane. It’s been the subject of a considerable makeover, largely successful. The Bajan Blue dining area looks much better, but the surfaces available for displaying food are considerably reduced. So choice is limited. One of the star items of the Sandy Lane buffet was always the suckling pig, with its lovely crackling skin. This year chef MacPherson cut me a piece, saying, “That’s real crackling.” It wasn’t. It was inedible rubber.
When I asked why after 27 years Sandy Lane could no longer produce a properly cooked pig MacPherson replied sneeringly, “I don’t know about Bajan pig, I know about Hawaiian pig – that’s cooked in the earth.”
“We’re not in Hawaii,” I said to Geraldine. “We’re in Barbados and it’s on his menu.”
If you said anything to MacPherson that wasn’t total praise he looked as if you’d vanished, and walked away. He came over one evening with a single duck pancake on a plate, as if presenting a rare diamond. The duck was old and tired. The pancake was like leather. Guests passed by saying how awful the duck pancakes were. MacPherson swanned around in his own little world. Mr Chef on a pack of playing cards.
The Christmas goose was dry and horrid. The Christmas cake solid goo with no taste, no liquidity, no texture. The brandy butter was just pathetic pouring cream. The mince pies, hard and with no flavour. Last year both were superb. Under Richard Ekkebus a couple of years ago the food was fantastic. Grant MacPherson came from running 4,000-room casino hotels in Las Vegas. What has that to do with a small, luxury beach resort? One VIP guest said, “When you cater for casino gamblers they never even know where they are let alone what they’ve eaten or what time of day it is. There are no clocks.” MacPherson and Sandy Lane are a total mismatch.
The new general manager, Robert Logan, on the other hand, came from six years in charge of Raffles hotel, Rangoon. I liked him. If he can flex his muscles and not sink under the gargantuan ego of chef MacPherson I think he’ll do well.
Some of the other memorably awful food I ate included pizzas with a soggy base; dreary sausage and mash; chewy, tasteless flank steak; feeble spare ribs; shepherd’s pie, all potato, little meat; sweet and sour pork like school dinners at their worst; chicken curry with cashew nuts, soggy and grotesque. Some good food, but not, in my opinion, enough to satisfy many guests, paying for food alone Bd$181.50 (£66), and on Friday and Sunday Bd$302.5 (£110). So with drinks and coffee five days would be at least £80 a head, the other two days £130 a head. No wonder the well-heeled were moaning. There were shallow bowls of food on offer. Underneath, cold plates to eat from. “What happened to plate warmers?” I asked MacPherson. “It’s a design fault,” he said dismissively. Nothing was ever down to him.
Sandy Lane’s website said MacPherson “spearheaded the evolution of the new all-day dining restaurant”. Spearheading obviously didn’t include ordering plate warmers. The day before I left, some overhead heaters turned up which made the plates so hot Geraldine couldn’t pick them up. Another MacPherson spearheading example was two display units. They replaced the highly effective ice-base used before with a supposedly cold area. The surfaces were not that cold. One of the units had a boiling-hot half.
“Why are the chilled Scottish langoustines sitting on a hot surface?” I asked. The food and beverage manager said, “It’s the motor.”
A famous London restaurateur walked by. “Look, Jimmy, cold fish on a hot place, that’s novel,” I said.
“I wouldn’t eat that,” said Jimmy, adding of the area in general, “The presentation of it is nice, but the practicality isn’t.” I could go on, probably will.