Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fantastic French chef and then on to Fawlty Towers in Andorra

Deciding to drive somewhere for the New Year's celebrations, the blonde and I thought we would try something different - a short winter sports holiday in Andorra. With most of Europe covered in snow, the Maserati was left in the garage and the Range Rover Sport complete with winter tyres and a brand new set of snow chains was bought into service.

Stopped on the way in Baden Baden at the charming Belle Epoque boutique hotel; its small. shabby genteel and the staff are the best you could find anywhere in Europe. We laughed over breakfast, as an Indian "Mr Grumpy" with his fat wife and fatty kids tried their very best to goad the staff, one after the other with a series of pathetic complaints about their omelette, their porridge and anything else that they could think of. The Germans won hands down and gave a show of polished politeness straight out of the best hotel school. Hats off to them. But I wished I had Mr Grumpy with me a couple of days later.

Next stop was the small but perfectly formed establishment of Frederic Carrion, in the village of Vire not far from Macon. Chef Carrion has now added a few suites to his Relais de Montmartre restaurant. If anyone is deserving of one or two Michelins Stars its this fine chef and his Degustation Menu based on truffles was simple but splendid. He kindly posed for the photo above.

Now for the main event; we finally arrived at our New Year's Eve destination, the Sport Hotel Hermitage & Spa in Soldeu, Andorra.

Although costing a king's ransom and claiming 5 stars, this modern wooden edifice has no Porte Cachere, and no "set-down" area delineated on the main street; so we were forced to park in the street and shlep the 100 metres or so up the hill back to its glass entrance doors to announce ourselves. A porter then had to make the same trek down the hill and back up again with our baggage. Its now 5 pm and having had a long drive from Macon I was looking forward to relaxing in our suite before taking dinner. Sadly it seemed the suite had not been cleaned, and we had to "relax' with a beverage in the bar.

The whole hotel is modern and well appointed, but someone seems to have bought Tesco's entire stock of room freshener and sprayed it throughout the whole place. Our suite flattered to deceive, with no functioning internet, a bath that would not empty except over the bathroom floor and a cubicle for the toilet that had no ventilation.

We chose to try out the so called Fusion restaurant. Fusion is something that works well when you have a chef of my friend Paul Day's talents in Prague ( Paul was ex Nobu ), but when you have the local chaps trying out what's really quite a complex bit of chemistry it not suprisingly fails badly. I have to leave my main course unfinished, despite having missed lunch. The restaurant manager seemed bemused when I showed him a rock hard bit of "yakitori" chicken. He asked me what I would like; to which I really should have asked to go into their open fronted kitchen and give their boys a short cooking lesson; but in the end, after a long day, I settled for taking the 30 bucks or so they wanted for this tough offering, off my bill. Service was slow and the restaurant was full of screaming kids and their badly dressed parents.

The manager Mr Luis Benoit has been in hiding since my arrival; it seems he is always at one of the other two hotels in the town that belong the "Sport Hotels" group. Even my imitation of the Indian Mr Grumpy, carried out in a loud voice in the middle of their busy reception has failed to flush him from cover. But various "Manuals", in the worthy tradition of Basil Fawlty's, have been much in evidence. Its a shame no one can be bothered to train them or their manager how to run a Five Star establishment.

I cannot describe the gastlyness of the New Year's Eve dinner; good ingredients spoiled by poor cooking, unimaginative presentation and generally lacking any kind of flair at all. Main parts were an overcooked piece of fish, followed by a very tough fillet steak. We left the dining room before the deserts arrived, not being able to take another terrible offering seriously. Upstairs, there was a black American singer who managed to croak her way through a variety of badly chosen covers; the highlight of the evening was when the big TV screen ( I guess showing celebrations of the New Year in Madrid ) went black just as the countdown to midnight began. A fitting finale for a another year of Fawlty Towers, Andorran style.

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