Beef on menu at Hogg's hotel, but it's not British

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The Independent Online
It Is A menu to gladden the heart of the Agriculture Minister, Douglas Hogg, beleaguered defender of British beef. Clear beef broth to begin. Wafer-thin slices of beef to follow. Then sirloin of beef with tarragon sauce, or beef Stroganoff with saffron rice as a main course - a veritable beef bonanza of CJD-defying proportions.

This particular menu is to be found - even more cause for rejoicing - in the heart of Europe, at the Hotel Seeburg in the pretty Swiss lakeside resort of Lucerne, to be precise. No shortage of beef here. But then that's perhaps not entirely surprising. Mr Hogg owns the hotel.

Tucked away on page 68 of the House of Commons Register of Members' Interests, published last week, is a new entry under Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (Grantham): "I have the majority interest in the Hotel Seeburg, Luzern, Switzerland."

Overlooking the lake, with stunning views across to the 7,000ft peak of Pilatus, the Seeburg is a cluster of ancient buildings around a courtyard where a cherub-adorned fountain plays, with a modern concrete-and- glass annexe next door. There are 90 rooms (pounds 65 a night for bed and breakfast is typical), and a banqueting hall for 200 boasting red silk drapes, grand mirrors, chandeliers and a panoramic painting of the Alps.

It is not one of Lucerne's three five-star hotels, the top category of the Swiss Society of Hoteliers, but it has a notable four stars. Thus, while the butter came in plastic pots, not fresh pats, the linen table- cloths were spotless, the service attentive and the flowers fresh. In the bedroom there were no sachets of shampoo or handy shoe-shines, but the view was unbeatable.

Mr Hogg, 51, came into the hotel last year - but it has been in the Hogg family for four generations, having its roots in the philanthropy of his great-grandfather, Quintin Hogg, founder of the Regent Street Polytechnic (now Westminster University). In 1898 he bought it for his newly-established travel agency, the Polytechnic Touring Association, which aimed to provide cheap holidays for the less wealthy people of Britain.

At the outset it was non-profit-making. Any income over operating costs went to the Polytechnic. Douglas Hogg, who has a son also called Quintin and a daughter, Charlotte, inherited it from his uncle who died at the beginning of last year.

And as mad cow disease has become a farming nightmare, the minister and his wife, Sarah, the former head of John Major's policy unit, have slipped away almost once a month to take in the fresh mountain air.

Manfred Ernst, the hotel manager, said summer was best, when Alpine flowers bedecked the woods at the back of the hotel and the bar in the hotel's lakeside garden stays humming until the early hours. He describes his new boss and his wife - "a member of the Kitchen Cabinet, yes?" - as "a very interesting couple".

Yet the Agriculture Minister wears his famous name and influence lightly. "I didn't even know he was a politician until about two weeks ago," said one member of staff. "When he's here he always seems so relaxed, going up in the mountains."

But nothing is perfect. The Seeburg may well be a haven for the British beef eater, but the beef one eats will not be British.

"We serve Swiss beef," Mr Ernst told the Independent on Sunday with a smile. "Mr Hogg has English beef only if he serves it himself."

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