Less pretentious alternatives urged: Guide attacks 'over the top' hotel menus

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The Independent Online
SOME British hotels are too sophisticated for their own good, according to the latest issue of the Good Hotel Guide, published today. They are catering too much for gourmets and 'foodies' and not enough for people with more simple tastes.

The widespread improvement in standards which has taken place since the guide was first published in 1978, appears to have gone too far, says the 1995 issue, which also criticises hotels for 'extortionate' telephone charges, 'mechanical' receptionists and pretentious, 'over-the-top' menus.

Guests are far better housed than they were 18 years ago: bathrooms en suite are now the rule, bedroom television is nearly universal and nylon sheets appear to have gone forever. Hotels are competing to fill up rooms with new appliances. However, many hotels have been 'pathetically slow' to adjust their menus to changing tastes and habits, according to the guide's editor, Hilary Rubinstein. Poor ingredients, gross portions, over-ambitious cooking and inadequate options for vegetarians and smaller appetites are still common. Among the over-sophisticated dishes quoted by the guide is a pounds 29.90 dinner menu from an expensive country house hotel which included:

A rich liver parfait with a seed mustard crust, laid on a port and redcurrant coulis and accompanied by toasted brioche;

Slivers of smoked beef laid on salad leaves mixed with mango and cashew nuts served with a blue cheese dressing;

Breast of corn-fed chicken laid on buttered leaf spinach with a Dijon mustard sauce and wild mushrooms.

More hotels should offer two- or three-course menus alongside a five- or six- course 'marathon', it adds. 'We appreciate that many readers want ambitious cooking when they stay at a hotel, but we must protest at some of the OTT dishes that pretentious hotels believe to be titillating to their customers' appetites.'

The guide also criticises hotels for not automatically upgrading guests, particularly those in single rooms, to better rooms when these are unlet and says they should 'come clean' about the charges they make for telephone calls.

Comparisons between London hotels showed that the Grosvenor House charges pounds 1.90 for a call which would cost 25p at British Telecom rates. The same call would cost pounds 1.54 at the Lanesborough and pounds 1.46 at the Savoy but only 25p at the Beaufort Hotel, which has a nil mark-up policy. A Moat House hotel in Nottingham charged pounds 82 for a 22-minute off-peak call to Singapore: the standard BT cost would have been pounds 17.

Guests who try to use a chargecard may find that some hotels, like the Bellhouse in Beaconsfield, impose a 'facility charge' for cards of 20p a minute.

The criticisms reinforce the findings of a survey by the Industrial Research Bureau, which found that 44 per cent of hotels added 400 per cent to the cost of guests' calls and some mark-ups were up to 1,000 per cent. Some guests are charged by computer for calls which are dialled but not made, because the number was engaged or failed to answer.

The 1995 Good Hotel Guide; Vermilion; pounds 12.99.