Published 10 September 1995 Style Magazine 114th article
The breakfast club: Giorgio Tognazzi, Michael Winner, Maurizio Saccani and Fausto Allegri at the Splendido (Vanessa Perry)
My personal dream team to run a hotel would be Mr Maurizio Saccani, general manager of the Villa San Michele, Fiesole, and the Splendido, Portofino, Mr Fausto Allegri, chief concierge of the Splendido, and Mr Giorgio Tognazzi, maitre d' at the Splendido. From that you may gather I think the Splendido is pretty good. And I do. But like all dream teams - as even my friend OJ Simpson has discovered from time to time in his endless trial - mistakes can be made. The mistake at the Splendido is called breakfast. It is a cock-up of gargantuan proportions. I have mentioned before that I was not placed on this earth to unwrap butter. Nor was I created to make my own tea with tea bags or to mutilate those ghastly paper slips containing sugar. All three aggravations appeared on my room-service tray at the Splendido. So, at what should have been a pleasant start to the day, I was surrounded by debris. There was the small envelope the tea bag came in and the tea bag itself, for which no receptacle is ever provided, so you search for the ashtray. There's the horrid butter-smeared silver paper and the two pieces of thin paper, the remains of the sugar container and the little bit ripped off, plus, as always, some spare sugar that falls out. All most unsightly.
On top of that we didn't get the orange juice, and when the waiter finally brought it he left the room saying "Goodnight" at 9am in the morning. Oh, and Vanessa's cup was seriously chipped.
To ameliorate this seediness, and as my suite had no balcony, the next day I decided to eat on the terrace with the public. All I can say is, that'll teach them to give me a room without a balcony. Here it was dire beyond belief. Nothing looked very appetising at the buffet. I searched in vain for a hot plate on which to place the cooked items. There was only a tiny cold plate near the metal containers, so I went into a service room, where the staff surveyed me as an intruder. There I found a large plate, even though it was cold. I needn't have bothered. The scrambled egg was running soft and wild. It tasted worse than the fake powdered-egg muck we got during rationing in the second world war. The bacon was so undercooked, slimy and greasy I didn't bother. The sausages were beyond human belief. I am a sausage freak. I have never, in decades of life, turned down a sausage. I'll eat them hot, cold, halfway between, spiced, unspiced. But the practically pulsating reddish thing that greeted me, well, I took one small mouthful and no more. The waiter didn't ask and put the coffee before Vanessa. When told, he said: "Oh, she's having the tea!" White sugar only was brought and coffee prefers brown. The food on the buffet was alive with wasps like in a third-world documentary.
I took myself to the pool overlooking the lovely harbour of Portofino, a wooded hill with a castle on it and a sparkling blue sea dotted with white boats. After a period of recovery, I leaned against the green iron railing, my back to the bay, and surveyed the hotel with its pink geraniums and flower-strewn hillside. A man started coming toward me. There are two ways Sunday Times readers approach me. One, usually nice English-type people, say "I love your column" or "It's the first thing I read each week" and then go. The others have something specific on their minds. This chap, tall, heavy-set and dark, was determined. "l hope you say the breakfast is a disgrace," he said. "I. . . er. . ." I tried to respond. "We've been to the Excelsior Venice recently, there the breakfast was marvellous," he went on. My mouth opened and closed. No sound came out. Rare for me. "It's like they buy their fruit from England here," he said, "and have it sent over. It's all old and wrinkled." Had he finished, I wondered? No. "I only came here because you recommended the place," he said. Then he returned to his nearby lounger, which had two straw hats with wide black bands on a table beside it. He picked up a copy of The Shadow Man by John Katzenbach and started to read. "Oh my God!" I thought. "I've upset an intellectual! This is awful. The responsibility is too great." I lay in the sun with only an occasional, frightened glance towards him. Ah well. There are a great many good things about the Splendido and I'll tell you about them another day. When I've recovered from the strain of it all.
It is not only humans who are cosseted at the Nare hotel in Cornwall (Letters, September 3). A year or so ago, I checked in with my alsatian, Sholto. As in my case, his dinner was part of the deal. When I asked what he might have, I was told that he could order what he liked from the menu. He found the beef delicious.
Desmond Briggs, Chippenham, Wilts
I always read Winner's Dinners with interest, but feel that the establishments covered are very biased towards the southeast, and London in particular. It would be interesting to see Mr Winner visiting one or two more rural retreats. In Staffordshire we have some excellent restaurants, many of which feature original styles of cuisine. I would venture to suggest a trip to Fletchers Forge restaurant in Eccleshall. I have been visiting this restaurant for the past two years, and have never had a disappointing dish of any kind; the staff are a delight and the chef/owner, Julian Ankers, has built up a considerable local reputation for someone who is only 26 years old. The menu changes monthly, and there are quarterly gourmet evenings when diners are invited to discuss ingredients, recipes and wines with the chef. Fletchers Forge will also cater for special diets, and I have known the chef to discuss particular dietary requirements with a diner and then produce suitable dishes within an hour. I may add that I am simply an impressed customer, and that I also have other favourite restaurants in Staffordshire.
Mrs Linda Mottram, Swynnerton, Staffs