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The lady vanishes

Published 11 August 2002
Style Magazine
474th article

Madonna fans: from left, Lucio Rado, Michael Winner and Fulvio Rado (Georgina Hristova)

It was Giles Shepard, the best-dressed man in the world and boss of the Ritz hotel, Piccadilly, who recommended Trattoria alla Madonna. It is in Venice, down a narrow alley to the left of the Rialto Bridge as you face it from the St Mark's Square side. Before I get on to Madonna, if I may put it that way, I shall refer to my recent lunch at the Ritz. They have a new, young, charming restaurant manager who is, mercifully, English. His name is Simon Girling. He said: "Sunday is my day off, but I'll come in specially for you." Then he rang again and said: "Twenty thousand people are going to be in the West End tomorrow, all the streets are closed from 7am to 4pm." "Highly unlikely," I responded.

I called West End Central police station and Inspector Andrew Gorzynsky phoned Scotland Yard and reported back: "There's a fun run leaving the Ritz hotel at 10am." "They won't still be there at 1 o'clock will they?" I asked. "Not unless they're running very slowly," replied Inspector Gorzynsky.

I duly arrived with tie and no jeans at the Ritz. That's a ridiculous demand, especially for lunch on Sunday. The Ritz is the only restaurant in London that requires it. Still, it's the last great dining room we have. I'll never know how they got away with destroying Claridge's dining room, which was Grade II listed with a star.

New man Simon Girling is very good. He lacks gravitas, but after a few more visits from me that could easily turn up. I was glad to see Eddie Adanir, the number two, was still there. He's excellent. The food was superb; so was the service. I think the head chef came in specially, too. The Ritz is now the only place in London that makes truly excellent pommes souffles. That's little blown-up bags of fried potatoes. The only tacky display was the young man with the bread trolley, who was obviously rehearsing for his evening job as a pub comedian.

  • Now to Alla Madonna. This has been going since 1954, so even though it's very off the beaten track, it was packed. The owner, 76-year-old Fulvio Rado, still serves every day. His son Lucio helps out. "This table on my left," I said to Lucio, "could you please not put anyone there." "I have to eat," said Lucio. Nevertheless, he cleared the cutlery from it. This was just as well, because a little bit later it housed my wine bucket, the salt and pepper, two lots of toothpicks, a large bottle of balsamic vinegar, a bread basket and half of our plate of squid and mixed fish. "It's got millions of waiters," observed Georgina. "That tells you it's popular."

    We had seafood rice with scampi and clams. "Delicious, fantastic," said Georgina. It was. "You're unbelievably full," I said to Fulvio. "And we don't pay hotels commission to send people here," he said proudly. Most of the recommendations you get from your hotel concierge are only because he's paid a whopping commission by the restaurant. I dictated that we got black squid and sardines, fried and put with onions for two days in vinegar. Then a plate of mixed boiled fish, including octopus, shrimps, crayfish, little prawns, snails and clams. Somewhere in there was an enormous soup called pasta e fagioli - pasta and beans. It was superb and a deep orange colour, which speedily got onto my white shirt. "Very Bulgarian taste, I love it," said Georgina of the soup. Then came fried shrimps, monkfish and sole, and finally tiramisu, which is usually rather sickly. But this one was fine. You should definitely put Madonna on your Venice list.

  • I have to tell you (I don't have to, but I will) that this little story is probably the last time you'll read the witty and trenchant views of Miss Georgina Hristova. After this meal, not because of it, we parted. We remain good friends. She's a wonderful girl and I wish her well. Applicants for the vacant position should write in triplicate with their CV and a recent photo. Please list every relationship you've had lasting more than three hours and include your full academic qualifications, although lack of them may not be a problem. Cats, dogs and snakes are out. Tropical fish, under certain circumstances, will be considered. An ability to keep calm while being driven atrociously would help. No, no, I'm only joking. I shall continue my path through life alone and with the deep, cultured stoicism for which I am renowned. But if you do have a beautiful sister, bung her my way.


    A couple of months ago, I stayed at Dromoland Castle hotel in Ireland, where I ordered kippers for breakfast. After a 30-minute wait, my order arrived under a silver dome, which was inelegantly lifted off by the waitress. I specifically ordered kippers plural, but what was revealed was a very small, very dye stained "boil-in-the-bag" frozen kipper - singular. When I suggested that the kipper was not fresh, the waiter told me that it was of the "vacuum-packed" variety. I wondered whether, at £350 a night sans breakfast, it would too much to ask for fresh kippers, to which he retorted that they only had one or two requests per week for kippers. In that case, I said, why not take them off the menu entirely. He agreed. Last week an acquaintance was offered exactly the same boil-in-the-bag variety.
    Jeffrey Salmon, Highgate Village, London.

    Having just completed a nationwide study of ice cream (started five years back, after reading Michael Winner salivating about the Harbour Bar in Scarborough), I have found that the best ice cream in the world is, in fact, made and sold at Hillfoot Cafe in Bearsden, Glasgow, some three-quarters of a mile from my home. May I suggest that MW now include the occasional health-spa eatery in his column, so that I can lose the 3st I put on rising to the ice-cream challenge. This new venture may also help him in his quest for longevity.
    Colin Cooper, Glasgow.

    Lobster omelette, tartare of mackerel, wild smoked salmon, blinis a la russe with cream and sevruga caviar, dressed crab, sole colbert, fish pie, haddock gratinee, treacle tart, lemon tart, crumble ... Are the portions at Wheeler's (July 28) tiny or does Michael just try a little of each dish?
    Brian Keen, by e-mail

    I noted with disappointment that there was no mention of the lovely Georgina last week. I do hope she and Michael haven't split up.
    Mrs Ruth Davies, Swansea.

    Three years after leaving Britain, I still enjoy your readers' opinions about restaurants. However, why do you still waste three-quarters of a page of this section on that funny-looking man? His large frame and ego are not easily accommodated in such limited space - and the readers' letters are far more to the point and informative.
    Till Jelitto, Vienna

    Send letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk