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Tis the season to be enjoying a bellini in Venice

Published 28 December 2003
News Review
546th article

From left: Natale Rusconi, Michael Winner and Bianco Adamello (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I first spent Christmas and new year in Venice in 1975 with Miss Hammersmith, a beautiful blonde girl from Wales. She later joined British Airways and became Miss London Airport. I can't remember which title she was most proud of. I have fetching photos of her in St Mark's Square standing out front the mist in an orange-brown fur coat, deep orange high-heeled boots and a little black hat.

In those days it was not fashionable to be in Venice at Christmas. There were hardly any tourists. Only Venetians. Light spilled from church doors into the narrow streets as a Dickensian mist swirled on the canals and the sound of hymns echoed in the alleys.

I next visited Venice for new year three years later. This time with a lovely Puerto Rican actress who starred in the American children's TV series Sesame Street.

On this trip Sonia spent an inordinate amount of time with digestive problems. When we reached Venice on December 27 - having enjoyed Christmas in Rome - we had a blazing row and both left, separately, the next day. We remain friends.

I mention all this because if you're not in Venice now - I'm personally sunning myself in Barbados - you should consider going next year. Have lunch at Harry's Bar, as I did in 1975, and stay at the Cipriani, as I did not in 1975, because it wasn't open then for Christmas. We were at the Danieli in an enormous old-fashioned suite on the first floor, which has since been divided up.

I get more letters about Venice than any other town, excluding London. People pour into my recommendations, including the tiny Alle Testiere, in some hidden back street, asking for what I ordered.

I was sitting last year in the Trattoria San Marco, owned by the wonderful old Fiorin sisters (now sadly retired), when a passer-by held up to the glass window a tattered old column of mine about Venice.

I now recommend another place. It's part of the hotel Cipriani. Their second restaurant, or fourth if you count the two at the swimming pool. You sit in summer on a wooden deck on the Giudecca canal with stunning views of Santa Maria della Salute, the Doge's palace, the piazzetta and Harry's Bar over the water. In winter diners retreat to the attractive interior.

The name is Cips. Or, in full, Il Ristorante Cips Club, which is odd because it's not a club. Printed on the menu is, "We kindly request our clients not to use portable phones in the restaurant." They should have that in larger type.

I visited it twice on my last trip and the food was stunningly good. Unlike Arrigo Cipriani in Harry's Bar, who opts for tinned white peach juice in his superb bellinis in order to be able to serve consistently throughout the year, Cips uses fresh peach juice when possible. Sometimes Italian, sometimes South American. In winter they switch to raspberries, which I suppose is sacrilege to true bellini connoisseurs. Their fresh peach juice is sensational.

We got a freebie of cold mixed seafood salad. Very good, but they should have given me a knife as well as a fork. I got some on my shirt. This is normal. I had excellent fried zucchini blossom stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Followed by sliced calfs liver sauteed with onions. It's normally served with fresh polenta which I hate, so I had boiled potatoes. On another visit I had marvellous fried scampi with rice.

Both times the desserts were disappointing. The pastry in the raspberry millefeuille was heavy. The Bavarian cream cake with vanilla sauce, moderate.

The restaurant manager, Bianco Adamello, is exemplary. Dr Natale Rusconi, the doyen of hotel directors, walks around checking his guests are all right. I've never met a better hotel boss anywhere.

On a note at odds with gooey Christmas spirit, I was delighted to learn the atrocious, unauthorised Chelsea "copy" of one of my favourite restaurants, La Chaumiere, has closed. The real Chaumiere on the Grande Corniche near Eze is owned by the Coppini family. A brief employee there, Yvan Gaydon, had his London PR firm announce his two-star Michelin menu - when he'd never earned a Michelin star ever. Now the owner of the premises, Robert Bourne, has installed the Cheyne Walk Brasserie.

I'm on my sun lounger at the Sandy Lane hotel, Barbados, where I've just eaten an excellent chile con carne and some roast suckling pig. The journey, without Concorde, was nine hours instead of four. At Gatwick, security removed seven pairs of nail scissors from my carry-on cases. Two hundred pounds for the reader who guesses what I needed them for.

Winner's letters

At last Michael Winner got it right last week. Not about food but about the rudeness of people who turn up late. Billions of wasted hours are spent waiting for people with no manners. Their excuse is usually the same as staff who come late for work, "There was a lot of traffic." What do they expect? Empty roads!
J S Stevens, Berkshire

When did the previously exemplary Jeremy King of the Wolseley become conceited and high-handed? He suggested I was upset only because I had not enjoyed my meal. He then bizarrely proceeded to remind me why - our table was cramped and uncomfortable, our drinks badly made and appallingly served and the waiting staff rude. The food was okay, although my souffle starter was curdled and I'd have appreciated the kitchen being rather more involved in my main course steak tartar. It was served DIY with assorted pots. It then took four requests before the manager came to our table.
Jeremy Brown, London

After some initial teething trouble at the Wolseley - and what new restaurant doesn't have that? - they've finally got it right. The room is beautiful. I had an excellent meal with great service and at a reasonable price. The wine was served promptly and the mineral water was cold. Your correspondent Norman Coxall last week also referred to the lack of side plates. The Ivy doesn't have them either. We have to accept today's dress code. I've been to many smart restaurants where some people are dressed appallingly. So give the Wolseley a chance. It has its own personality and character.
Barry Burnett, London

Following on from Brigitte Marks' odd beauty queen title (Winner's Dinners, December 14), in 1968 my still gorgeous wife and I went to Ostend. We attended a "British Evening" dance run by the local council. I egged her on to enter the beauty competition and she won. Her title -and we still have the sash -was Miss British Ball.
Jeff Young, Middlesex

Each time I book at the Dorchester Grill using the hotel's online reservation system, when I call the Grill Room on the day of my reservation I'm told they don't have it. Given the resources of the Dorchester this is unforgivable.
Simon Dalgleish, London

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk