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When in Venice don't ask for photos of the ice creams

Published 24 July 2005
News Review
628th article

In the driving seat: Paola with Bolzonella, Cartapatti and Winner

I don't go to restaurants, I go to tables. It doesn't matter how good the restaurant is if you're sitting adjacent to the toilet, the kitchen or some noisy serving area. There is none of these near my favourite table in the world. This is number 3 (all restaurant tables are secretly numbered!) at the pool bar restaurant of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.

It faces the still waters of the lagoon, the church of San Giorgio Maggiore and the walled monastery garden behind it. In the distance is the Lido, an island with luxury hotels on the beach. Not only is it a calming and delightful view, the food and the service are historic. There are only 14 tables.

The "proper" pool restaurant is set back in the main hotel. Another, Cipriani's posh one, reaches down to the lagoon from the front of the hotel. That's a silly place. You have to wear a jacket even in the extreme heat of summer. There's also one on a fixed raft facing St Mark's Square, an informal place called Cip's. I like that, but on my recent visit didn't bother to go to it. I lunched at the small pool bar-restaurant every day except one.

The superb staff are headed by the bar manager Walter Bolzonella. He's in charge of all the hotel's bars. His assistant is Andrea Cartapatti. The menu is not enormous, but large enough. The pasta is unbeatable. I suppose they must have a chef working in the kitchen behind the bar, otherwise why would they have a kitchen? But I forgot to get his name.

The club sandwich is second only to that at La Reserve de Beaulieu and much cheaper. The desserts are delicious. Everything on the salad bar is absolutely fresh.

From a recumbent position on my sun lounger by the Cipriani's enormous pool, and surrounded by their lovely gardens, I heard a German voice over the hedge demanding of the bar staff: "What ice creams do you have?" They recited the flavours. Herr German interrupted: "Do you have photographs of them?"

"Where does he think he is," I thought, "in a newsagent with pictures of ice cream on the wall?" There are, however, beautiful pictures available of the bar cocktails. In our photo Paola is holding the best of the bunch, a mentito. Made with grapefruit juice, lime juice (both fresh), orgeat syrup (whatever that is), brown sugar, fresh mint leaves, crushed ice and soda water, garnished with lemon, mint and fresh berries. Others include a melon and strawberry punch, a pina colada (their only disaster!), a seabreeze and a sunset.

You'll notice I'm located, with unusual modesty, at the back. Walter's on the extreme left with Andrea next to me. Pride of place goes to the Principessa Paola.

This follows a recent eight-page spread of us in Hello! magazine. Paola is handling her new role of princess with admirable decorum. For our Hello! shoot she had one of my receptionists rush to the local party shop and buy a joke tiara with white fur, fake diamonds and flashing, battery-operated, brightly coloured glass gems.

In the evenings we took the hotel launch to the Piazzetta and then walked to my favourite restaurant in the world - Harry's Bar, run by Arrigo Cipriani. His father founded the Hotel Cipriani, which is now owned by the Orient-Express group.

Harry's Bar has been declared some sort of national monument by the Italian government, even though Arrigo uses tinned white peach juice for his famous bellinis, which were invented there and are utterly unbeatable. Thus he can serve the same drink throughout the year while others move to strawberry, raspberry or other fruit for their bellinis when peaches are out of season.

At Harry's Bar I sit in the left-hand corner, a spot once favoured by Ernest Hemingway. It has a view of the crowded bar, assorted tourists, locals and the celebrities, who eat downstairs. This is much livelier than the posher rooms above.

When I made up a long-standing feud with Terence Conran, after we met by accident at the pool of the Cipriani, his wife rang me and said: "Terence can't get a table downstairs at Harry's Bar tonight. Could you use your influence?" I did. Successfully.

On this visit I stuffed myself, among other things, on ravioli with spinach and cheese, fried scampi, risotto with fresh peas, baked green tagliolini, fish soup and chocolate cake. All fantastic.

  • PS: I apologise unreservedly to a chubby Englishman on the next table at the Cipriani pool restaurant whom I persuaded to take our photo with false promises of fame via his photo credit. Mysteriously, his name does not appear on my tape. He'll just have to bear anonymity bravely.

    Winner's letters

    I enjoy your reviews, particularly when contrasted with our local, the Hartlepool Mail. Recently its critic wrote that her plate was full of "six delicious duck breasts". Small wonder that her bowl of vegetables went to waste because, in her own words, she was "so stuffed". Any chance of your doing a guest column?
    Geoff Morley, Hartlepool

    At the Kings Arms hotel in Salisbury, when we came to order our dessert, the waiter said the chef had gone home and we couldn't have any! We noted the people next to us had their dessert served with the main course. We asked for coffee and were told there wasn't any except what could be got out of a machine. Beat that!
    Elizabeth Herridge, Somerset

    Ensconced last Sunday in a cosy corner at my local, and absorbed with News Review, I unknowingly displayed its back page with the fetching portrait of HRH and MW. I'll leave my reaction to your imagination when some horny-handed son of toil meandered over, pointed to the photograph and asked: "Who's that with Michael Winner?"
    Bryan Owram, West Yorkshire

    I read with interest last week of your meeting with the Queen, but was aghast when you said you introduced her to people. Even with your humble background you should know that you introduce people to Her Majesty.
    Rosemary Brodie, Devon

    Why were you wearing shirt and tie when you met the Queen? What happened to your jeans and loose shirt over gut? Where are your principles? It's too late for shirt and tie, Michael, you're never going to get a knighthood!
    Michael Burns, London

    You say you're fastidious about where you sit, yet at the River Cafe I saw you compliantly led to a cramped table adjacent to the busy central aisle. Adapting well to your restricted position, you even swapped places with Paola halfway through dinner, presumably so you could share the limited view. What a gentleman!
    Steve Reeves, Dorking

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