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If anyone was staying calm, dear, it was me

On a trip to Venice, Michael visits his best-buys and is bemused by a reader's letter that said he was shouting at waiters

Published 10 July 2011
News Review
938th article

Geraldine on the Grand Canal in Venice in front of the dome of Santa Maria della Salute (Arnold Crust)

In Venice someone's always suing. Arrigo Cipriani, whose Harry's Bar is my favourite place, was sued by Orient Express, which owns the Cipriani hotel, because he used the name Cipriani for his London restaurant. I was a witness for Arrigo. I made the judge laugh three times. Arrigo lost; it cost about £10m, including damages.

Before that Arrigo wrote a book insulting James Sherwood, the Orient Express founder, and the manager of the Cipriani hotel, Dr Natale Rusconi. He made up with Rusconi but is suing the hotel for using the name Cip's for one of its restaurants. He also sued his sister, who was running the fantastic Locanda Cipriani on Torcello. It's a miracle I got out without being handed a writ.

Food in Venice is difficult. My best-buys are a small restaurant, Alle Testiere, the Locanda Cipriani, Harry's Bar and, a long boat ride away, Ristorante da Nane in San Pietro in Volta, where locals go.

I now add Ristorante Antica Dogana, in an 1853 customs house in Treporti. You sit facing a wide, peaceful expanse of water and a stunning sunset. It's owned by Giuseppe Trevisan. His chef, Andrea Simato, is the best.

It started badly with awful bread. Then everything went stratospheric. Very good anchovies on toast; excellent scallops with shrimp and a marvellous sauce; six cooked mussels with cuttlefish. It's like peasant food out of mamma's kitchen.

Geraldine said, "Some of the best I've ever eaten." I finished with millefeuille with crema al limone. The whole thing was sensational.

I reminded the co-owner of Alle Testiere, Luca di Vita, how important I was. By comparison the Pope was a street cleaner, the Chief Rabbi a toilet roll salesman, the Queen of England . . . mustn't say anything about her. Like her. I have a signed photo she sent me in one of my nine lavatories.

The result: I couldn't get one of Luca's 30 seats. He recommended Il Ridotto in Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, owned by Gianni Bonaccorsi.

I asked Gianni what we should have. He said, "A lot."

The bread was good and warm. My light asparagus pureed with almond and langoustine had an incredible taste.

Gianni said, "I mix - it's the idea that's important."

Ravioli with water of tomato and basil was perfect. I sat waiting for my fish.

Geraldine asked, "What is it you want?" I said, "A waiter."

Geraldine replied, "You need a clip round the ear."

I was going to have semifreddo with chocolate and basil ice mousse but Gianni said I should try the apple tart with vanilla ice cream and balsamic vinegar. A mistake. It was an apple cake and not very good. Everything else was amazing.

We also tried the strange Bauer Palladio hotel a few doors from the Cipriani. We sat in a very bleak courtyard facing a dreary garden. The food was good but it was a gloomy place. The Cipriani hotel has always been one of my favourites. It has three restaurants. One by the swimming pool on the lagoon, another facing St Mark's Square called Cip's club and the rather grand Fortuny, which no longer requires jacket and tie.

The new Fortuny restaurant manager, Fabrizio Zarattini, replaced an absolute dud who had replaced another dud. All the food is good. To sit by the lagoon at the pool restaurant is sensational.

  • I was bemused by a reader's letter that said I was shouting at waiters. I remember no ruck with any Cipriani waiter. They were all pleasant and excellent. I've known most of them for years. I checked with Geraldine, who said, "No, you were as usual rather quiet."

    I did raise my voice on the mobile phone because the reception was bad. I was surrounded by guests on mobile phones. I could hear all their conversations.

    The Cipriani is a splendid hotel with an enormous garden around an Olympic-size pool and an amazing suite personally owned by James Sherwood, which I always get. The hotel is run by Maurizio Saccani, skilled boss of the Orient Express Italian hotels, and his young manager, who had improved since my previous visit.

    On arrival, we found a tray of canapes in our suite. Five chocolates, five biscuits, five strawberry and raspberry tarts. Four days later the strawberries and raspberries were going rotten. I mentioned this to the manager, Giampaolo Ottazzi. Then they were changed. Not major. One swallow doesn't ruin a summer, or some ridiculous remark like that.

    From Fergal Lee, a droll manager at the Wolseley: Hymie is dying. At the bedside, his wife, Becky, and their four sons. Three of them medium height with dark hair, the oldest, Maurice, 6ft tall with blond hair.

  • Hymie gasps, "Tell me the truth, Becky. Our oldest boy, Maurice - am I really his father?" Becky says, "Of course you are, Hymie." Hymie mutters, "Swear that on your life, Becky."

    Becky replied, "I swear on my life, Hymie, that Maurice is your son." Hymie smiles and dies.

    Becky looks up. "Thank God he didn't ask me about the other three," she says.

    Michael's missives

    Nice picture last week of the manager and chef at Inverlochy Castle. But why was the gardener centre stage? Was he being given an award for 70 years' unbroken service?
    Ray Norman, Suffolk

    I was surprised at last week's letter from Paul Hamann. We've sat close to you at Sandy Lane and La Reserve de Beaulieu. We never heard you on a mobile and apart from one shout you behaved better than most people. At the Cipriani, staff told me how much they looked forward to your visits.
    Barry McKay, Berkshire

    In Hay-on-Wye outside Oscar's Bistro, a wooden placard proclaimed "Winner's dinners - outstanding in Wales". An insult to yourself and the principality. The meal was dreadful, the proprietor surly and antagonistic. The price? Twice what is normal round here.
    Dr Andrew Dunn, Powys

    At Frankie's in Knightsbridge the spaghetti with lobster was cold. The sauce was more like tomato ketchup than lobster bisque, the pasta was soggy and the dish tasted tinned, like Heinz spaghetti hoops. Marco Pierre White is an owner of Frankie's. I hate it when celebrity chefs put their name to food they surely wouldn't eat!
    Jacqui Morgan, Essex

    Why do restaurants keep people waiting when they ask for the bill? Surely that indicates you've finished and wish to leave. What benefit can there be for the restaurant to hold you there?
    Andrew Heard, Northumberland

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk