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Looks like Twinkle, Twinkle, tastes like Beethoven's Fifth

Published 14 October 2012
News Review
1,003rd article

Michael with his assistant, Dinah May, at 2 Veneti (Julian Whatley)

George Bernard Shaw was the most boring, pontificating playwright ever. Tedious, hectoring, dismal. We never met, Mr Shaw and I, but he figured strongly in my youth. I went to St Christopher Quaker, a vegetarian, co-educational school run very much on Shavian principles.

The air of open-toed sandals and socialism was rampant and the teaching staff were largely odd. The geography teacher, Mr Backhouse, had his room covered with photos he'd taken of naked boys on rocks. Today the red-tops would devour him.

Two of the best teachers were Miss Hobbs (French) and Miss Mouncey, who taught something - I've forgotten what. They were known as "Hobbsy-wobbsy and her wobbsy-knobsies" and "Mouncey-wouncey and her bouncey-wouncies". They later set up together, I think on a farm in Wales.

I extricated myself from this hotbed of left-wing intellectualism to go to a crammer, where for the first time I witnessed true education. There were just a few students in each class working from an apartment in Buckingham Gate, close to Buckingham Palace. A marvellous experience.

From there I was catapulted, aged 17, into Cambridge University, where my studies of law and economics earned me an honours degree - third class, but better than nothing.

At the time I was unaware of the joys of Wigmore Street in Marylebone. They still elude me. But for some reason I well remember Dame Myra Hess, who played piano regularly at the Wigmore Hall.

A few doors down from that is 2 Veneti, a workaday Italian restaurant of considerable quality. It's a small place with exposed floorboards and bare brick walls. The name implies there are two Venetians running it, but I saw no sign of them.

I went to lunch with my assistant, Dinah May, a former Miss Great Britain, soap opera star (Brookside and others) and television hostess. To my astonishment, Dinah goes to the Wigmore Hall from time to time, recently to hear a Rachmaninov piano concerto. I thought she was just a pretty face. In fact she's a true intellectual. And very good at filing.

At 2 Veneti I started with an extremely pleasant crab and lobster bisque. To follow I had a fritto misto Venexian: mixed fried fish (red mullet, calamari, soft-shell crabs and king prawns) cooked Venetian-style and served with tartare sauce. I liked that. Dinah enjoyed her grilled calf's liver with green beans in a marsala and shallot sauce.

For dessert I had excellent meringue, rather hard slices of peach and appalling ice cream.

2 Veneti is unpretentious: the customers are a mix of women shoppers with yellow Selfridges bags, businessmen and happy regulars. Well, they seemed happy to me: no complaining, no psychological breakdowns, a placid bunch going about their daily lives.

Dame Myra probably ate here, although I doubt George Bernard Shaw did. He was too busy sounding off on the exploitation of the masses. Not only was he exceedingly boring, he was a troublemaker as well.

  • From Iain Harding, Bedfordshire:

    Hymie's son is a successful businessman in New York and invites Hymie to stay. While there, Hymie has a suspected heart attack and the son, concerned only about his father's health and irrespective of the cost, books him into a private room in one of the best clinics in New York.

    Unfortunately the son has to travel away on business. Seeing that Hymie is being well cared for, he promises to be back in a week. On his return the son goes to the clinic, only to be told that Hymie has checked out and taken himself to the municipal hospital across the street.

    From the superb facility in the clinic, the son goes to the chaos of the municipal hospital to find Hymie in a ward with 20 other people.

    "Father, why are you here? Did you not like the other place?" he asks.

    "No," replies Hymie, "the other place was superb."

    "Well, was the food not good enough?"

    "The food was fantastic," replies Hymie.

    "Were the staff rude to you then?" asks the son.

    "Not at all," replies Hymie. "The staff were excellent."

    "So why are you here then?" asks the increasingly exasperated son.

    Hymie replies: "Here? Here I can complain."

    Michael's missives

    It took you a long time to persuade - or should I say trick? - Geraldine into marrying you. To suggest that you don't know whether it's true that they put fish in the soup at Tetou, when Geraldine told you they did, is very, very dangerous. When your wife tells you there is fish in the soup, believe me, there is fish in the soup.
    Nick Rowe, London

    What a relief to know you won't be returning to Garnier, our new local restaurant. Having ordered the exquisitely tender veal rump with courgette fritters on the past three visits, we can only assume that you thought it tough because you forgot to put your teeth in.
    Dinah Rogerson, London

    Stop grumbling about the service being slow in Garnier. You need to realise that when you order three times the amount of food normal people order, it will take three times as long to arrive.
    Nick Jones, La Drome, France

    You were a bit unfair to Garnier. Its black pudding and mashed potato was "exceptional", its "kind of milkshake" was "the best part of the meal" and Geraldine’s main course was "the best steak ever". However, when summarising, you said it was "adequate at best".
    Nic Peeling, Worcestershire

    There is no need to identify yourself in the published photos. We all know you are the decrepit bod with the bewildered look.
    Vincent Keane, Dublin