Published 19 June 1994 Style Magazine 51st article
Goodbye sailor: pre-dinner fun with Santa Margherita's port police
I didn't intend to have a sailor in my car on the drive from Santa Margherita to the Hotel Splendido at Portofino, but as I was under arrest there was no choice. I had left my car in a perfect spot in the harbour at Santa Margherita. True, there were signs around seeming to say "Who leaves a car here dies", but so what? I was a tourist. We wandered past the old-fashioned shops on the front, pausing to have a two-colour ice-cream of great quality at a gelateria called, believe it or not, Slurp. When we got back, the car was surrounded by two men with a tow-truck, three sailors and what appeared to be an admiral.
"We'll just get into the car and drive off," I said to Vanessa. "Ignore them." But the group got very excited. The tow-truck men kept saying "Forty thousand lire", and the police kept saying "Papers", all in Italian. We were escorted to the lovely 19th-century building that houses the port police. There the admiral turned out be a captain. "You go back to hotel, we keep girl," he said. "You bring papers and money, we release girl." Vanessa was used to this by now, the Swiss police had tried it a few months ago. There must be something about her schoolgirlish looks that attracts the authorities.
Eventually we set off for the hotel, with the sailor to keep us under control. Once in my suite I showed him my passport, driving licence and car papers. "You come to Santa Margherita with me," said the sailor. "I have bath, you go to Santa Margherita with photocopies," I replied. He phoned his captain. "Captain says I bring you to Santa Margherita," said the sailor, definitely getting fed up with it all. I called the concierge. "Mr Winner, this how we do it in Italy, this is the law," said Signor Fausto Allegri. "That is not how we do it in Michael Winner-land," I explained patiently. "In Michael Winner-land, you call the captain and tell him I am the most famous film director in the world, I am editor of The Sunday Times, I am closely related to the Pope. Tell him anything, but make sure it works." "I will call you back," said the concierge. He did, a few moments later. The captain had agreed to waive all demands for money and accept photocopies, but I had to pay for a taxi for the sailor to get back. "A sensible resolution," I said. An hour later, the tow-truck man rang. Could he have 40,000 lire? "Of course, I'll leave it at reception," I said generously £18 was cheap for the fun of it all.
The next day, remaining adventurous, we entered the lovely old harbour of Portofino and chose the Ristorante Delfino, right on the waterfront. You sit facing one of the great views of the world. The totally preserved, tiny harbour, the multi-coloured houses with washing hanging from them, bobbing boats, fishermen unloading their catch, a hill, a castle, a church. It was just like an old Sophia Loren movie. Carmelo Carluzzo is the 34-year-old chef-owner here and his beautiful wife Palma fronts the show. He knocked up a wondrous trofietto al pesto, sort of spaghetti and potatoes, all green and very good. Then a mixed grill of fish, langoustine, lobster, sea bass and swordfish with courgettes, aubergines, seconi and onions. The fish so fresh that you realise with great force the difference in flavour and texture of fish just from the sea as opposed to the London "days-later" variety. I finished off with lemon sorbet and espresso. All miraculously good. One of the most pleasant meals ever.
Two days later, we tried Lo Stella, the restaurant next door and with the same incredible view. Another delight. Vanessa had pansotti with nut sauce (ravioli filled with veg) and then langoustine. I had a salad and then fish ravioli, the house speciality which they only do for two people. So I paid and ate a bit more! Finally, a very creamy tiramisu. During all this, a man with a guitar sang I Found My Love In Portofino, the old Dean Martin hit Volare and a lot more. I like being in old Sophia Loren films. It's much better than real life.
As regular readers of The Sunday Times, may we congratulate you on your appointment of Michael Winner to your team of splendid columnists. Every Sunday my wife and I fight to see who can be first to the Style & Travel section, and turn immediately to his column to read of his latest exciting exploits with all his famous friends, and to devour his trenchant and discerning critiques of the restaurants he favours with a visit. We cannot understand how his columns, which are models of modest and self-effacing reporting, evoke so much personal antipathy to such a distinguished film-maker. After all, this country has so few people of Michael Winner's accomplishments of whom to be proud. Thankfully, because he shares the names of so many of his well-known friends with us through his column, it is clear that many famous people are only too pleased to dine with Michael and whichever exceptionally lovely lady he may be escorting at the time. We should consider it an honour to be placed at the next table to him and to be able to admire his charisma close at hand.
ME Pettman, London W2