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Venice in peril

Published 3 July 1994
Style Magazine
53rd article

Don't look now: Michael Winner with Snr Mancin of the Cipriani

I do not go to restaurants, I go to tables. I do not go to hotels, I go to suites. Suite 225 at the Cipriani in Venice has always been one of my favourites. It is enormous, with six windows looking out over the church of St Giorgio Maggiore, the tree-filled island behind it and the lagoon; two more look to the beautifully flowered gardens at the front of the hotel and three more to the swimming pool and to Venice proper.

Since my last trip they have added an upper part including a telescope and a wooden observation platform, or altana as they are called. These, much in evidence in Venice from the 15th century, are now re-appearing all over the city. This is not an improvement because they are odd-looking modern things perched on top of much-aged villas. The age problem does not affect the Cipriani, which was built in 1956 by Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry's Bar a short distance over the water.

It is now owned by James Sherwood of Orient Express fame and maintains an admirably high standard. The room service holds the Winner World Record, breakfast for two arriving 4 minutes and 23 seconds after the phone was put down from giving the order. This beat the same group's Hotel Splendido in Portofino by six seconds. It would have been made perfect if the waiter had put the chairs round the portable table; but only once in four visits did that happen! The hotel is on the island of Giudecca, a few seconds by boat from St Mark's Square and the Doges' Palace. Their launch ferries those who can afford it (my bill was £820 a night), so that you get a water view of one of the greatest architectural sights in the world as you approach the piazzetta.

I rate the Cipriani very highly. But why was the TV set in my bedroom not working? CNN was a flickery haze and I guess nobody had paid the bill for the BBC-TV Europe because that wasn't there at all, even though the hotel card assured me we were connected to it.

The Cipriani food is all right, acceptable but certainly not historic. The dining room is rather cramped with coming-down-at-you arches that lower the perspective alarmingly. I was given what I was assured was the best table, with a sea view, but since it was night and the sea unlit, all you saw was a black mass outside the picture window. I tried culatello ham marinated with dry muscat wine with melon, mixed spring salad with fresh scampi coated with sesame seeds, veal rosettes with artichokes and a few more. Service was a bit slow so they got the Winner-napkin-wave on its outside-the-UK debut.

I waved my napkin slowly over my head. "Are you surrendering?" asked an American lady at the next table. I feared I might be hitting her; "I hope I'm not disturbing you," I said. But no, she was delighted with the whole performance. The maitre d' was rather snooty. He eventually turned up and asked dryly, "Did you want something?!" I refrained from making a smart remark and just said: "I'd like to order dessert, please".

The last time I was leaving the Cipriani I had a bit of trouble with Virgilio Mancin, the doorman who orders the boats. I was on a romantic outing with Miss Seagrove (where is she now, we wonder?) when, to my surprise, Snr Mancin ushered a businessman on to our boat-taxi to the airport. "But I wanted..." I started. "He goes with you," said Snr Mancin. It got worse. Halfway to the airport the driver said, "I have to go back," and started turning the boat. "Why?" I asked. "The doorman wants me," said the boatman. "Go back and you do not get paid!" I said, loudly. The businessman looked worried, as if he was stuck at sea with a lunatic. The boatman thought briefly, then kept going to the airport. This visit, I told Snr Mancin that trying out marxism, one for all and all on one boat, was an odd thing to do at the Cipriani. He apologised profusely, but when I came to leave this time the boat he'd promised wasn't there at all. I know. He was unbelievably keen that I should stay longer. And who can blame him?