Published 8 September 1996 Style Magazine 166th article
Island life: Michael Winner, Vanessa Perry and Orazio Barbaro at Da Romano (Daniele Senigaglia)
This is your lucky week. I am about to recommend two superb restaurants which nobody else will ever tell you about. I do so with smug satisfaction because I know how you follow my inexpert advice. I recently revisited the excellent Rampoldi restaurant in Monte Carlo, again with my friend Roger Moore and his lovely Christina. Luciano di Saro, the owner, came running out. "Mr Winner, since you wrote about me, business has gone up 25%!" he beamed. Since I've always found the place packed, I wondered how! So delighted was Mr di Saro that he refused to let Roger pay! "I've been coming here for years, first time this has happened," said Roger with his James Bond smile. Even a restaurant in the back streets of Marrakesh, Chez Gerard, has apparently boomed through Sunday Times readers following my excessive wisdom. Gerard Moreau, the owner, sends me a postcard: "Many people come after the parution [publication in French!]. I think that they were happy." Adding a PS: "I watch the custard" - after a little moan I had about it!
Now, keep this article, or get your pen and paper ready. Write down trattoria Da Romano in Burano and Restaurant Nani on San Pietro in Volta. These are two islands, immensely different in character, a short way from Venice and easily reachable by boat across the lagoon. Both were recommended by my favourite restaurateur, Arrigo Cipriani, of Harry's Bar. Burano is a very pretty island with small houses and mini canals. The houses are all painted in different, bright colours, rather like the villages in Ireland. Orazio Barbaro is the owner of the trattoria. A list is printed on the menu of glitterati who have dined there, so long it takes 11 columns and has 417 names on it! They include Joan Miro, Matisse, Charles Chaplin, Mel Brooks, Emest Hemingway and others of similar ilk. I am sure Signore Barbaro will shortly have a reprint to add yours truly.
In good weather you sit outside with a view of the houses in green, deep orange, pink, blue, red . . . every colour you can think of. There is a beautiful old brick-and-stone steeple with grass growing out of the top, and everywhere the terracotta, wavy tiles. Lace hanging from the local shops sways in the breeze. You could not find a better resting place. Inside, the restaurant walls are covered with paintings, with nice globe lights and hard-backed chairs. For those concerned about cost, our river taxi was £60, one way, from the Rialto bridge. There is a bus!
I started with coffee. Far better than you get in France. Then a mix of octopus, escargot, lobster and shrimp, then I think Orazio said I had Capo Santo with farinade, scallops and cheese. All totally historic plus. Then I had grand fritto Romano, sole off the bone, eels, shrimp, squid, white polenta. Vanessa had mixed grilled fish. I finished with strawberries and ice cream. Orazio was upstairs with the builders and played hard to get for the photo, but we triumphed in the end. A wander back past the lace shops and over the little bridges and then, as there were no taxis, onto some enormous full-of-public ferry boat that took for ever wandering hither and thither, but was exceedingly jolly.
San Pietro in Volta is a totally non-tourist island. It looks nothing like Venice, no canals. At first you see only decrepit churches and a feeling of being lost, with a few boatyards thrown in. But it grows on you in a big way. They were mending an old cathedral, and Restaurant Nani faces that and the seaside square. It's a total family experience. As we entered, four of the group were preparing fresh lobsters and other fish at a table. Upstairs on the balcony Joseph, the son of Nani, looked after us superbly as a woman cycled through the cobbled street below. Nice crusty bread, fish only served. Within seconds appeared the most marvellous mix of lobster, crab meat, different types of shrimps, sea eels, everything. This was the best cold seafood starter I've ever had. Down below a man comes from a shop and puts some scraps from a plate on the dockside by a boat and three cats walk over to eat them. I go on to noodles with ﬁsh, the lagoon lapping on our left. Then sardine . . . a sort of mixed grill. By 1.20pm, six other people had arrived. Apparently Friday and Saturday it's packed with locals coming from all over. It was so calm. Real is a silly word, but it was. Go to both places. Joseph and Orazio are great restaurateurs. They don't come often. Then write and thank me!
We used to be amazed by people such as Elaine Simons (Restaurant Watch, August 25), who wish to pay with a cheque and who expect restaurateurs (and one assumes other retailers, too) to ignore the conditions imposed on us by their bank. We learnt our lesson the hard way six years ago by accepting a cheque slightly above the card limit and then losing everything because we had not adhered to the card conditions. Accepting cheques above the cheque-guarantee card level effectively voids the "guarantee" effect of the card. Why can't such people realise that we are only doing what we are told by the bank that they have chosen? Presumably your correspondent's gesture of leaving the exact amount due without a gratuity was a protest that affected the unfortunate staff at the restaurant when, instead, any protest would have been better directed at the bank whose cheque-card limit of £50 is woefully inadequate.
Noel and Linda Tulley, The Mill at Oundle, Oundle
I am cook-housekeeper to Prince and Princess Yuri Galitzine here at Holywell Hall and have become increasingly critical of the food I eat in restaurants. I have been in Lincolnshire only a short time and have searched high and low for a decent place to eat, only to be disappointed by the unexciting choices that always seem to include soup of the day, and a seafood cocktail in marie rose sauce - which everyone knows is Hellmann's and tomato ketchup mixed up to form a pink goo. So it was an enormous thrill to find a pub-restaurant in North Yorkshire that I can only describe as perfect. My husband and I spent a wonderful evening there. The establishment is The Star Inn at Harome, near Helmsley. The owners are Andrew and Jacquie Pern, a young, imaginative couple who strive to create a perfect atmosphere, and succeed. The house wine was very good, the menu varied and sophisticated. The vegetables were so fresh you could taste the earth. The small touches of crisp linen napkins and homemade petits fours were only improved by fast, friendly service, an unhurried atmosphere and the house cat hiding in a corner in the hope of a titbit. I look forward eagerly to my next visit. With all this excellence, the prices were very affordable.
Mrs C Larsen Holywell, Lincolnshire