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Service, please!

Published 5 January 1997
Style Magazine
183rd article



Trade fare: Aimo Morani, Michael Winner, Stefania and Nadia (Vanessa Perry)

You see what I mean," said our driver. "One of the most horrible sections of Milan, human-being containers." We are passing working-class flats on our way from Lake Como to Milan's highest-rated Michelin restaurant, the two-starred Aimo e Nadia. We'd been told to be there no later than 1.30pm. We arrived at one, rang the bell of a nice door in an ugly block and were buzzed in.

A man in a dark grey suit, white shirt, grey and black striped bow tie and glasses showed us to a back room with two other people in it. A larger front room to the right was empty and better. I walked into the front room, the bow-tied one indicated a good table and we sat. Then we sat some more. It was the start of the worst 15 minutes I have ever spent in a restaurant We were totally ignored. Occasionally a chef could be seen walking in the distance. Occasionally, Mr Bow Tie walked in the distance. After seven minutes, I asked Bow Tie to come over.

"Excuse me," I said. "Is the maitre d' here?" "Maitre d'!" said Bow Tie as if I'd got off a tourist bus and was using a word of horror that he failed to understand. "The restaurant manager, then?" I continued. "Restaurant manager?!" sneered BT and he walked off. Another four minutes went by BT returned. "The restaurant manager will be here in an hour," he announced. Off he went yet again. I had seen enough of the beige ragrolled walls, the black up-lights, a few trees and ferns, some nice pictures. When I spotted BT again, I called him over.

"This may be a surprise to you," I said, "but it is normal when entering a restaurant to be asked whether you want a drink, given a menu and then given some bread. It is not normal to be left sitting for 15 minutes." A bit later he reappeared with some sparkling white wine. "I don't want that," I said. A wine waiter in a red coat joined him. "What do you want?" asked Bow Tie. "Two mineral waters, one still, one fizzy," I said. Let them know the big spenders have arrived! He went off and soon thereafter returned.

"The general manager and owner," he introduced the chef I had seen in the distance, now with another, younger chef. Both wore tall, white hats. The boss was Aimo Morani. "You're a chef, too, are you?" I asked the younger one. "No," he said in an American accent. "I'm a photographer." "Then why are you dressed as a chef?" I inquired. It transpired that his name was Conrad Firestein, from New York. He married into the family and was helping out.

"Tell Aimo this is the most horrible time I have ever known in a restaurant," I requested. I listed my complaints. They then sought the villain. They explained that Aimo's daughter Stefania was the manageress, but she was at the bank.

"It must have been Fabio," said Conrad. "He doesn't understand greeting, he's the wine waiter." "Then why didn't he offer me a drink?" I asked. Fabio was brought in. "It's not him," I said. Fabio grabbed my arm. "Thank you," he breathed.

"It's the man in the dark suit. I'm going to murder him," I announced. "Don't do that, he's my brother-in-law," said Conrad. He turned to Aimo and mentioned the name Marco. "I don't care if he's in the family or not," I said. "He's a total disaster." Having made my point, we settled down to one of the best meals I have ever eaten.

Aimo, endearingly helpful, was now all attention. He showed us mushrooms, suggested this and that. His daughter Stefania, wife of the dreaded Marco, turned up looking like Liza Minnelli and with the same forthright charm. I liked her. We were given red Barbaresco 1993, a pleasant wine. I had what I thought Aimo said was Hotten Hen in a sauce of raspberry vinegar marinated with sweet peppers. Sensational. Vanessa had fresh goat's cheese with a salad sprout and mushrooms. Then she had green lasagnette with nettles, watercress, tomatoes, ricotta cheese and basil. I had Italian lamb cooked in sweet grape juice with chickpeas and thyme pie. All was absolutely, totally brilliant. A crab hors d'oeuvre figured somewhere, bresaola - old cured beef in oil, a chestnut flower tart with pears, and chocolate with cinnamon cream, some cheese from Val D'Aosta. Vanessa had hazelnut biscuits filled with whatever. It was superb.

Then Aimo's jolly wife, Nadia, appeared. They started the place 35 years ago after moving from Tuscany. This restaurant is absolutely great. Seek it out when you are in Milan. If you see Marco the son-in-law, tell him Winner thinks he's . . . oh well, better not.



Letters

Michael Winner has brought me to boiling point with his unconstructive comments concerning the 10th floor restaurant of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London (December 15). I dined there recently and the crab souffle with watercress butter sauce that he dismissed as bland was delicious. The main courses were well cooked, innovative and pleasurable, although I will admit that the sweets were not so good. The waiters knew on all occasions who was having what, and as for the decor, that is a matter of taste. If the establishment is to be criticised it would be regarding the standards it accepts in the appearance of some customers it chooses to accommodate.
P A Chalkley London W8

I am writing to protest against Irene Shuell's statement (December 22) that it is an infringement of children's rights to refuse them admission to hotels and restaurants. Restaurants are not just feeding stations, but places for customers to enjoy good food in a civilised atmosphere. This means that the restaurant owner, who charges for the food served, has the duty to ensure reasonable peace and quiet. It is not possible to enjoy a meal when subjected to loud music, drunken shrieking, or children yelling, banging the table with their spoons, or running up and down. In France or Germany customers would protest, but the British dare not say anything.
J Shoenberg Worthing, W Sussex