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A matter of opinions

Published 31 August 1997
Style Magazine
217th article

Still the best: Dr Natale Rusconi and Michael Winner at the Cipriani in Venice (Vanessa Perry)

There's nothing like a good feud. The best ever was Tiny Rowland vs Mohamed al-Fayed. Those of us lucky enough to be on the mailing list got a deluge of beautifully printed and bound diatribes from Tiny about the Pharaoh from Nowhere. Mohamed, bless him, was accused of everything from fraud to anti-semitism. Recordings were printed of supposed anti-Jewish chats by Mr al-Fayed. Then a Jewish lady from north London joined in with rather crudely duplicated material that accused Tiny of anti-semitism and other atrocities. I found it all immensely jolly.

I particularly remember at the height of all this being at a Bar Mitzvah at The Savoy. On the top table with me were Mohamed al-Fayed, Gerald Ronson and Leon Britten, to name but a few. At these events it is common to toast the President of Israel. I watched like a hawk to see if dear old Mohamed would fudge and pass his glass over his lips. But no - he drank a toast to the president like a good 'un!

At the time I knew neither of these gentlemen, although I have since developed a friendly, though not close, relationship with Mr al-Fayed. In spite of this, I happily a pay my own bills at his historic Ritz Hotel in Paris. I am driven to these memories because of a current feud between two of my favourite people. Mr Harry (real name Arrigo Cipriani) of Harry's Bar Venice, which I still pronounce best restaurant in the world, has been having a ding-dong with Mr James Sherwood, owner of the Orient Express group, which I think offers the finest hotels in the world. A section of the dispute recently ended up in the New York courts.

Arrigo, as well as being a restaurateur supreme, is a witty and highly acerbic writer. In his fascinating book, Harry's Bar, he deals at length with his dad losing the Cipriani hotel in Venice, which he founded, and how it ended up with James Sherwood. Describing Mr Sherwood, a man I have always found pleasant and charming, Arrigo writes: "He has a round face that looks as if it might have been waxed and his head seems to sit without the aid of a neck, directly on a body just as round as his face." Goodness! I hate to think how Harry could word picture me.

Jimmy replaced the Ciprian's manager, Enzo Cecconi, who now has a famous London restaurant, with another of my favourites, the highly distinguished Dr Natale Rusconi, a much admired doyen of hotel managers. Harry writes "Jimmy chose Rusconi from among the available snobs because . . . he had an almost incestuous love of his own ego." How Rusconi could be a snob and welcome me, I cannot imagine. For good measure, my friend Dame Maggie Smith, a Cipriani regular, finds Rusconi terrific, too.

Harry/Arrigo is in equally robust form describing the Cipriani's room decoration and guests: "There were mirrors in which New Jersey druggists could display their tanned faces and bodies and admire the reflection of their heavy gold necklaces and medals." I presume Arrigo meant medallions. I admit to wearing one of those, small and discreet, given to me many years ago with a personal, humorous message from my dear friend M Brando.

Harry gave me his book, and later said "My gosh, you murder the guests, what about me?" I was only referring to some of the guests said Harry, smiling, as he served me the most unbelievably good tagliatelli with peas in his downstairs bar.

When I recently booked the Cipriani's best suite, which does indeed have mirrors, in which I am forced to see my extending stomach, Dr Rusconi was apologetic. "Mr Sherwood is with us at the time," he said. Luckily, things worked out, and when I stepped off the speedboat Rusconi said "We have your suite. I told Mr Sherwood I'm having two inspections, yours and Michael Winner's."

I can report that Dr R and the Cipriani came out of the important inspection (mine) top of the list. The food has much improved since I was last there, the views to the lagoon and the piazzetta are staggering, the staff are as good as any in the world. I didn't see any American druggists (I don't think), although I did notice a contingent of cockneys; one of whom wore a baseball cap the wrong way round at dinner.

Other than making the curtains, net curtains, blinds and shutters in my suite electric - there are nine sets of them, I which means a lifetime of work when you get up - I can think of nothing else to improve the Cipriani. Sorry, Arrigo, hope you don't mind my saying this. But a diversity of views is always welcome. Isn't it?


Michael Winner talks of lunch when location searching (Style, August 10) as "a necessity, not a luxury: something to fortify you so you can carry on the job". Soup, fillet steak, vegetables, rabbit with prunes, roast potatoes, wine and, to judge from the picture, beer strikes me as fortification with ramparts, buttresses and the odd bulwark thrown in. What, I wonder, does Mr Winner consume when it is not a necessity?
Gabrielle Holmwood, London E7

We have just had a very enjoyable meal at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. Contrary to Nigel and Lisa Hess's experience (Style, August 17), the dinner was wonderful, the service impeccable and the atmosphere just right. We also visited the London Inn earlier the same day, but found it so dingy that we walked straight out again.
Julia Farrington, Dunblane, Perthshire

Michael Winner recently commented on the restaurant he was visiting: "If this is how the other half eats, I'd rather not know about it" (Style, August 10). For once, he is right. The standard of food and presentation in this country is very low - and the majority of British people simply do not care. In France, Belgium, Italy or Holland, nobody would put up with indifferent meals. As long as the British continue to patronise sub-standard restaurants, they will get what they deserve.
P J Allen, Woldingham, Surrey