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Ventian class

Published 2 November 1997
Style Magazine
225th article

Sister act: clockwise from top left, Liliana, Michael Winner, Maria-Rosa, Tizziana, and Guliana Fiorin (Vanessa Perry)

The Trattoria San Marco is a Venetian restaurant you'd never take a second look at. The street, Frezzeria, in which it resides is anonymous, near St Mark's Square and full of clothes shops and decorative items. It's a street you walk through on your way to somewhere else, occasionally looking above to the wonderful windows and wrought iron on the houses bedecked with laundry hanging in the hot air.

I would never have gone to the San Marco without being taken by Giles Shepherd, former boss of the Savoy Group, now chief of the Ritz hotel. It looks like a cafe. It is run by four sisters, themselves a portrait of old Venice. They were eating at a table on our right. Pictures on the wall, wood panelling up to a dado rail, terrazzo-type floor, wooden chairs with rush seats and white tablecloths. We had tiny shrimps with oil, fried scampi, then ice cream with something brown in the middle, called tartufo. The Fiorin sisters have had the place since 1954. It has stood still in looks and atmosphere. The food is terrific.

The night before, I'd been in Harry's Bar eating a marvellous pea risotto and making faces at Giles and his wife in the opposite corner - the one Hemingway sat in. The reason was a large, elderly German in a blue suit at the table next to me who produced a thermometer and put it into his glass of red wine. Then he took it out and licked it, without apparently looking at it. Then he asked the waiter for an ice bucket and put the red wine in it. As I ate my asparagus ravioli a bit later, the thermometer came out, went into the wine, was licked and laid on the table.

Eventually the ice bucket was removed and the wine put back on the table. Then an English titled couple arrived on my right and Lady Whatever lit a cigarette. I coughed loudly, then-waved my napkin about ostentatiously to waft the smoke away. And this a performance by someone who spewed cigar smoke over everyone for 40 years. The lady put her cigarette out, but the German lit a large cigar. He was too tough to mess with, so I shut up.

The day before, as I was enjoying my chocolate cake, an exceedingly elegant Venetian couple, who live above Harry's Bar and also in Chelsea, engaged me in conversation. Like many who read this column they wished to recommend a restaurant. They thought I should visit the Riviera on the Zattere Canal, set up by one of Harry's former waiters. I never got there, but try it. If you like it, thank me; if not, write to Mr and Mrs Dino Zevi, c/o Harry's Bar.

The island of Torcello has 25 inhabitants, three restaurants, two churches and a museum. Vanessa bought a white parasol there. One of the best views in the world is from the Locanda Cipriani, owned by Harry's sister Carla and run by her son. There's a rose garden, an arbour and then the beautiful old church of Santa Fosca with the larger Santa Maria dell'Assunta behind it. The bellinis almost equal Harry's Bar's, the spaghetti and peas are historic, the apple sorbet and meringue cake tiptop. Not expensive, either.

The Trattoria da Romano on Burano, I owned by Barbara Orazio, is, in my non-humble opinion, one of the best around. I ate the best crab ever, and everything else was great - which is odd, as there were 250 tour people inside. I alone was allowed to sit outside. People kept coming to tables nearby, but were turned away. Even in the Venetian area I am appreciated.

In St Mark's Square, the Cafe Florian has stayed the most old-fashioned with its string orchestra playing solidly, but the music-hall-type performances from the Lavena and the Quadri opposite are drawing more crowds. I was surprised that the Florian club sandwich was almost very good. Trying to pay for it was a nightmare. I have never before seen five waiters form a circle to talk to each other so nothing as ludicrous as a customer could possibly get their attention. That was nicer than at the Lavena, where Vanessa noticed I'd been given the wrong change. When challenged, the waiter gave me L8,000 (about £3) back.

As I finished off the best tuna tartare ever at Harry's Bar, the owner, Arrigo Cipriani, passed on a bit of information. The house on the Grand Canal, which the gondoliers tell you was bought by Woody Allen, was not. It's called the Palazio Dario. The asking price is £7m. There's a snip - rush over and grab it.


We will for ever be indebted to Michael Winner for introducing us to the delightful Bethany and the lovely farm shop restaurant at Royal Oak Farm (Style, June 22). On a quick return visit, the entrancing Bethany advised us that mummy and Jenny were very busy. Would we return our empty tray to the kitchen? It is a delightful place and we are persuading our Oxfordshire friends not to miss out on the experience.
Mavis and John Edwards, Romford, Essex

Regular columnists are occasionally absent and a "Joe Smith is on holiday" appears as an apology. But the effervescent and ever-larger Michael Winner regales us every week with his detailed consumption of calories. For the sake of his health, can we be told just once that "Michael Winner is on a diet"? And can I have his job when he is?
Roche Bentley, Cambridgeshire

Michael Winner recently referred to the Kosher restaurant Bloom's "and its rival Harry Morgan's in St John's Wood High Street" (Style, October 12). Rivals? I think not. Bloom's is in The London Beth Din Kashrut Guide - Harry Morgan's is not.
Tina Colover, London NW8

A few years ago, I dined in a London restaurant recommended by the Michelin Guide. I had a superb dinner and excellent service. After paying the bill, I asked for the maitre d'. I complimented him on the food and said that the restaurant was in the guide. He looked at me and said: "Scusa me," - or words to that effect. I repeated everything slowly, mentioned Michelin again, and asked: "You know the Michelin Guide, don't you?" He put his hand on his chin, shook his head and replied: "I donna knowa the name, but maybe next time he comes in, I recogniza the face."
A Chertavian, Brussels, Belgium