Published 17 May 1998 Style Magazine 253rd article
View to thrill: Michael Winner and Maurizio Saccani at the new Splendido Mare hotel (Vanessa Perry)
My experiences at Reid's Hotel in Madeira still haunt me. At one point it was like a horror movie. On the day of our arrival, and knowing we'd made a terrible mistake, Vanessa decided to have a lie-down before dinner. She pulled back her bed cover. On the underside was what looked like blobs of dried blood. May have been something else, who knows? I called Luis Pinheiro, the extremely likeable manager, and he had the cover changed.
The day before we left, I decided to go round the cathedral, an unassuming building in Funchal. I called the concierge for some of what the brochure calls "Attentive but discreet service, which has all but died out elsewhere". It was 4pm. "Is the cathedral open?" I asked. "Yes," said the concierge. "When does it close?" I continued. "8pm," he said. I duly got in a taxi and travelled into town. It was now 6pm. The cathedral was closed. The taxi driver checked: it opened at 7.30pm. On my way back in, I passed the general manager, Anton Kung. I told him of my wasted journey. He looked glum.
Even at Funchal airport I had problems. At nine o'clock in the morning my Learjet arrived. It should have been refuelled and ready to go 15 minutes later. After an hour and 20 minutes, the pilot was apopleptic. "There's only one man on the pump!" he said. "We were told first in, first out. Then they took two large commercial airliners ahead of us, and then the man went off for tea. I had to drag him out of the cafe."
Oh well, we still made it to the Splendido in Portofino. Simon Sherwood, who now runs the hotel division of Orient Express, once said to me: "We've redecorated the dining room with the money from guests who came after reading your articles." Good, I thought. There is no hotel I can recommend more forcefully. The Ligurian coast, unspoilt to a remarkable degree, tops my list of the loveliest places in the world. There was Fausto Allegri, concierge supreme. Coming from the office was Maurizio Saccani, who manages both the Splendido and another great hotel, the Villa San Michele near Florence. There was young Carlo Lazzeri, who has grown masterfully into his newish job as restaurant manager.
Every meal was historic, or close to it. The view of the harbour and the tree-clad hillside with its little castle is one of the greatest in the world. The whole area is massively protected, no building has been allowed since the 1930s. It brings out the romantic even in me. You eat your fresh fried scampi and squid, ravioli with ricotta cheese and walnut oil dressing, sea bass baked in salt, Sicilian iced gateau served with lemon sauce - all on a terrace with that incredible view.
Are you braindead, Winner, I hear you ask. Was nothing wrong? Er . . . yes. The Grand Marnier souffle was a bit of a disaster. The top skin was rubbery, the texture of the stuff below (I like to give you technical descriptions) was too firm and clingy. I told Carlo. Nicely, of course. The next dinner time he produced, unasked, two more Grand Marnier souffles. "Try these," he said triumphantly. Sadly, they were no better than the night before.
Don't let such a minor incident put you off. The Splendido is superb. I can reveal it is about to be joined by a sister hotel, the Splendido Mare, set right on the unbelievably beautiful little harbour of Portofino. Maurizio Saccani showed me round. This will be, without doubt, one of the great hotels of the world. The suites have large terraces, many overlooking the bobbing boats and multicoloured houses of the port. The dining area spreads out onto the cobblestoned piazetta below. Right next to Puny, another excellent restaurant run by the effervescent Luigi Miroli. It opens in June. I seriously advise you to book now. It doesn't have a pool, but you'll be allowed to use the one at the Splendido on the hills above.
Now, let me see, I must find something else to complain about. Marisa Anastasia, who rushes out of her little shop in the hotel, her arms draped with clothing she is intent you should buy? No, she's a delight. Ah, I remember. I rang down to Fausto one day. "I want to go into Santa Margherita, please," I said. It's a nearby, also lovely, port. "I shall call you a taxi, it will be here in 20 minutes," announced Fausto grandly. "Wha'd'you mean 20 minutes?" I said. "I can go in the hotel car." "You're right," said Fausto. "The hotel car is waiting for you outside." That's what I call a quick recovery.
We have just enjoyed a few days at the Hotel Splendido in Portofino. Knowing it to be a favourite haunt of Michael Winner, we were not surprised to find a signed photograph of the great man prominently displayed in the bar. However, our holiday was complete when he appeared in person for dinner. A couple of days later, and we assume after he left, we were shocked to see that the photograph had been replaced by another, of the actress Dame Maggie Smith. Presumably, it had been taken away for cleaning?
Machiavelli, Hotel Splendido, Portofino
May I endorse the comments of a recent correspondent concerning noise levels at Langan's. Last month, I suffered an ear-splitting dinner in a crowded room, packed with braying business suits - absolutely awful. I then took myself off to the English countryside, where I found peace and quiet in the nigh deserted dining room of a Great Dunmow hostelry. Here I was initiated into the ceremony of the elusive bread basket. Firstly, the basket is waved tantalisingly in front of your eyes, then, after reluctantly surrendering a ration of one roll per customer, it is smartly whisked away, never to be seen again. What a pity that the UK remains so stingy in such a small thing as breaking the bread. All would have been forgiven if the food was good, but that's another story. I do, however, note that this particular hostelry is not included in the 1998 Good Food Guide, which shows that they really do their homework.
John Whittington, Monte Carlo