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Closed encounters

Published 28 June 1998
Style Magazine
259th article

Far horizons: Michael Winner on his balcony at the Cipriani in Venice (Vanessa Perry)

I walked from my sun lounger in the gardens surrounding the swimming pool of the hotel Cipriani, Venice, to stand behind the shrubbery and look toward the lagoon and the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. There I dwelt on the mysteries of life: such as why waiters insist on pouring fizzy water to replenish my glass when I'm drinking still water. A Sunday Times reader interrupted my reverie. "Excuse me, Mr Winner," he said. "You recommended some restaurant on an island. I cut the article out and then lost it." "The Trattoria Da Romano in Burano," I said charmingly. "I hope you enjoy it."

I returned to the Trattoria Da Romano the next day. It still offers quite the most wonderful food, and in a lovely setting. The islands surrounding Venice have an individual atmosphere of their own. Burano specialises in lace and is full of small, multicoloured houses. The church tower leans alarmingly. Orazio Barbaro, the owner, names some of his famous guests on the menu, ranging from Charles Chaplin through Ernest Hemingway to Matisse. Cut out this article and keep it. I will reveal now, and again in a couple of weeks, all you need to know about Venice.

The Cipriani has three speciļ¬c advantages over all the other hotels, apart from being infinitely better anyway. It has lovely gardens and a swimming pool, and it is a four-minute boat ride to St Mark's Square. The trip on the hotel launch is one of the most beautiful little excursions you can take. Dr Natale Rusconi is the superb doyen of hotel managers, with a serious suit and a wry smile. The food is good, if not historic, and the staff are all excellent.

But there was a hiccup on my last visit. Later that same day, I was swimming in stately fashion across the large pool. Another English guest, Mr David Lossos, engaged me in conversation. Mr Lossos had kept his copy of my reviews and, before leaving England, had faxed the Cipriani to make him a reservation for the previous night at the Trattoria San Marco, a little-known gem run by the four elderly Fiorin sisters, which I recommended seven months ago. "I trust you enjoyed it," I said. "I never went," replied Mr Lossos. "The concierge told me it was closed." "That's odd," I thought. And then swam on.

The next day I saw Mr Lossos again. "Did you go last night?" I asked. "No," said Mr Lossos. "I asked the concierge to make a reservation and again they said it was closed. They asked me why I wanted to go there." "I hope you told them it was because I recommended it," I said. "I did," responded Mr Lossos.

That was on a Saturday. The following Monday I wandered about listening to the three orchestras in St Mark's Square, then walked on further to the Trattoria San Marco. There were the four sisters, beaming and delightful. I sat in the window. A couple passing by stopped and looked in. Seeing me, the man produced my review of the San Marco, unfolded it, held it up, smiled and walked on.

"Have you been closed?" I asked the sisters through the translation services of a nice girl from the photo shop opposite. They had not. They stay open for dinner until 9.30pm. Mr Lossos had asked to go at 8.30, which would have been fine. I rang the duty manager at the Cipriani on my cellular phone and gave him my view of the matter in clear tones.

Then I asked for Mr Lossos. "This place is open," I said. "Why not come tonight? It's brilliant. I've just had the freshest and best scampi I've ever eaten and some superb risotto." "They did book me in for Saturday, but I didn't go because it was raining," said Mr Lossos. "I'm going home now, but I'll be back in a few weeks."

Later I told the concierge chaps how disappointed I was. "We booked Mr Lossos in on Saturday," they said defensively. "But not on Thursday or Friday," I replied, "and only after he told you I was involved."

Everyone reading this who works in hotels or restaurants will know exactly why the concierge desk at the Cipriani declined to book Mr Dossos into the Trattoria San Marco. I know, and the concierge people know that I know. The excellent Dr Rusconi knows and he knows that I know and he knows his concierge department knows . . . if you get my drift. I will not reveal my little secret. May I just say to the normally impeccable chief concierge, Gianni Cavallarin: this was rather naughty. Please gentlemen, don't do it again.


You write of the ugly look of debris and dirt in the sea off the Mediterranean (Style, May 31), but what about the fish and shellfish taken out of it? I remember many years ago the sea around Naples was so polluted that the eating of local seafood was stopped for a while. An unsightly sea is one thing, but is it better or worse than food poisoning?
Barbara Edwards, Oswestry, Shropshire

With regard to the matter of your signed photo in the bar of the Hotel Splendido, Portofino (Style, June 7), I have no idea whether the picture was removed after your departure. What I can tell you is that it was only hung on the morning of your arrival. I know this because I was drinking coffee in the bar at the time. Antonio, the wine waiter, gave a very diplomatic shrug when I asked why Michael Winner should suddenly be substituted for Maggie Smith, and suggested it might be related to your imminent arrival. An hour or so later, still sitting in the bar, I heard you make a most commanding entrance and ask shortly afterwards to see the restaurant. It's nice to know that you maintain a professional sensibility at all times.
Thomas Bell, Loughton, Essex

Having just returned from Portofino, I can assure you that your photograph was well displayed in the position you describe. Dame Maggie Smith's picture was also on the wall, but hanging round the corner from your own. We thought of you as we enjoyed a lovely bellini cocktail. Keep the columns coming.
Joyce Silverman, London N6