Published 16 May 1999 Style Magazine 305th article
Good prandial: Michael Winner with Gianfranco and Leone Manzo at Quisisana
The ants walked with great precision in an immaculately straight line. The distance between one ant and another was identical. They came from a corner on the southeast side of the suite. On reaching a reproduction antique commode, they climbed up a back leg nearest the wall. When they got to the marble top they walked around only the right-hand side: the one nearest the roof terrace looking down onto the blue sea and the two famous rocks, the Faraglioni, that rise out of it as Capri's trademark.
I was hypnotised by this endless flow of animal life. Would they, I wondered, take over the entire room? Would I be writhing in bed at night, fighting off an increasing horde of insects as if starring in a horror movie? At this point I started squashing them. I felt extremely guilty. But it was them or me.
I had flown, courtesy of Marwan Khalek, in a rented Learjet from London. I declined the pilot's offer to hear, on his radio, voices of American pilots and their instructors as they screeched in to rocket Serbia. I arrived at the Quisisana, a highly rated hotel, following on foot a small porter-driven electric cart that transported my luggage from the area where taxis had to stop. As I walked onto the veranda in front of the hotel the doorman said: "Welcome, Mr Winner." I had never been there before. Had they displayed my photo on the notice board below stairs? It can't have been a flattering picture: they recognised me.
Dr Gianfranco Morgano, the owner, showed us to a lovely suite with a roof terrace facing unparalleled views of wooded mountains, the old rooftops of Capri, the sea, the aforementioned dramatic Faraglioni rocks and the hotel gardens. This terrace saved us. Because the alternative to sunbathing there would have been to sit by a rather naff swimming pool with a modern fountain with the words "I" - and then at drawn heart and then "Quisi". There was no view from the pool and it was constricted in area and ambience. The adjoining restaurant, the Colombaia Grill, offered a half-hour wait for a pizza because the ovens were never heated up, a salad nicoise served once without tuna, and no sorbet because the fridge had broken down.
Breakfast was particularly disastrous. There were tiny plastic containers of Lurpak butter, disgraceful for a supposedly top-class hotel. The fruit salad was tinned. Beyond belief! There was a limited supply of croissants and jams, there were tea bags instead of proper tea with a strainer and the crockery was uninteresting. The sugar was wrapped when it should have been in a bowl.
All this is a pity, because in many ways the Quisisana is extremely likable. You could not find better staff. The chief concierge, Leone Manzo, operated Winner-management superbly and with immense charm. He's one of the greats of his profession. Dr Morgano was also impeccably hospitable.
The main dining room is garishly bright in the evening. They really must dim the lights and get some candles on the tables. The maitre d', Giuseppe Esposito, was fine at our first dinner, but on the second ignored us completely. And Vanessa looked particularly fetching in a new dress. She said of her salad: "The tomatoes are not ripe." She was displeased because her sea bass came with mussels and she wasn't expecting that. My veal was excellent. But the triumph was a historic rum baba with custard. Rum babas used to be common in England. They have, sadly, gone into decline.
On our second dinner the bellini was memorably ghastly, my ravioli was uninteresting, but my local fish, la pezzogna, was as good as I've ever eaten. Apparently this fish lives 120 metres down and is caught one at a time. I had it baked in salt.
The next day the ants didn't appear until noon, when I saw one on my diary. By one o'clock ant activity had increased considerably. Vanessa asked me not to mention it because she didn't want the room to smell of insect spray. But I couldn't keep it secret. Dr Morgano assured us he'd manage without using a spray. When we came back the pong of disinfectant was overpowering. The ants had gone, and who can blame them. We opened the sliding doors to the balcony and stuck it out. Which is just as well. Because, in spite of some disappointments, I greatly enjoyed the Quisisana. Capri was nice, too. It's the only place where I've seen convertible six-seater taxis. It's overcrowded, though. Full of Italians and others on day trips. The streets display endless famous-name boutiques. I think I arrived at least 20 years too late.
I recently had the misfortune to dine at Bistrot 2 in the Oxo Tower, London, and think it would be the perfect place to send Mr Winner. Service was abominable, chicken and asparagus risotto came without chicken and the ashtray was not emptied once. When I mentioned this to the girl who brought the bill, she told me it wasn't her responsibility as she worked behind reception.
T Mair, London SE11
Did Mr Winner actually dine on dolphin at the Treasure Beach hotel (Style, May 2)? Dolphin fish, otherwise known as mahi-mahi here in Hawaii, and dorado in other places - Mexico, for example - is a common species of eating fish. But dolphin of the Flipper variety? Please tell me it isn't so.
Barry Whitfield, Hawaii
I recently ventured into Harry's Bar in Venice and asked the waiter for a bellini, adding that it was my birthday as, being a woman alone, entering a bar at 11.15am, I felt it needed explaining. He was charming, wished me "happy birthday" and brought my drink. Imagine my delight when he returned minutes later carrying a slice of delicious chocolate cake with a pink candle. So, Mr Winner, thank you for pointing me in his direction.
Audrey Harvard, Salcombe, Devon
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