Published 18 July 1999 Style Magazine 314th article
On the throne: Michael Winner resplendent in his Popemobile (Vanessa Perry)
The guidebook described "The climb to the panoramic spot of the Villa Jovis, home of the Roman emperor Tiberius" as a "pleasant excursion". A three-mile, steep, uphill walk does not rate "pleasant" in Winner World. But Capri allows no cars near the town centre. The streets are only wide enough for three or four people to walk abreast. So an upright chair was strapped onto a small electric cart used to bring guests' luggage from a drop-off point to the hotels. I sat looking backwards like the resident of a Popemobile. Crowds parted as we went through and then gazed on my beatific figure as we wound our way up steep bends. The Roman ruin was fairly pleasant, even though I had to walk the last mile up a rutted track. At least it got one away from the vast overcrowding. Try Capri from September to April: it may be less like London Underground on a bad day.
Food-wise, I relied on the superb concierge of the Hotel Quisisana, Leone Manzi. In most countries, including our own, concierges do not recommend the best restaurants. They point you to ones that give them the most commission. I hope Mr Manzi got an appropriate backhander. He put me onto nice places, except for one. My favourite was La Capannina, which could have been done out by a 1950s MGM set decorator. It's a typical family-owned place, tiled floor, wooden chairs with flowers painted on the back, pots and wine all round and flowers on the table. The owner is Antonio de Angelis, who looks like a professor from a minor university. He's helped by his American wife, Aurelia, who met him on vacation aged 16. Although it's full of Italians and very unpretentious, the signatures in the guest book include Dustin Hoffman, Elton John, Julia Roberts and many more glitterati.
Vanessa ordered sea bream covered in a light potato crust and baked in the oven. "Are you going to share the fish with the lady?" asked Antonio, in a voice of command more than question. I did. It was excellent. I also had ravioli and grilled scampi and, when I went again, baby calamari filled with cheese, courgette flowers from Antonio's garden, and chips, which were cut by hand in the kitchen: rare these days. Although La Capannina has low ceilings and hard walls and was full, you could hear conversation quite easily. In London, with our overhyped screamers, it would have been a noise nightmare.
Leone's great failure was Cantinella. There were two people in it, but I was shown to a terrible table. I sat somewhere else. The owner had greeted me grumpily for a second and a half. Italian charm and welcome were not in evidence. The attitude seemed to be: "The hotel concierge is sending people here, what do I care; I don't have to be polite." When the waiter came and served me with ice before Vanessa, I asked: "Do you normally serve the men first?" Then we got up and walked back to La Capannina.
Da Gemma, near the market square, was good. This is bustling: a straw or bamboo ceiling, pink; a large antipasti buffet in the middle. I had linguine with lobster, which was terrific. Before that, they plonked an enormous bowl of soup on the buffet. It was called a pasta fajolie with pasta and clams. It was highly memorable. I also tried an excellent pizza. For dessert, I got a superb lemon profiterole, then some limoncella, a marvellous Italian liqueur tasting like lemon. I keep some in the fridge at home. It's all over Capri; obviously a local thing.
I found Feraglioni myself. It contained English visitors who asked to be photographed with me. It's in a lovely open area overlooking a field of yellow flowers (please check a horticultural calendar; they may not be out on your visit). There's a view of a staggering bougainvillea and a lilac tree wrapping itself round the outside. Juliano Tortiello is the owner. English is not spoken. The pasta and veal were good, and they served Coca-Cola in an exemplary way: in a tall glass, not some namby-pamby thing, with large ice cubes right down to the bottom and a healthy half-slice of lemon. The Coca-Cola in Capri was a little thinner and sharper than in the UK. I await the Coca-Cola people telling me it's the same everywhere, which is nonsense. Because even if the syrup is the same, which I don't believe, the water it's made with is different, and that counts for a lot. There are very few writers who'd go to Capri and do a dissertation on Coca Cola. More's the pity.
I read your column every week, and think that the letters you receive are really funny. I am writing to tell you that, at 13, I am probably among your youngest readers, and that although my parents - how shall I put this? - dislike your writing generally, I think your reviews are cool.
Miss E M-R
Frankly, I am puzzled. I seem to remember that several years ago Michael Winner suffered a heart attack and underwent a bypass operation, following which, I would have expected his specialist to have put him on a spartan, low- cholesterol diet. Yet Winner continues to indulge himself on a rich cuisine with blood-curdling properties. I keep expecting to read of his parting shot as his face drops into his double chocolate souffle. Please, Mike, watch yourself. Your fans would be devastated to lose your contribution to cinema arts.
Donovan Winter, via e-mail
I look forward each week to seeing in what lucky establishment Winner is "putting on his parts" (a descriptive Suffolk saying). My only sorrow is that I'm unlikely to be a witness, as I'm sure Michael is not old enough to partake of the bargain OAP dinners that the pubs here serve each week.
Helen Revell, Saxmundham
Michael Winner's constant carping about Cliveden - of which I have been a club member for five years - now verges on the ridiculous. On the night that my book, Princess in Love (about Diana, Princess of Wales) was published, the service I received when I stayed there was excellent. The efficiency and discretion of the entire staff made me feel safe and protected, while the concierge's organisation of my paparazzi-fleeing trip to Ireland was impeccable. Clearly Mr Winner is no dog- lover, or he would have at least pointed out that Cliveden welcomes well-behaved dogs with the same care and courtesy as well behaved guests. My dachshunds, William and Wilfred, always have baskets and food awaiting them, plus doggie-sitting service offered. Cliveden is to be congratulated. It bans Michael Winner, but happily takes dogs.
Anna Pasternak, Marlow
At least the staff at Cliveden got one thing right - banning the guy who turned up wearing a designer white denim suit (Style, June 27). Seeing that would be enough to make any waiter drop their tray of lukewarm tea and manky scones.
Matthew Rumbold, London
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