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Italian ruins

Published 4 June 2000
Style Magazine
360th article



Pisa meal: chef Nino Mosca, left, with Michael Winner at Il Bottaccio (Miss Lid the Third)

There has been a dramatic change at the excellent Hotel Splendido in Portofino, much visited by Sunday Times readers as a result of my hearty recommendations. Fausto Allegri, the Winner's Dinners Best Concierge in the World, has been given the job of guest relations manager. This means Fausto is no longer uniformed and behind the reception desk. Instead, he wanders around the hotel in a variety of clothing that can generously be described as eccentric. One day he may be in short trousers and a red shirt who knows what the next. Fausto will suddenly appear like a demented violinist in search of an orchestra, peering through the railings around the pool.

He is in terrific form, full of marvellous suggestions - and even found me a helicopter pad in a nearby field when I decided to move on to the south of France. A mere 40-minute flight. As we drove to the landing site, Fausto ruminated on his change of role. "Nobody in Italy knows what a guest relations manager is," he said. "They think I am a tailor." "Not with the clothes you wear, not with those short trousers they don't," I replied.

When I decided to show Miss Lid the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Fausto recommended lunch at Il Bottaccio in nearby Monrignoso. Fausto's ideas are usually excellent. But on a scale of to 10, this was a weak 3 - in spite of having had in residence luminaries ranging from Barbra Streisand to Eric Clapton. The immensely charming host and chef, Nino Mosca, exhibits photos of himself with them to prove it.

The dining room itself is a disaster. To sit among the beauties of Italy in what is no more than an enlarged garage or small aircraft hangar is a total waste of time. Five hideous, brown air-conditioning vents faced me. A large stage took up about a third of the room, covered in dirty grey material with a piano and a guitar. Four plant holders full of shopping-arcade flora faced a pool. Some dreadful modern sculpture added to the visual cacophony. There was what looked like a copy of a Kandinsky gone wrong on one wall and something equally horrid on another. Nino assured me that they were all of artistic magnitude and valuable. Not to me they weren't.

There was one unisex toilet for a restaurant that seats 60 people. That's odd. Even odder is that the lock didn't work and the taps produced no water. Apparently there was a pump underneath the sink that you had to work with your foot. The hotel is owned by a Mr d'Anna, who has a restaurant in Grosvenor Place, London, Called Il Cenacolo. I know of nobody who has been there.

At Il Borraccio there was a very large menu and very few people were lunching. "This can't all be fresh," I said. "Eighty per cent of it is," replied Nino.

I started with four shrimps and a small portion of black rice. Quite nice. The piped music was Addams Family at its gloomiest. Miss Lid greatly liked her salad of greens and vegetables. There was then a long delay before my main course arrived. "It's like a kind of nightmare sitting here," I observed to Miss Lid. "You're a menace," she replied. We were probably both right.

My main course of lamb with a sauce and stuffed with spinach and kidneys surrounded by veggies looked nice. But the plate was cold and the appearance of the food was better than its taste. Miss Lid’s penne con scampi with tomato sauce didn't go down too well. "The edges of the pasta are cold," she said. "Because they put it on the plate and ponce about for half an hour before they bring it here." That's esoteric food reviewing at its best. She added that the shrimps hadn't been shelled, so by the time you finished doing that all the pasta was cold anyway.

For dessert, I had what Nino assured me was his speciality, chocolate cake in the form of a triangle, standing upright. It was impossible to use your fork without laying it down. "You've destroyed my piramide, my pyramid!" Nino expostulated. It was more like mousse on a vague pastry base and it tasted of coffee not chocolate. "Mushy and very oversweet," I dictated in order to inform the world. Miss Lid thought her sorbet and fruit salad very good.

As I left, I was asked to check the toilet door. It had been fixed and you could now lock it. The final note onto my tape was "There's no question this is a terrible place, but made pleasant because of Nino, his attitude and personality". Unfortunately that isn't enough.



Letters

All people over the age of 50 are old-fashioned, inconsiderate, impolite, stuck-up brats. Of course, I don't actually believe that; I'm simply stereotyping older people in the same way that your correspondent David Martin Hird chose to stereotype children (Style, May 21). What right does he have to say that all children are "noisome brats" who should not be allowed into any "civilised eatery"? Yes, some will behave badly in a restaurant - as, indeed, will some adults - but the majority will conduct themselves appropriately. Nobody should condemn a person because of their age, any more than they should because of their race or religion. Perhaps it is the maturity and behaviour of Mr Hird that we should be questioning.
Tom Wills (15), Leicester

Could Michael Winner please initiate a campaign to stop waiters holding glasses by the rims as they bring them to the table. This is a habit that seems to afflict even the better restaurants. I am sure there must be many people like me who abhor this practice.
Lawrence Sissling, Hove, E Sussex

Michael Winner has unsettled me. He writes (Style, May 21): "I have great non-admiration for people in PR". I had assumed that his life was exclusively devoted to public relations - with himself as his only client.
Peter White, Blackpool, Lancs

I am not an avid reader of the Winner's Dinners column, but I feel moved to comment on his experience at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (Style, May 21). Ms Vickers is probably preening herself. If she did indeed engineer a mix-up over the bill, she could have virtually guaranteed Winner would convert his distaste for PRs into column inches - and thus promote Le Manoir.
Foxy, Hagnew, Lincs.

It seems strange that Michael Winner paints Jo Vickers as the villain of the piece after his lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. I would have been far more angry with Laurence Marks, the wealthy writer who organised the lunch, in the first place, asked Ms Vickers to join them (presumably as a thank you for the luxury hotel freebies she provides him with) and then suggested splitting the bill. I suggest that Michael "forgets" his wallet when he joins Mr Marks at the Mason Arms.
Tom Mair, by e-mail