Published 11 November 2001 Style Magazine 435th article
From left: Renato Castione, Michael Winner and Mauro Albrigi (Georgina Hristova)
Verona is an hour's drive from Venice. I might never have seen it, were it not for Marco Pierre White. I persuaded him to honeymoon abroad, accompanying him and his bride to the Cipriani hotel. Their stay was my wedding gift. After I departed, they visited Verona to see Marco's relatives. They greatly liked it. If you're getting married, be aware of my honeymoon-escort service. I've enjoyed romantic moments with Patsy Kensit, John Cleese and Marco. Two of these marriages are still going strong. On Patsy's honeymoon in Barbados, I had to ask if she'd cover her bosoms with a bikini top so I could take the definitive picture of her and her husband Dan Donovan. Not even my portrait, capturing perfectly the spirit of young love, could save the marriage. I stayed with John and Alyce in the Jalousie Hilton. They gave me a silver-framed photo of John and me in St Lucia. Mr and Mrs Cleese have inscribed it: "The honeymoon - and Michael came too."
Natale Rusconi, the Cipriani's eminent boss, arranged for Mauro Albrigi to show Georgina and me the best of Verona. He was a teacher on strike for better pay. As we traversed the city, his pupils waved and called out to him. Mauro escorted Margaret and Denis Thatcher for three days in Verona. We saw a great deal of it in six hours. There's the very beautiful Piazza delle Erbe, its medieval buildings covered with 16th-century frescoes. Other memorable sights include the balcony of Juliet's house where she called: "Romeo, where are you?" or something similar.
My lunch advice came from Arrigo Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice. Ignoring the two-Michelin starred Il Desco, Arrigo suggested Ciccarelli in nearby Madonna di Dossobuono. It was basic, with well-spaced tables, wooden chairs, brown walls, vague panelling and overhead lights that must have come from a second World war prison-camp film - just bare bulbs with a tin shade. The clientele seemed to be local businessmen, mostly in shirtsleeves. Every table had an adjacent coat stand for jackets to hang on.
For the past three years, a pleasant man, Renato Castione, has been proprietor and chef. Renato was severely shocked when I ordered a Coca-Cola. He brought a Valpolicella Classico 1997. "The best year of the century," explained Mauro. They produced, very speedily, a large bowl of tagliolini with bit of melting butter on top. With it were bowls of superb, hot, sliced liver, bolognese and tomato sauce. We could pick and mix. Georgina said: "It tastes sensational." She started on a salad and then had a second portion of tagliolini. I'd ordered another house speciality, bollito misto. But Renato had gone and the service was collapsing.
I tried calling out the word "middle". It didn't bring the waiter from the desk, but it got his attention as he was passing. He brought an enormous plate of boiled vegetables to the table. After that came the bollito misto, in Ciccarelli a mixture of boiled and roast meat served with "the famous Beara sauce", and a grated root called cren. The meats were carved in front of me on the trolley, the problem being, as the trolley was open, none of it was terribly hot. Then they added a large number of sauces. I promptly spilt some on the table. It was all robust and rather good.
Georgina was eating portion number whatever of tagliolini when she decided my jacket on the stand behind was too close to her. She moved the table away and adjusted the jacket. "It was hanging in a stupid way," she announced. She checked and decided she had produced a work of art in the jacket-hanging department. "It looks more neat and presentable," she announced. "Who are we presenting it to?" I wondered. But I Said nothing.
Instead, I asked Mauro if Margaret and Denis Thatcher had been to this restaurant. He said: "No, because the programme they arranged, they don't eat much, they just taste something." He thought for a moment and added: "To go to this restaurant, you need to be of good fork." This led to my cheery dessert of tiramisu and fruit salad. When I left, the waiter said: Auf wiedersehen." Funny, I don't look German.
It was also strange that one morning, at the superbly run Cipriani hotel, I got a plastic teaspoon for the jam with my room-service breakfast. I mentioned this as I left. "A plastic spoon, Dr Rusconi," I exclaimed, incredulously. He smiled in his pixieish way. "We can arrange for you to take it back to London," he said. I could have come up with a zinger, but I thought that was a good response.
If Michael Winner liked Gallipoli Again in Islington (October 28), he should try Iznik in nearby Highbury, which, to my mind, serves the most authentic Turkish cuisine in London. It is well worth the detour from Holland Park.
Henny Goldenberg, by e-mail
Lunching recently at the Napoli Pizzeria, St-Ouen, in Paris, I was amused to see a photo of the great man pinned to the wall. Assuming that there is probably a buoyant black market in Michael Winner photos, as with the truffle, I gave it no further thought until I read his review (October 21). My pizza, too, was great (not historic), though I'm quite surprised that the small tables got away without a mention.
Chris Woodbridge-Cox, by e-mail
Michael Winner says Harry's Bar in Venice is the world's best. On a recent trip, I was just about to book, when I read Simon Raven's verdict in The English Gentleman. He described Harry's Bar as "an amorphous home-from-home for smarties of all nations". That put me off. I didn't go to find out. Has anything changed since Raven wrote that, 40 years ago?
Francis Bennion, Budleigh Salterton
I wonder whether, in all his travels, Michael Winner has ever come across anybody who actually likes Muzak played in restuarants. For those who object, I suggest the following strategy: ask for the music to be turned off (or at least turned down to the point of inaudibility) and, if it isn't, do not tip. If enough of us made our wishes known in this way, perhaps managers would get the message.
David George, by e-mail
I thought of Michael Winner twice the other evening, during dinner at a restaurant away from my usual patch: first, when I realised that I had forgotten his advice about fish that smelled of fish; and second, when I thought of the only word he would have used to describe it - "prehistoric".
Michael J Pickavance, Southport
As a world traveller for more than 30 years, I have enjoyed first-class hotels, fine food and wine, and have always complained if the level of service fell below what I find acceptable. I have even used the "Winner wave", causing the desired effect in New York, Dallas and Singapore. I'm pleased Michael continues to demand the very highest standards.
Phillip A White, Palm Springs, California
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