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When in Rome

Published 2 December 2001
Style Magazine
438th article

Rome front: Ivo Palazzi, Michael Winner and Georgina Hristova

Ivo Palazzi is the Mr Fixit of Rome. He's not widely known to the public, even in the Eternal City. But in the world of movies, Ivo is greatly admired. When I first met him, in 1970, he was a driver with his own car for hire. Victor Mature had been his best man. Every movie star visiting Rome fought to have Ivo in their contract. Burt Lancaster even had me take Ivo to Durango, Mexico, to be a Mr Fixit there. We later took him to Vienna on another movie of mine.

I hadn't been to Rome for a while, so I called Ivo. "I don't drive now, Mr Winner, I have my own company. We operate a limousine service for many of the major hotels."

"Ivo," I said, "you won't drive. You'll sit in the back with me. You'll join us at all our meals [he always did anyway]. We will be driven around Rome together."

The first place Ivo took us to was Santopadre, on the Via Collina. This is a small, family-run restaurant with horse-racing pictures on the walls. "Burt loved it," explained Ivo. On the table was some ham, some half-tomatoes, cheese and pepperoni. Hot meatballs arrived in seconds. Then some chicory and mozzarella di bufala. Bruno Santopadre, the owner, appeared. His fingers danced expressively with every description of food we might order. He wore a waistcoat and braces. "Spaghetti alla matriciana," suggested Ivo. This is with bacon, cheese and tomato. Georgina changed at the last minute from spaghetti with mushrooms to ravioli with cheese and spinach. I can't remember what I had in the pasta department, but my notes say: "My pork was just so soft it fell off the bone. It was really, absolutely delicious." I finished with apple Strudel. They don't accept credit cards at Santopadre. The only other place I know that doesn't take cards is Tetou, in Golfe-Juan, where they serve the best bouillabaisse in the world.

We stayed at the Hotel Eden. Rome has never had grand hotels like the Ritz in Paris or Claridge's here. The nearest to it was the Excelsior, which I stayed in when making movies. But the Via Veneto has gone downmarket and the hotel is now the Westin Excelsior. "Full of tour groups," explained Ivo dismissively.

The Eden is where the stars now mostly stay. It's pleasant. I was in the royal suite, which must be for quite small royalty. The bedroom was good, but the sitting room and separate dining room were tiny. The first night, there were no face flannels or shower gel. But the view was nice.

At breakfast, the Eden had bottles of good mineral water free on the buffet. That's commendable. Also, fresh banana juice. I liked that. My fellow guests looked like hitchhikers, except for Ed Victor, the sophisticated American literary agent who's handling my autobiography. He provided social uplift.

I first visited Rome in 1953 with a friend of mine from Cambridge. We stayed in a modest hotel opposite the Trevi Fountain. I threw a coin intended for the fountain, which bounced off the window frame and totally blocked the sink.

I'll refrain from further recollections and tell you of another excellent restaurant Ivo took us to. This was Pierluigi, on the picturesque Piazza dei Ricci. We sat outside on the cobbled street. Only two of us got a menu. I wasn't one of them. "I have just now few," explained the waitress. The owner, Roberto Lisi, appeared. "You don't need menus, I'm here," he announced. "Only in America you have menu."

"Do the English have menus?" I asked.

Roberto brought us some delicious thinly sliced octopus. "It's sort of white with red veins in it," I dictated. Then I continued: "Thinly sliced cheese, crab, rugola, and Georgina says, 'This salad's sensational.' " Make sense of that if you can.

Then we got fried fish, fried artichokes, fried zucchini hearts and fried zucchini stuffed with mozzarella cheese and anchovies. "Fried artichoke is a Roman Jewish dish," said Ivo.

Georgina said: "Red wine with fish."

"What, darling?" I asked.

"I like red wine with fish," she stated. That's okay, I do too. Then we got lobster on top of some linguini. Then sea bass, which is a rather bland fish. In fact, I'm totally fed up with sea bass. If anyone in England serves me another portion of sea bass on spinach, I shall go berserk. We should go back to grilled or fried sole. That was excellent.

  • PS: In a Roman mile yet to be told, I shall reveal how Ivo took me to a totally ghastly restaurant where I threw a fit and walked out. Oh, what joys you have in store.


    Mr Winner has now proved to my satisfaction that he eats almost exclusively at upmarket establishments. Any less discerning diner would immediately have recognised the dessert "death by chocolate", which appeared on the menu at West Street Downstairs (November 18). A year ago, it was de rigueur, but it has now been totally eclipsed by toffee lumpy bumpy.
    Mick Watts, Nether Heyford, Northants

    Although I find Michael Winner's page entertaining, I can't help but wonder as to his credentials as a food critic. First, he seems unaware that frogs' legs contain bones. Now he has to be told that provolone is cheese rather than sausage - an unforgivable display of ignorance.
    Phil Nash, by e-mail

    Could someone please tell me how long The Sunday Times intends to keep paying Michael Winner for a weekly report on freshly squeezed orange juice?
    Cliff Proud, by e-mail

    We recently went for dinner at the Ivy after the opera. My husband, who for 30 years has assiduously kept the programme of every show, concert and sporting event he has been to, on this occasion left his programme under his chair in the restaurant. The next morning, I phoned the Ivy to ask if it had been found. The polite man who answered asked me to wait a few moments, then returned, telling me that he had found it, but that it was rather stained, as it had been in the bin. I asked if he would keep it for a while; I would go to the booking office to see if I could get a replacement, and if I could not, I would come for the stained one. At the opera house, I overheard the customer in front of me, who turned out to be a member of staff from the Ivy who had been sent to buy me a new programme. This, in anyone's view, must be service above and beyond the call of duty.
    Elaine Whitesides, by e-mail

    I recently saw a wonderful show called Little Foxes, at the Donmar Warehouse, in London. As a reader of Mr Winner's column, I was amazed to find myself sitting in a seat sponsored by the man himself. If his taste in food is as good as his taste in theatre, may I suggest he also sponsor chairs in restaurants. As The Ivy is just around the corner and particularly difficult to reserve, such a donation would be greatly appreciated.
    Matthew Moore, by e-mail

    Send letters to Style; or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk