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When you've gotta go...

Published 23 December 2001
Style Magazine
441st article



Service with a smile: from left, Alfredo Tomaselli, Michael Winner and Francesco Arcuri (Georgina Hristova)

People strain to hear every word I say in restaurants. They hope to see some lunatic complainer making a fuss. But in real life I'm very quiet. I shake hands with the staff when I leave. I often enter the kitchen and thank the chefs. Then I vanish into the night. People say: "We were expecting a scene." But reality is seldom as exciting as fiction. Only occasionally do I go bananas. It happened recently in Rome. Ivo Palazzi, my movie Mr Fixit friend, took us in one of his chauffeured Mercedes through a bland Roman suburb at night. We ended up in Giggetto er Pescatore in Parioli. I now quote, exactly, my taped notes dictated at the time. Imagine me speaking.

"There's rather sloppy piped music here. It's like a roadhouse in the 1940s. Georgina says like a motel. After Ivo has been translating the menu brilliantly for an entire page, a girl comes over and says: 'We have an English menu.' They didn't offer that when we came in. They tell you later on. This waitress looked extremely tired. She should go to bed.

"We've been here a very long time, but they've now produced some other bread, focaccia, which could have come immediately but didn't. A totally dreary bread plate came originally. We've got elevator music coming in. It's like the elevator of the Hilton hotel. So we asked for this dreadful music to be turned off and it seems it has been turned off. No, the music is not turned off. It's come back even worse. Then I said unless it went off, I'd leave. And it seems to have gone off.

"I'd describe the focaccia as adequate at best. Georgina, with the music mercifully off, investigated at great length every detail of every sauce on every course. Georgina is having baby squid salad, Luciano-style, with bread croutons. It seems to confuse the waiter considerably when we try and order something that's on the menu. He's one of those clever people who thinks he doesn't have to write anything down. I've suffered that before, so I refuse to order anything until he gets his pad. 'I will have the octopus salad.' This is unquestionably the most uncharming waiter I've ever seen in my life. He looks like the entire job is a great strain for him. Ivo and I are going to share a linguini with lobster. Now the music has come on again. I've had enough. I've decided to go.

"This is one of my very rare walkouts. It's the most horrible place. The staff are miserable, the customers are boring, there's no welcome, no charm and they keep putting the music back on. So I'm leaving. Three more very dull businessmen are walking in. It really is one of the most dreadful places I've ever seen in my life. It's full of businessmen sitting round tables. It's like some sort of tired suburban room where rather minor suburban businessmen go because they don't know anywhere better.

"Ivo's Mercedes and driver had vanished. Now a little taxi's coming. I've never been so glad to see any vehicle arrive to get me out. The place had ugly, shiny wood panelling-up part of the wall, and mirrors. Utterly charmless decoration, gloomy people, nil atmosphere. It looked like it had closed some time ago. The owner, who acknowledged us when we came in, was surly too."

I recalled a very nice restaurant we used to go to in the 1970s when I filmed in Rome. The Girarrosto Toscano is just off the Via Venero. It's decorated with wood and tiles. We had bean and pasta soup. It was excellent. Very calming. We settled down and forgot the excitement of our walkout. Georgina had a grilled veal slice. Ivo and I shared a T-bone Tuscan steak. It turned out a pleasant evening.

The next day, we lunched outside under an awning at Dal Bolognese, near the Piazza del Popolo. The owner, Alfredo Tomaselli, is very elegant. He's related to the manageress, Elena Tomaselli. This restaurant is exceptionally good. I had tagliolini with shrimps and tomato, some mixture of fried brains, fried cheese and fried everything, and a good bollito misto. But the real miracle was the service. I've never seen everything brought so quickly or plates cleared so quickly. The plates went literally as the knife and fork were put down. The next course arrived in seconds. Our waiter was Francesco Arcuri. I want Francesco to follow me wherever I go. I want him in every restaurant. I shall, in future, arrive with my own waiter. I finished with a delicious rum baba. Francesco brought and cleared that speedily as well.



Letters

I was interested to read of Mr Winner's recent jaunt to the Hotel Eden in Rome (December 2), where he enjoys comfortable accommodation and wonderful food. Believing he knows what he is talking about, I booked a table there to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We found the food and surroundings pleasant, but, unfortunately, it could not hold a candle to the Hotel de Russie (recently refurbished by Rocco Forte), where we had a superb room and a sumptuous evening meal in the fabulous garden restaurant. Perhaps Mr Winner, next time he is visiting the holy city, might care to take a stroll, just past the Spanish Steps, to the de Russie. He might be pleasantly surprised.
D White, Northumberland

Is it fair for Sally Halon to pass judgment on Lal Qila (Letters, December 9), having visited on a Saturday night? In my experience of eating in and around Manchester, restaurants simply do not know how to cope with the extra pressure at peak times. It's a sad reflection of eating out in this area.
J Freeman, Greater Manchester

I've never read Winner's Dinners, but the letters column, with its heady mix of admiration, put-downs, irony and good old snobbishness, is unmissable.
Laurence Scales, via e-mail

Is Michael Winner appearing as thes Dame in panto this year? My wife swears she saw him on a poster. I, however, am sure that it was Christopher Biggins.
Nick Booth via e-mail

Michael Winner's mention of Tetou, in Golfe-Juan (December 2), reminds me of the time an American friend asked me to recommend a casual but good restaurant on the Riviera. I sent him to Tetou, telling him it was very simple, but I did not tell him that they do not take cards. I also left out the fact that the bouillabaisse is probably the most expensive in the world. He loved the restaurant, giving it six stars, but had one complaint: writer's cramp from signing so many traveller's cheques.
Stanley Silver, Hadley Wood

Michael Winner recently gave a small mention to The Square in Mayfair (November 25), with the note that they served "proper food". I promptly booked a table for dinner and was served the most wonderful food by the most attentive staff. Well done all at The Square.
Robert Lewis, Shrewsbury

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