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See Venice and diet on Harry's chocolate cake

Published 14 September 2003
News Review
531st article

Now you see her: Winner and Lynton-Edwards at Harry's Dolce (Julie Forbes)

Good news: Arrigo Cipriani, 71-year-old doyen of restaurateurs and my personal favourite, is to open up a real Harry's Bar in Mayfair. It will be called Harry Cipriani. It should be operating early in 2004.

Arrigo's father Giuseppe founded Harry's Bar, Venice, in 1931 with an American, Harry Pickering. Giuseppe opened the excellent Venice hotel the Cipriani in 1958 but later left. It's now part of the Orient-Express group.

Harry's Bar in Venice is nothing to do with Harry's Bar in London, which is a private club owned by Mark Birley. There's a Harry's Bar in Florence, which is among many that "nicked" the name. There are restaurants controlled by the real Cipriani family in New York, Hong Kong and other places.

Arrigo is bringing five chefs from Venice to London. I've personally recommended a restaurant manager.

I went this year, for only the second time, to Arrigo's first cloning of Harry's Bar - in Venice on the island of Giudecca. It's a bistro version called Harry's Dolce. Giudecca is also home to the Cipriani hotel. It faces St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace across the water.

Fifteen years ago I marvelled at the canal-side terrace of run-down real estate facing one of the world's great views. Now the Cipriani hotel has snapped up a bit. Some of the rest is luxury apartments. Surprisingly, a lot of undeveloped sections remain. I passed cheap cafes, local shops and even a youth hostel as I walked along the waterfront from the Cipriani to Harry's Dolce.

In summer you sit by the water - "on the rail" as the Americans say - in green canvas chairs. You can see Santa Maria della Salute and the tower of St Mark's Square. Opposite is the Chiesa dei Gesuati or Jesuit church on the main island.

We had to vacate the table offered to us because Geraldine kept bumping into the lady behind her. They've definitely got too many tables for comfort. "If people come to the table behind me," I muttered, "I'm dead." Luckily they didn't.

The American restaurant manager, Julie Forbes, comes from Los Angeles. She was married to a Venetian and opened Prada in Venice. The wide Giudecca canal alongside Harry's Dolce is grubby. Tin cans and general refuse float gently by.

We started with a Bellini. It wasn't nearly as good - "by a very long way", I dictated - as those over the water at Harry's Bar where it was invented. I left about half of it. In the real Harry's Bar I'd have knocked back at least one more.

I had Harry's Dolce seafood appetiser. My main course was calfs liver and onions with rice instead of polenta - I can't stand polenta. It was good. The chocolate cake which followed was quadruple historic. Harry's chocolate cake is definitely the best in the world. I shall lead a brass band welcoming it to London. I finished with two superb sorbets, a white one and a slightly pink one.

Needless to say there's no dress code at Harry's Dolce. The only dress rule at Harry's Bar is that men can't come in short trousers. At the Cipriani hotel they require a jacket for dinner in the main dining area. This is absolutely ridiculous in the boiling heat of a Venetian summer when most people eat outside on the terrace. I entered recently in a short-sleeved shirt to join David and Carina Frost for coffee. The restaurant manager said: "You have to wear a jacket." Then he saw me looking round. Not one man, including David Frost, was wearing a jacket. He walked away. Don't demand a dress code, fellows, if it isn't real. At Wiltons and the Ritz you have to wear a tie and I'm happy to do that because everyone else is.

There was another strange incident at the Cipriani when I moved into their show suite, the Palladio. The television had no sound. After the resident manager, Patrick Nayrolles - massively less charming than his predecessor Giancarlo Turrin - "repaired it" for half an hour there was TV sound on the extension speakers in the bedroom and the hallway but none in the living room where the set was. I fled back to my usual hotel location, known privately as the James Sherwood suite. That's absolutely great. And everything worked.

  • A number of people wrote in saying they'd rather see a photo of Geraldine Lynton-Edwards than me. What's wrong with you? Are you not capable of appreciating unconventional beauty and features that reveal inner nobility? Oh well, as a sop to the masses, I offer a picture of Geraldine. I'm in it, too. You won't get rid of me that easily.

    Winner's letters

    Michael Winner had a good idea (Winner's Dinners, August 31). Why should he bother to tell his readers what he ate? After all, his column is misleadingly titled, more often than not dealing with lunches, and that only superficially, after lambasting all those poor mortals who did not recognise God in the portly shape of MW! Perhaps he could extend information to the prices of what he consumed, usually only mentioned if MW has settled someone else's bill.
    John Prince, Gloucestershire

    I think it's marvellous there are old people on television who are proud to step out of the instore restaurant in Littlewoods and into young people's restaurants like the Ivy. I hope when I'm as old as you I have half your flamboyance and joie de vivre. I'd like a signed photo of your godly self and anything else you want to give me - meal tickets to said Ivy, cheap car insurance for my dad, whatever.
    Phillip James, Solihull

    You said last week salmon and tuna were vaguely similar! l can think of fewer more dissimilar fish. Perhaps your chosen dishes have been dribbled with too much jus.
    David Swingler, Nottingham

    Good to see you giving your alma mater some publicity last week. I always assume the "College Closed" signs don't apply to me and proceed as if own the place. I wouldn't expect this approach to be a problem for you. I recently received a "Membership Card" from the Cambridge University begging department, admitting one to closed areas. I'm sure they'd be pleased to add you to their list of donors!
    Stephen Phillips, Wrexham

    Oh dear, Michael. Your memory is fading (Winner's Dinners, August 31)! I too went to the Brompton Grill many times with my parents. It was owned by Nicholas Karonias, a Cypriot, not a Pole. He was the perfect host and his steak Diane was truly historic.
    Shirley Shapiro, London

    You've disappointed me. My vivacious 28-year-old niece was at the concierge desk of La Reserve de Beaulieu when you barged in front of her to order bottles of water. And I always considered you a ladies man with a penchant for pretty girls!
    Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire

    Send letters to Winners Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mall michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk