Michael Winner with Jason Phillips, left, and Arrigo Cipriani (Dinah May)
One of the truest sayings is: "No good turn goes unpunished." I'm drawn to reflect on this faced with the behaviour of Mr Jason Phillips.
Jason was restaurant manager at the Halcyon, an exclusive hotel near my house, which I visited frequently. He went on to West Street and the Avenue.
My good friend Arrigo Cipriani, the Harry of Harry's Bar in Venice, said he was opening a restaurant in London called Cipriani. Although I hadn't set eyes on Jason for years, in a moment of largesse I strongly recommended Harry employ him as restaurant manager. He did.
I consider Harry's Bar in Venice the best restaurant in the world. Some of you greatly like it: some do not. Either way, the coming of Arrigo to London is a major event.
I went to view Cipriani on Sunday afternoon, two weeks ago, a day before its official opening.
It had already been operating for three invite-only nights.
I won't go into the gory details because I might get overexcited. Suffice it to say Jason Phillips, only in the job because I recommended him, produced the most tedious, unwelcoming performance I've ever witnessed in my many decades of visiting top restaurants. When I went to dinner at Cipriani the following day his performance was the second worst I've ever known in . . . well, I won't go through all that again.
I was accompanied by the glowing Geraldine Lynton-Edwards and my chief receptionist and ex-Miss Great Britain, the lovely Dinah May, aka Mrs Lagoudakos.
We were shown to a table that, for three people, could generously be described as pathetic. We sat hunched and bunched. To add further insult the table on my left was substantially larger and occupied by only two people.
I called Jason over. "Do you really think we look comfortable at this ridiculous table?" I asked. Jason blanched and switched the table to be the same size given to the couple next door. What bird brain can place three people, let alone me, at a table much smaller than given to two people?
Now let's move on. Cipriani is beautifully designed by David Tang, Arrigo's partner in Hong Kong. David Collins, who churns out appalling restaurant designs by the thousand, should be forced to sit in Cipriani for a month to study and learn. I had one minor objection regarding ambience: the wall candelabra were too bright. They gave the off-white room a clinical appearance. The dimmers could have been turned down 15%.
We all had Arrigo's famous Bellinis made with prosecco and white peach juice. Then over came Claudio Ponzio, a smiling, welcoming Italian recently relocated from Venice where he's been with Arrigo for 35 years. "Another 35 to go, sir," he said, giving us a Harry's Bar special -light and delicious chicken croquettes. All the food was superb.
Arrigo himself, well in his seventies, walked the room meeting and greeting. He is unparalleled as a restaurateur. Six of his Venetian chefs are in the kitchen at Cipriani. Upstairs are some of his Italian front of house people.
The ethos of Harry's Bar and Cipriani food is its simplicity.
The menu is not like reading an overblown recipe book describing a "jus" of this and garnish of that. Arrigo relies on top ingredients, beautifully prepared. The plate looks like a food offering not an oil painting gone wrong.
The butter, mercifully, was not wrapped. It was in nice little cubes. Arrigo is famous for his bread. It's a delight in itself. He has replicated it in London perfectly.
We started with tuna tartar, I'm not usually mad about that. But this was delicate, of immense quality and I loved it. Geraldine adored her grilled salmon main course. Dinah and I had meat ravioli with a light gravy and parmesan. A total delight.
Harry's Bar desserts are super-historic beyond belief. I was concerned whether they could match them in London. I was even more nervous when the pastry chef, Carolina Perego, was brought over to meet us. How awful if I have to say, "She ain't made it!" I thought.
The renowned chocolate cake was superlative. It may or may not have been 1% less than in Venice, I could only tell that by having two slices side by side and gobbling them alternately. Suffice it to say, it was an addition to the London scene that I massively welcome.
Geraldine had a raspberry tart, which she greatly liked. A meringue cake went by which had me slavering. We finished with some excellently prepared fresh mint and hot water. Not mint tea in bags, which is ridiculous. Real mint tea. Cipriani is a gargantuan triumph. Go there.
We've just returned from Barbados. Much to our delight your Buddha-like figure was gracing the Sandy Lane beach every day. We can't afford their prices, but the next-door Almond Beach Club provides three truly un historic meals a day accompanied by ear-drum-shattering music, electronic and otherwise, from early morning until late at night. And all for a fraction of the cost of Sandy Lane!
Judy Sahm, London
Last year I listened to your advice and went to Harry's Bar in Venice, only to be caught in a tourist trap. Fool that I am, I put my trust in you again and went for dinner to your second home, the Sandy Lane in Barbados. The antipasto was akin to the Pizza Hut salad bar, albeit on crested plates. The main course hadn't arrived after 45 minutes. To say the service was sloppy would make them feel their staff had achieved something. Maybe the staff should be sent somewhere where the sun doesn't shine!
Susan Belford, Leeds
In the days of the Raj my parents frequented the fashionable Firpo's in Calcutta from which they and their friends liberated crockery and cutlery. Eventually they were able to set a dinner table for 12. Mr Firpo was invited. The next day he thanked them and sent a cruet set saying, "You appeared to be one short!"
Peter Turton, Southampton
I'm perplexed by letters describing stolen butter dishes and condiment sets. I thought your readers would be as ethical and truthful as you are. If your correspondents feel they must have something, why not ask the staff if they can buy it? I did this at Babington's Tea Rooms in Rome. Much less shame-making than having people see me leave with an ashtray stuck down my jeans!
Poppy Simpson, Sussex
On a sailing boat off Turkey we had a very boring individual who seemed to be the fount of knowledge on all subjects. He tried to impress by saying he'd holidayed in a villa close to Sandy Lane. A lady asked, "What is Sandy Lane?" I told her it was a luxurious hotel frequented by Michael Winner. Our ever-knowledgeable companion enquired, "Who is Michael Winner?" But then, as I said, he was a bore!
Dorothy Gray, Kent
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