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Paola's right - I'm more Casan-over than Casanova

Published 4 September 2005
News Review
634th article

Michael with Orazio and Linda Barbaro outside Da Romana (Paola Lombard)

In my "other life" scenario I consider living on Burano, or at least having a little brightly coloured house with a small garden leading down to the lagoon.

Burano is one of the many islands around Venice. They have a domestic quality. They're very beautiful, but more peaceful.

There's Murano, full of Venetian glass shops but with a village life of its own.

And Burano, which is smaller and has endless shops selling lace.

You see old women sitting in doorways of multicoloured canal-side cottages weaving lace, sewing lace, cooking lace, or whatever else you do with it.

I suspect some of the lace on sale is manufactured by Chinese peasants copying Burano-Venetian lace patterns.

There's another island called San Pietro in Volta, which has very little on it except a magnificent church and one of the best fish restaurants ever, called Nani. It's a long and expensive boat ride, but I massively recommend it.

On Burano there's another fantastic restaurant, Da Romana, owned by Orazio Barbaro, who is large, and his wife Linda, who is small. They both cook in the kitchen. They speak no English.

The Princess and I visited recently - whoops I mean Paola!

I call her Princess. Not in this column, because you're very posh and you'd think it was silly. In Italy I call her Principessa. She is, after all, of Italian parentage.

When we left the Splendido in Portofino last time all the staff lined up saying "Goodbye Principessa" because that was the name they'd heard me use.

In Burano the trattoria Da Romano was started towards the end of the 1880s. It was a shop selling everything and doing local cooking for the fishermen.

"There were very few tourists in those days," says their booklet, "just the continuous hum of clogs and, in the shady rooms, the sound of women's voices chattering." In the 1920s it became a real trattoria and today is run by Orazio, grandson of the founders.

The menu exhibits signed drawings given by Henri Matisse, Oscar Kokoschka, Joan Miro and others. Also letters of thanks from Ernest Hemingway, Charles Chaplin, Alberto Moravia, Federico Fellini, Giorgio Armani and Le Corbusier. They list other folk who've eaten there, including Katharine Hepburn, Keith Richards, David Bowie and John McEnroe. For some extraordinary reason they don't mention me.

Although it may sound grand, with such an incredible host of past diners, Da Romano is simple and beautiful. It faces the town square with the church tower sloping over and with weeds growing out of the brickwork.

Nearly all the shellfish and other stuff on offer came from the lagoon that morning. I ordered crab and little shrimps. Orazio showed us two fresh sea bass.

Paola ordered calamari to start. With the main course sea bass we had mixed salad and chips.

I recommended to Paola that she buy some lace tops, which we could see hanging outside the shops. "They're all for grannies," said Paola, adding: "I'm not talking to you because you're very rude." Apparently I'd asked her rather sharply what I'd ordered for my first course. I dictated: "Paola has her hair tied back and is looking particularly beautiful." She said: "Flattery doesn't work." Oh well, it was worth a try.

"The calamari, it's so fresh it tastes like it just walked out of the sea. Not chewy at all," said Paola, somewhat recovered. I was told my starter was not squid but cicala di mare. Nobody seemed to know what this was. There's only one waiter who speaks English and he doesn't speak much.

Paola thought the chips were particularly good. Then she had a meringue cake and I had apple strudel. Both made on the premises. Both spectacularly excellent.

Returning on the boat we were discussing the Venetian gondoliers. I said: "They're very surly. They show you Mozart's house and Casanova's house and that's it."

Paola said: "You used to be Casanova. Now you're more like Casan-over." God, the truth hurts.

  • Now, a cautionary tale. The splendid photos with this column are taken on Fuji film. I was in a small Kensington shop when I saw some new Kodak high definition film. I bought some to test in my Leica and see which looked the best. At home I noticed the "develop before" date was four months earlier. It was out of date!

    I went back and complained. The owner said, rather wearily, to his girl assistant: "Get the out-of-date stock off the shelf." I watched her clear dozens of rolls of film that shouldn't have been there.

    Out-of-date film is sold for peanuts, then resold to some little shops for a few pence. They charge £3.99 for 24 exposures, hoping nobody will notice. You have been warned!

    Winner's letters

    The Daylesford Farm Shop is terrific (Winner's Dinners, August 21). But when Michael referred to "my friend Lady Carole Bamford" we poor acolytes expected a photo of MW with an apricot Danish in one hand and the fragrant Lady C on the other. Maybe she unleashed the shih-tzu's on him.
    James Woods, Staffordshire

    Eddie Street (Winner's Letters, August 28) is only partially correct. The majority of French speakers refer to Lac Leman, but the citizens of Geneva call it Lac de Geneve.
    Nick Chamberlain, Switzerland

    Mr and Mrs Heath (Winner's Letters, August 21) let slip you snored while asleep by the pool of the Splendido, Portofino. Do you snore at night? If so how does Paola deal with it? My husband snores and I could happily run him through. I'd be grateful for any tips.
    Annie Hurrell, Surrey

    I fail to understand Michael's daft habit of dictating his restaurant comments into a tape recorder. It must drive Paola crazy. If I want to remember something I use a pad. It's discreet and the batteries don't die.
    Rolf Sonderlind, Surrey

    At last Winner's Dinners on August 21 reiterated what we've been thinking for years: "What planet is Michael Winner on?" If Paola is even thinking of marrying Mr Winner she should do it before he forgets who she is. And make sure he has his tape recorder with him so he remembers he married her at all.
    D Harrington, Surrey

    I tried out the famous "Winner wave" at a Thai restaurant in Weston-Super Mare. It worked perfectly, the response being instantaneous. I hope you don't mind. I promise only to use it in emergencies!
    David Fairclough, Dorset

    Since being voted "best restaurant in the world" it's impossible to get into the Fat Duck at Bray. The lines, open from 10am to 4pm, are continually engaged. I wrote requesting a table two months ahead. I got a letter telling me to book by phone. I don't have time to sit all day waiting for a two-second break in the engaged tone!
    Barbara Ridley, Surrey

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