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Decent ice cream? He hasn't got a leg to stand on

Published 23 July 2006
News Review
679th article

Fausto Allegri with Geraldine and Michael in Portofino harbour (Carlo Lazzeri)

"You see, Meesta Wee-nah. When I was young. I was once a young man . . ." Speaking was Fausto Allegri, ex-concierge, now unusual but much appreciated guest relations manager of the Hotel Splendido, Portofino. "I was very young, you understand . . ." This went on. And on.

"Give us the twice nightly version, Fausto," I begged from my sun lounger. That's a theatrical term. When they performed shows twice in the same night they used to shorten them. The twice-nightly version does not figure in Fausto's repertoire.

Later we were walking in the exquisitely unchanged (other than chic boutiques where fishermen once lived) harbour of Portofino. "You want ice cream, Meesta Wee-nah?" said Fausto, indicating the Gelateria San Giorgio. This offered a charming manager, but my vanilla and pistachio ice creams were appalling.

Geraldine said, "I could see the texture was no good." Yet the place has been bought by the Splendido. Why Maurizio Saccani, one of the world's great hotel managers, or his boss James Sherwood, hotel-owner supreme, need this awful ice cream place, I can't imagine.

I told the Splendido food and beverage manager, Carlo Lazzeri, how dreadful it was. "But it's not your concern, really," I said.

"It is my job," responded Carlo.

"Then spend three weeks at Mikki in Santa Margherita and learn about ice cream," I suggested, ever wishing to be helpful.

Carlo, normally excellent in the Splendido restaurant, which he hosts, made a very unprofessional remark to the lovely Miss Lynton-Edwards. I told him off afterwards in no uncertain terms.

A couple of days later I went to the harbour to meet Sir Michael Caine, visiting from a boat. "Which of these two for coffee?"

I asked Fausto. He pointed to the Bar Mariuccia.

Michael, his wife Shakira, Geraldine and I sat down in the square. Michael observed, "This isn't iced cappuccino." Indeed it wasn't what I'd ordered! It was warm, ghastly coffee. I got some ice in a useless attempt to cheer it up.

Fausto was busy chatting to the owner. Fausto once recommended three of the worst Italian restaurants I've ever been to. "But I also suggested Puny," said Fausto in self-defence.

Puny in Portofino is indeed fantastic. We had baby octopus fresh out of the sea, spaghetti with a sauce of anchovies and rugola - everything Puny does is historic.

"I also recommended Gianni Franzi," continued Fausto, determined to list his triumphs. That's in Vernazza, an hour away by speedboat. Also beyond belief brilliant. It's where Lady Rogers goes to study Italian cooking for her marvellous River Cafe.

The food at the Splendido is excellent too. Michael and Shakira loved it. As usual guests came up to me saying, "We're here because you wrote about the place." They were all delighted.

Fausto, never admitting defeat, said, "I'll tell you a fantastic restaurant in Portofino, Meesta Wee-nah."

"I know all the places in Portofino. Only Puny's any good," I stated.

"There's o Magazin," said Fausto as if announcing total triumph.

"Come with us," I said, "if it's anything like the ice cream and the coffee I can blast you on the spot."

As Fausto correctly put it o Magazin is "out of the circus", at the far end of the harbour.

Our table was a foot away from the water. You don't get the bustle of the square. Just little, bobbing boats and a view of the pine-tree-covered hill with its lovely castle. Very peaceful.

The owner's charming daughter, Simona Mussini, suggested the house appetiser - five kinds of fish. Only a tuna sausage thing in the middle was horrid. The rest was very good. Then we had spaghetti with calamari, absolute perfection. Then delicious, juicy, grilled prawns from nearby Santa Margherita.

Their ice cream was from Santa Margherita too, not Mikki, which is the best, but Simonetti -good but not best. The wild strawberries were fresh and tasty. I nicked a bit of Fausto's apple cake. Sensational.

A man was playing a guitar and singing Volare. He couldn't sing and he couldn't play. But it didn't matter really. Fausto had, at last, suggested a good restaurant. I shall definitely return.

"Fausto," I said, ruminating on the general situation, "when you recommended ice cream at the Gelateria San Giorgio, you and Geraldine ordered only bellinis. Were you intending the ice cream to damage just me?"

"Meesta Wee-nah," said Fausto, "when I was young . . . a young man you understand . . ." I switched off and thought of England.

That's a twist on the line "Lie back and think of England", which used to be recommended when a lady had a "do" with someone she didn't like. Still don't get it? Oh well, maybe next week.

Winner's letters

Petersham Nurseries was a delight last Sunday. The weather dispelled any frostiness that may have been lurking. Perhaps the restaurant manager, Rachel Lewis, was wise in being a little frosty with you. She probably saved our granddaughters - Plum and Peaches - the horror of growing up with a phobia of white waving napkins!
Hilary Magill, Lincolnshire

Thank you for highlighting the word "fresh" last week. A local pub serves "fresh Australian barramundi" - truly amazing! John Lewis in Nottingham sells "freshly squeezed orange juice" in a carton marked with at least a two-week sell-by date! Time was when fresh meant - as in salmon, peas, etc - not tinned or frozen. Who knows what it means today?
Bill Whittaker, Nottinghamshire

Mr Winner said last week the beefburger at his pub lunch was a little overdone and he should have ordered it rare. Not unless he wanted to become Mr Loser! Rare beefburgers are dangerous. They can harbour E coli type 075, two or three organisms which can cause severe diarrhoea, renal failure and even death. This danger is not present with steak, as its outside is not on its inside, as it were. Beefburgers, if eaten at all, should be properly cooked!
Dr Gearoid O'Laoi, consultant pathologist, Cork

I notice in last week's photo with staff of the Bull of Cottered in Bull Lane you stood directly behind the sign indicating "Dead End". Is this significant?
Dr Colin Key, Portugal

Well done for championing the intimidated classes last week by highlighting the bad manners of some restaurant staff. We had a good laugh strolling round Petersham Nurseries Cafe looking at the ludicrous prices of the objets d'art displayed for sale and then were hysterical at the equally ludicrous prices on the menu. I could have eaten at Claridge's for less - and in a decent chair! The staff were so sniffy and uncommunicative we voted with our feet, and left.
Robert Sandall, London

I agree with last week's letter damning vegetarians. Whenever you're invited to a vegetarian's house, you get a vegetarian meal. Yet when they come to a carnivore's house, they still expect a vegetarian meal! Too one-sided. We don't invite vegetarians any more!
Lynn Stocksley, Suffolk

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