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Magic of crickets, cuttlefish and canals

Published 1 October 2006
News Review
689th article

Winner and Bonifacio Brass at the Locanda (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

There's a saying, "Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat". I had a Scots housekeeper who cooked goose brilliantly. They aren't around now. Scots housekeepers and geese.

Since you're unlikely to see goose during the festive season, and it's only a few weeks away, you might consider going to Venice. "What's the connection between geese and Venice?" you ask. Well, there aren't any geese in Venice either.

I spent two Christmases there. Not many people. Mist drifting on the canals, light spilling from the churches into the alleys, the sound of choirs. Absolutely magical.

If you want to be different, and eat fantastic food, try Locanda Cipriani on the small island of Torcello, about a half-hour boat ride from St Mark's Square.

I don't know why, but I ignored the Locanda Cipriani for years. I never went back there even when I visited Torcello, which has two most incredibly beautiful old churches on it.

Then, last year, I was let down by a restaurateur on Burano, where they sell lace.

Most "Venetian lace" is made in Japan these days anyway. The restaurateur, who I thought was a friend, declined to tell me that on the day of my 70th birthday booking he had a wedding in and we'd be squeezed into a ghastly little back room.

As I was hosting glitterati of beyond-belief twinkle factor, this was a no no.

On a reconnaissance, I stood outside with my assistant Dinah May, in pouring rain, wondering where to switch my lunch only a week later. We went to Locanda Cipriani, which was much better. The meal was so good Andrew Lloyd Webber insisted the chef, Renato Ceccato, came in to be applauded.

I returned to the Locanda with Geraldine recently for dinner. There was an arbour on our left. We faced a rose garden on the far side of which were the two ancient churches of Santa Fosca and Santa Maria Assunta. There were crickets singing (or whatever crickets do), tall flowers loomed among the roses. On each table candles twinkled in the dusk. It was idyllic.

An Italian couple sat behind us and an Italian family group of 16 people further back. Just enough people to provide atmosphere. Not too many to foul things up.

It's a different, more tranquil world.

Nothing on Torcello is new. You glide up a quiet canal until it ends - and there's the old farmhouse hotel, Locanda Cipriani.

The owner is the sister of Arrigo Cipriani of Harry's Bar. There's a feud between them. Her husband is Tinto Brass, the famous Italian film director. Their son Bonifacio runs things. If you want a magical, beyond-belief Christmas, go there.

Bonifacio recommended starting with small cuttlefish: "Very fresh, fried, they're perfect." I always take advice. Well, occasionally. "With some fried vegetables on the side," added Bonifacio. "We'll have two of those," I said.

For my main course I had tagliolini ai frutti di mare verdure julienne. Mixed fish and pasta to you. Geraldine went for the tuna fish tartare starter. The pasta with fish and vegetables was historic, succulent, tasty, could not be bettered.

Geraldine said: "That was a real taste, it wasn't bland, was it." She was referring to an awful Venetian meal we'd had at the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal.

Bonifacio told me the Benetton family had owned the Monaco for about six years. Shows people in the rag trade should stick to what they know.

I finished dinner with the best mint sorbet ever. Sensational taste and texture. Double historic. The second chef was on that night, Sylvano Berton. He's a star.

If you go to Venice for Christmas, or any other time, restaurants I recommend are: Harry's Bar, Trattoria Alla Madonna, near the Rialto Bridge, Alla Testiere, a totally superb place hidden away vaguely near St Mark's Square and, on a distant island called San Pietro in Volta, Restaurant Nani. That's genuinely where the Venetians go. I also greatly like Cip's, the canalside restaurant of the Cipriani hotel.

If you don't stay at the Locanda I recommend the Palazzo Vendramin, overlooking St Mark's Square and the piazzetta. It's part of the Cipriani, which stays open for Christmas and new year.

The main Cipriani restaurant has the most stupid dress code ever. They insist on a jacket outside by the lagoon, even in the boiling heat of summer. I walked over to David Frost and the restaurant manager, Luciano Pradissito, said: "You have to wear a jacket." I looked round. "No one, not one single man here, is wearing a jacket!" I observed. "They have them on the back of their chairs," pronounced Luciano.

There's a lunatic note to end on!

Winner's letters

Driving in Newcastle I saw a large advertisement saying, "Everyone's A Winner". Now there's a scary thought!
David Lowe, Sunderland

It distresses me to read people attacking you on the physical aspects of your advancing years. When I look in the mirror I see a reasonably young man. But when photographed, invariably from the wrong angle, I see someone looking 20 years older. Believe me, the camera lies!
Peter Page, Essex

Received wisdom tells us that constant references to money and possessions indicates humble beginnings and deprived childhood. You don't have those excuses yet you've developed the practice to an art form. You must be deliberately winding us up.
Dennis Pallis, Kent

I'm disappointed that these days no one seems to know how to cook vegetables. Scorch marks on one side is all you get. Asparagus is served as a two-minute stick resembling green bamboo. This isn't mother's cooking as I knew it.
Pat Doyle Calgary, Canada

Last week you praised Nutters in Rochdale. We thought the foyer, with its tacky stall, looked like a Harvester pub. The food was only okay. A few years ago in Lord Jim's at the Oriental hotel, Bangkok, we asked for our usual table 16 but they gave it to you! I'll say "Hello" if we see you again.
Bryan Bargh, Grantham