Published 25 February 2007 News Review 710th article
Dinah, chef Luca Conti, Geraldine and Simon Piovesan outside 2 Veneti (Jim Sharkey)
I'd like to apologise unreservedly to the insects of Barbados. Last week I said it was an insect bite that caused my current malaise. Since then Professor Bunker, dermatologist supreme, has travelled to America and India and is now considering his discoveries. It may be that no insect was involved at all!
Here in the London Clinic people keep asking me about restaurants. I hate new restaurants! They're either too far away from my home (that's anything over two miles) or I go once, quite like it, but never go back because my regular places are better.
Here, at the northern end of Marylebone High Street, an area I always considered bleak and uninhabitable, I am suddenly dropped like a mutant from outer space. I have to ask locals where the unbelievably lovely and helpful Geraldine and my long-time assistant Dinah can forage for sustenance.
Malcolm Miller, the urbane chief executive of the clinic, strongly recommended 2 Veneti in nearby Wigmore Street. I had no idea people ate in Wigmore Street. I thought they just drove through it.
Nor was I totally convinced Malcolm Miller was the best judge of food. What he serves is variable at best. Some good, mostly . . . I'll say no more because I'm still a patient. And if you're unwell you couldn't possibly be anywhere better.
I phoned and spoke to the co-owner of 2 Veneti, Simon Piovesan. He and his partner, Stephan Frassoni, opened up seven months ago with chef Luca Conti. Simon was extremely cheerful and hospitable, unlike the manager, Monika Freimaniene, at a nearby place, Getti, who'd easily win Olympic gold for doom and gloom if she chose to enter this strange event.
Super-sleuth Lynton-Edwards, one of her victims, went to ensure we had her name and title correctly. The name was right. But in the couple of weeks since Monika so appalled my happy sisterhood, she had been made assistant manager, and a new man, Simone Conti, "charming Italian", reports super-sleuth, is now manager.
Anyway, armed with Tupperware containers and very posh insulated bags, Geraldine and Dinah set forth into uncharted waters. They loved the look of 2 Veneti. It's got a mixture of brick walls, some plastered, with photos of old Italy, wood floors, good linen tableclothes.
When they dined there (after they'd served me, of course) they reported no trouble in hearing every word they said. I'm surprised either of them stopped talking long enough to hear anything.
The food was undoubtedly and surprisingly excellent. Move the place a couple of miles west and they'd see a lot of me. Which is a good reason for staying where they are.
As the partners come from Venice they have starters such as Venetian creamed salted cod with potato puree and polenta croutons. I didn't have that. Also grilled vegetables with warm buffalo mozzarella. I didn't have that either. Geraldine and Dinah did and said it was perfection.
I had home-made short pasta with venison in Amarone wine ragout. Outstanding. Geraldine had risotto with asparagus and scallops. She was very impressed. I wasn't offered this because it was the dish of the day and not read out to me as I lingered in the clinic. I did have calf liver with green beans, sweet onion and Marsala sauce. As tender, well-cooked and good as anyone could wish for.
My dessert was home-made sorbet, millefeuille, poached pear and mini strudel. Except the chef, Luca, decided not to risk his sorbet in our plastic Tupperware. The strudel was superb pastry, flaky, genuinely memorable.
I was amused to read at the bottom of the menu: "A suggested 12.5% will be added to your bill." Not unreasonable for three courses at £29. Most places say "a discretionary 12.5%". This is all to do with what money at what tax consequences actually goes to the staff.
Simon refused to let Geraldine pay for my lunch. Since I've never accepted a freebie in years of writing this column I sent the chauffeur back with cash for the tronc. That's the pool into which tips go for all the staff.
There's no question 2 Veneti serves superior Italian food. Would I return through those mind-numbing streets when I'm back home? I'm not sure. But for locals living in those sombre Marylebone buildings 2 Veneti is a shining light.
I now return to my favourite subject: me. The illness I'm recovering from is so rare few people in the medical profession have ever heard of it. Apparently it was only "discovered" in 1979. Over 90% of people who get it, die.
Four times the medics thought I was a goner! I've had 11 operations. But I'm still with you. Proof you can't keep a bad man down!
I'm seething! I cannot forgive your blatant selfishness in trying to persuade Mannie Ward to leave Suga Suga (my local) for a position at Sandy Lane. You're in grave danger of having your "catering contract" for my wife's 50th birthday rescinded. I remain your loyal reader despite fists clenched and teeth gritted.
Marvin Pryce-Jones, Barbados
On the last days of my Sandy Lane holiday I received an insect bite which flared up on my return. One doctor said I may lose a leg! After two courses of antibiotics and some strong pills I made a full recovery. But I was unwell for six weeks. We know of another gentleman who was hospitalised with a similar infection on his return from Barbados. I think Professor Bunker's odds of 5m-1 against your being bitten again are a little generous.
James Robinson, Glasgow
You can't blame the insect that bit you, Michael. It was just looking for a good meal!
Edna Weiss, London
Lunch for two at the French Laundry came to $722. Almost worth it, aside from the appearance of the dreaded Hildon water! Took the edge off a brilliant afternoon. Have a word with them next time you're passing through Napa, will you?
Simon Hutchinson, London
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday times.co.uk