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Wrong to write, but right to recommend

Published 15 June 2008
News Review
778th article



I'm basking in the Venetian sun, relaxing poolside, at the Cipriani hotel when a messenger delivers a lengthy, utterly ridiculous letter. It's from Maurizio Saccani, boss of the hotel Caruso in Ravello.

Mr S moaned and groaned about some things I'd said. In 10 years of praising his Splendido, Villa San Michele and Cipriani hotels, never a peep of thanks from him. Now a diatribe.

His first objection was that I told you a nasty housing estate intrudes on the view from the Caruso. Mr Saccani said it could only be seen from a tiny area and they're one-floor houses anyway. Nonsense. You can see them from the pool, the pool dining area, my suite balcony. They're hideous and much larger than Saccani says.

Then he declared the reason it took me an hour to travel the four miles from Ravello down to Amalfi was because of roadworks. There were no roadworks when I went on May 3. In high season I couldn't even start the journey to Ravello because the entire road was jammed.

Carrying on regardless Mr Saccani said I could not see a car park from my suite's balcony. "There is no car parking near the hotel," he announced. Oh yeah? Then what vehicles did I see daily parked in a cul-de-sac adjoining his hotel?

Tour buses hog the roads, disgorging hundreds of tourists to block Ravello's tiny streets. Mr Saccani said it was an oasis of peace and quiet. Hmmm. Then he told me his shiny white-domed new buildings were like those at the local church. They were built around 1700. Maybe in 300 years Mr Saccani's monstrosities will age to look like them. I may not be around then.

Mr Saccani lives in cloud-cuckoo-land. I nominate him worst letter-writer on the planet. But he did me one good turn. He recommended the Lido Azzurro in Amalfi. Even though he damned it with faint praise, saying, "It's only a trattoria." Right on the sea. Lovely view.

"Let's ask them to bring a mixture of stuff," said Geraldine.

"I don't think that's the way a sophisticated critic orders," I replied.

"There's no serious critic here," responded Geraldine.

The available fish are displayed as you enter. The owner, Antonio Pisani, gave us warm prawns with rocket. They tasted fresh, lovely. Nothing hard or chewy about them as they often are in London.

Then he threw spaghetti about in a pan next to the table, presumably cooking it. Either that or he just likes throwing spaghetti about. The sauce with it was great, the scampi perfect, the spaghetti best ever. "It's sauce from the langouste," explained Geraldine.

Then more spaghetti with clams in a white sauce. "Incredible," said Geraldine. "This man's a genius."

The local white fish was pezzogna. Unlike most white fish it tasted of something. The lemon sauce with it was fantastic. One of the best fish dishes ever. Never mind the rubbish you get in England, a little squiggle of tired fish with a bit of plate decoration. This was historic.

For dessert Antonio said, "Try something with ricotta cheese."

"I don't understand what he's talking about," I announced. What arrived was a millefeuille of ricotta cheese, pastry and strawberry sauce.

The wine accompanying this masterpiece meal was Furore, a local white. The water was Surgiva. Both terrific.

On the way out Antonio introduced us to his white-haired mother behind the bar. I noticed a basket of large strawberries. I took one. It was like no strawberry I'd ever eaten. Beyond belief good.

Get in your private jet, take a boat down the Amalfi coast - the roads are overcrowded and horrible - and go to Lido Azzurro di Antonio Pisani. Don't bother to eat at Da Gemma, recommended to me by another hotelier. Drop in to Amalfi's splendid cathedral, then get in your yacht and go.

At Da Gemma we suffered discordant jazz from loudspeakers. Our freebie starter was fried large tubed pasta filled with ricotta. Rather heavy. My "red prawn on Amalfitan lemon risotto" was pretty good. After that, "traditional fish soup made according to the Da Gemma 1872 recipe"...1872 was not a great year for fish soup.

They committed a deadly sin: "Never pour fizzy water into the glass of a man who's drinking still." This often happens. Waiters don't ask. They can see two types of water on the table. What do they care if they pour out the wrong one to the wrong person?

The bread was terrible. The lemon profiterole was gooey - stupid pastry, adequate lemon cream. A mediocre meal. Stick to Antonio Pisani.

Lovely photo of Geraldine in Amalfi, innit? I know you'd rather see me, but life is full of disappointments



Michael's missives

So you paid Pounds 123.75 for a steak at the Maze Grill and there wasn't even a photo of it last week for the common man to salivate over. Instead the chefs were pictured holding up some sad old lobster whose price was unknown but was obviously overvalued. Enough to make even Gordon swear.
William Wilson, by e-mail

I too had the wagyu/kobe steak at the Maze while Michael was there. I was charged Pounds 1.99 for mine. When I queried the bill I was told, "Don't worry, Michael Winner is paying Pounds 123.75 so everyone else is getting a bit off. Many thanks, Michael. Where are you eating next week? Can you book me a table too?
Tim Burton, Wokingham

At the Burj Al Arab in Dubai an obese Russian ordered a wagyu/kobe hamburger for Pounds 80. He then tipped ketchup all over it! No accounting for taste, is there?
Neal Wyman, Chelsea, London

So you're leaving your house and teddy bears to the nation. You've not said whether you will be leaving your body to medical science. If you are I suspect medical science may contest the will.
Brendan Morris, Derbyshire

If you're less virile than you used to be maybe you should change your Suzuki Grand Vitara for a Suzuki Grand Viagra.
Peter Sandler, Leeds