Published 16 November 2008 News Review 800th article
Atmosphere is every bit as important as food. You can eat great food, but if it's in a tedious place, so what? If you go to Ravello, don't stay at the Caruso. It's a mess. Try the Palazzo Sasso next door.
Visit a little local place called Trattoria Cumpa Cosimo, run by Netta Bottone. She looks like a pantomime dame.
Boy, has she got charm. Ebullient beyond belief. She sails round her white washed room like a grandmother on speed. She smiles a lot. "Do you want a cushion?" Netta asked me. Geraldine thought she said, "Do you want a kitchen?"
We ordered antipasti, then for me fettuccine with mushrooms and parsley, for Geraldine mixed pasta.
The antipasti was gargantuan.
Artichoke, ricotta cheese, ham, very good pieces of pizza, fried courgettes, fried zucchini, melon. The food comes to you in seconds.
Netta cruised by, saying, "piano, piano, bimbo", and pinched my cheek.
Geraldine said, "That means you're eating too quickly."
Netta returned singing, "Yummy yummy ya ya yummy yummy yum." Then she put her hand on her head, and said to no one in particular, "Too many people."
The pasta was fine, although Geraldine thought it was re-heated in the microwave.
Netta arrived again saying, "ah ha ha. Manga, manga, manga." She always seemed to speak in threes. She meant I should eat. I was eating. Try and stop me.
"You would not call this place chic," I dictated into my recorder. "It's better than chic; it's real." No pretension at all. A family place.
Netta was not pleased with Geraldine, who left a lot of her pasta. She grabbed my forefinger, pulled it up and down and said, "lemon sorbet, one, one, one." She's owner, waitress, manager, cabaret, the whole caboodle.
We also ordered tiramisu. My lemon sorbet came in an enormous scraped- out lemon peel. It was memorably good. They specialise in lemons in this part of the world. What do I specialise in? Please don't tell me.
Geraldine loved her tiramisu. "Plenty of alcohol in it," she announced. Then we had limoncello made with the skin of sfusato amalfitano lemons. That means long lemons, not like the Sicilian ones. Somebody must have told me that. I know nothing. It was the best limoncello ever.
Netta plonked a second one in front of me, saying "limoncello" just in case I thought it was a chocolate milkshake.
I was gratified by your response when I dropped the name Hymie Pockle recently. So many of you wrote about him fondly. Last week I mentioned Abe Schwonz. Abe is a tailor. When the dearest and, believe it or not, quietest of men, Oliver Reed, asked me who made my suits (I wore suits then) I said "Abe Schwonz". Whenever I appeared on set in a new jacket, Oliver would ask, "Is that another Abe Schwonz?"
Then there's Moishe Pippick. Moishe is much maligned in the Jewish community. If a Jew does something underhand and the person he did it to has no redress, the phrase often used is: "What can he do? Call me Moishe Pippick." The Israeli film producer Menahem Golan once said that to me about a movie company he'd shafted.
This is unfair to Moishe. He's a lovely person. His expertise on entomology is legendary. I shall occasionally consult Hymie, Abe and Moishe on culinary matters.
They're far more knowledgeable than me. Who isn't?
I hear the Ivy club is getting its act together. Service has improved, members now get what they ordered. Even though the Ivy club is owned by one of their co-religionists, I don't think there's much chance of Hymie, Moishe or Abe being invited to join.
A pity really. They'd spice the place up no end.
Lunch at the Wolseley was spiced down last Sunday. A woman next to me said, "I know it's rude to talk to celebrities, so I'm not talking to you."
"Good," I thought. First she was sharp to the lovely Chris Corbin, co-owner of the joint. Then she started yapping at me endlessly. Boring me beyond belief. Seeing I wasn't delighted, she asked, "Are you angry with me?"
"I never talk to strangers," I responded. Actually I do. Love 'em. But not this one.
Later, my friend, impresario David Pugh, came over for a chat. The woman interrupted loudly with, "You said you never talked to strangers."
I told her to go off. Except I used a word starting with "p".
Her husband retorted, "That's no way to talk to a lady."
"A lady doesn't harass and intrude on people in restaurants," I answered.
Whereupon the "lady" came out with more f-words than Gordon Ramsay. At first I thought she might have been a distant cousin of Moishe Pippick. Her voice was rather like his. But that's not fair. Moishe's family are very polite.
Geraldine said it was the worst display of manners she'd ever seen. What I only have to put up with.
A charming photo last week - of two gluttons. One for food, the other for punishment. Geraldine, you have my undying admiration. Sainthood will be yours in the fullness of time.
Iain Chapman, Marciac, France
I can't imagine why Michael Caine thought he was being asked to a funeral. One of you looks very alive indeed and absolutely ravishing.
David Cornwallis, Herefordshire
Sorry we couldn't make it to your engagement party at the Ritz. It was the day my wife washes the kitchen floor. I was digging up turnips in the allotment
Vincent Sinott, St Raphael, France
Why did you only mention three North London guests? What about Hymie Pockle's brother Hymie Potts, Smen Drack and Hi Cuk?
Lenny Gold, London
For years I have read the tasteless, shallow, self-aggrandising ramblings of the crass and narcissistic Mr Winner, waiting with ghastly fascination to see how bad it could get. Last week's disgusting bit of flash rich-boy boasting reached rock bottom.
Mike Stallwood, Kent
I was surprised to read Jeanette Jones's comments about your wealth. I'm one of those struggling to keep my head above water, but I thoroughly enjoy reading about Michael's dining adventures. If Ms Jones finds this distressing, why doesn't she skip the page?
Patrick Jordan, Dublin
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