Home - Browse reviews - Bibliography

Driven to distraction? Head to Venice

Published 14 June 2009
News Review
830th article

Michael and Geraldine at Cip's in Venice, with the Giudecca canal behind them (no credit)

Boris Johnson wrote thanking me for my "gentle chastisement". When I chastise gently it's often because the boot's going in later. In an interview Sir Michael Caine said if he were mayor of London for a day he'd "change the traffic-light setting at the bottom of the Mall which stops traffic from entering Trafalgar Square for 55 seconds and lets it go for eight seconds".

I spoke to Boris just after he was elected. He assured me he was going to look into the anti-motorist traffic-light changes perpetrated by Ken Livingstone. Boris agreed the end-of-the-Mall lights were oddly set. A year later nothing had been done. Traffic tailed back up the Mall. If I was going to the Ivy I had to allow another 10 minutes for the journey or wriggle on other circuitous routes.

My letter to Boris, reminding him he'd done zero, produced a lengthy response about road capacity, Scoot equipment, green times and more of the similar.

"If we hold the lights at green for just three seconds more it rapidly causes gridlock around the Charles I roundabout and within 10 minutes serious congestion on routes as far back as Piccadilly and the Victoria Embankment," he said. Funny, I don't remember any of that before the lights were changed.

Boris blames it on the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square's north side. So relief is not at hand. It used to take 20 minutes from my house to the West End. I now allow 40, minimum. London traffic is catastrophe all over.

Answer: go to Venice. Leisurely pace. Lapping water. No cars. Motorboats. Gondolas. Some good food. My favourite is still Harry's Bar. Both for food and for service, which is precise and quick. Sit downstairs as Hemingway did.

The San Daniele ham was unbelievably thin, never tasted better. Ravioli with spinach, light and of great quality. Scampi and baby artichokes, historic. Fantastic crêpes. Very good custard in the middle.

Arrigo Cipriani, doyen of restaurateurs, said, "We have 13 cooks here but no chef. Nobody knows who makes Armani clothes, but they know they're Armani."

In the same league is Locanda Cipriani on Torcello, owned by Arrigo's nephew (they don't get on) Bonifacio Brass. His father, film director Tinto, married Arrigo's sister.

Torcello used to be the largest and most important settlement in the Venetian lagoon; now it's inhabited by an innkeeper (Bonifacio) and a few farmers. It's unbelievably peaceful.

The 1,000-year-old cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the attached church of Santa Fosca face the stone throne of Attila. Legend says anyone occupying it will be married in a year. I first sat on it in 1955. Still waiting.

We ate in the gardens of the Locanda, cathedral in view. Veal escalope plus a stunning lemon meringue tart.

Everything, and there was lots more, beyond belief good. Be sure to go there. It has six rooms if you want to stay.

A quick canter round other superb Venice places: Alle Testiere, tiny but great; Do Forni, where I dined with former Cipriani hotel boss Dr Natale Rusconi; Vini da Gigio in Cannaregio; Trattoria alla Madonna, near the Rialto bridge. Great view from Cip's at the Cipriani hotel. Totally brilliant, but a long boat ride away, is Nani in San Pietro in Volta. Only locals there. Except for you.

  • At the Ivy Club, boss Fernando Peire revealed to a member it no longer served fresh orange juice, adding, "Don't tell Michael Winner." The person promptly told me. Club members are rightly e-mailing in complaints galore.

    Jesus Adorno of Le Caprice told me I stated their pre- and after-theatre meal price higher than it is. I didn't. I'd added coffee to compare it, like for like, with the ghastly Devonshire Arms in North Yorkshire.

    "So you meant a four-course meal?" said Jesus.

    "Coffee is not a course," I observed icily, before asking if, as part of the Ivy group, the Caprice served fresh orange juice. Jesus assured me it did. The general manager of the Ivy Club, Keiron Terry, told me it served bought-in orange juice from plastic canisters unless diners specifically asked for freshly squeezed. Same at the Ivy restaurant.

    Kevin Lansdown of Scott's (same group) who'd told me years ago, when working at the Ivy, it no longer served fresh orange juice - it switched back to it when I expressed displeasure - said, "Our barmen squeeze fresh orange juice every morning. Sometimes in the afternoon too." So they should. Orange juice starts going off after half an hour. If Coco Momo, a modest bar-restaurant in Marylebone, squeezes orange juice just before you drink it, so should the Ivy Club, where people pay to join and then pay again to eat.

    It's a great place, has the most beautiful lift in London. But plastic-container, mass-produced orange juice. Oh dear. When asked about this the Ivy Club chef apparently muttered about "volume". Presumably meaning more members asked for orange juice than he cared to squeeze for.

    If I owned the place I'd have the men in white coats take him away.

    Michael's missives

    I agree with you about chefs. Most of them couldn't run a bath, let alone a restaurant. They're paid as soon as clients finish their meal, but don't pay their suppliers for months, if at all. Credit accounts for restaurants will soon be a thing of the past.
    Grenville Snowdon, New Covent Garden Market

    Having learnt your body may be used for food purposes I'll be very wary about buying Walnut Whips in case your brain is substituted for the walnut!
    Nick Jones, Le Crestet, France

    The Welsh lady you bought a meal for wished to be anonymous. That must hurt.
    Chris Drew, Llandudno

    So it's not restaurants you're interested in, but tables. There's a blue and yellow warehouse in Wembley with a vast array of them. I'm sure you'd be impressed.
    Paul Lyons, Hampshire

    I recently bought an expensive jacket. I was shocked to see you wearing a similar one last week. I now realise I have appalling taste in clothes. I've asked my wife to donate it to the local charity shop!
    Peter Greeson, Berkshire

    You're right about the Devonshire Arms. Sullen staff, poor attention to detail, an over-fussy mish-mash of dinner in the Burlington with service which dragged on for hours.
    Pam Nash, Gloucestershire

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk