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A hissy fit followed by an island of tranquillity

Published 23 May 2010
News Review
879th article

Geraldine in Sipanska Luka, on the Croatian island of Sipan (Arnold Crust)

You'll find this hard to believe, but occasionally I throw a tantrumette. She (that's me) stamps her little feet and flounces about something terrible. It's a right performance. Varda, varda.

A recent flappette was in Dubrovnik. The object of my displeasure was a marvellous man, Goran Strok, who owns three big hotels there. The schedule provided listed a visit to his Dubrovnik Palace hotel.

"Why should I want to see that?" I demanded of Nikolina Vicelic, his excellent PR lady. "I don't want new buildings; I've come to see old Dubrovnik."

In a moment of stupidity when Goran said, "I'm taking you on a boat trip. My Palace hotel is on the way - would you drop in for coffee?", I agreed.

So there I was in a car with Geraldine and Nikolina, travelling through boring Dubrovnik streets. "It seems a long way to the boat," I remarked.

"We're going to the Dubrovnik Palace," explained Nikolina.

"But," I protested, "I didn't want to go there."

"Mr Strok wants you to," said Nikolina. I became all a-tremble. "I will not enter the place," I said, tantrumette building. "I'm paying my way - this is a holiday, not a hotel inspection. How dare he do this to me."

"It'll only be for a moment," said Nikolina.

"I won't even get out of the car," I said, now in full floodette. "You get him and we'll go to the boat."

When we reached the hotel, I was in such a state I rushed out. So did Nikolina. Goran came towards me, smiling in the vast lobby.

"How dare you drag me here!" I yelled. "You know I didn't want to come. I've been driven for ever through rubbish, I'm getting straight back into the car."

Nikolina followed giggling like a schoolgirl. "Did you see his face?" she asked. "I'll never forget his expression when you shouted."

We proceeded to Goran's boat. When things had calmed down, he said, "But you agreed to drop in for coffee."

"You said it was on the way to your boat," I responded pleasantly. "It may have been on the way to Alaska. It certainly wasn't on the way to your boat."

Massive credit to Goran that he remained a perfect host. With his wife, Renata, we set off for the islands around Dubrovnik. These are marvellous beyond belief. Untouched. Just a few old buildings, hardly any population. Oh dear, I thought, when Goran pointed out one on which he was to build a hotel.

Having been a racing driver, Goran was obsessed with speed. "We're doing 45 knots," he announced. "Look at the water rising from the propeller." At the back, a great spray. Who cares?

We reached Sipan island. Extraordinary. Wonderful old houses, peaceful, hardly any people. Soon it will be tarted up by millionaires. Now it's bliss.

We pulled into the village of Sipanska Luka. Restaurant More is the white canopy behind Geraldine in our photo. Sitting outside in the sun the owner, Baldo Svijtkovic, served focaccia and bread with pumpkin seeds, both warm from the oven. Best I've ever tasted. Then a very light cheese with garlic. Great olive oil.

I dictated, "I've got, like, an octopus hamburger now; freshly fried, soft, it's historic." With it was wild asparagus picked on the island and hard-boiled eggs. Exquisite. Then came gregada, a fish stew, which they cook for three hours. The fish was all local - gregada grouper, lobster, a fish they call red devil, sliced potatoes. The taste of the fish soup was incredible.

To finish, a yellow sponge cake with icing, and another with almonds and walnuts. I've never had a better meal. The chef is a young man called Vatroslav Sevlina. He's one of 400 people living on this island. Never mind yer Gordon Ramsays and yer Heston Blumenthals. Vatroslav knocks them all into a tin can.

If you're in Dubrovnik, rent, steal or borrow a boat and go to More on Sipan island. Whatever it costs to get there, it's worth it.

  • From sublime to ridiculous - Gil's restaurant, Dubrovnik. I wrote it was ghastly. Its manager, Gilles Camilleri, responded, "At your age I understand you had difficulty distinguishing the genre of music playing." I said annoying, intrusive discotheque; Gilles calls it Buddha bar lounge music. That's a joke. He says I was arrogant asking for it to be turned off as other people might have liked it. When I asked there were no other diners there at all. It was turned down. Very few people came in anyway.

    Gilles (surprisingly) objects to my calling him surly and inhospitable. Exactly what Goran thought. "My three hotels must give him many clients," said Goran. "He hardly even bothered to greet me."

    Gilles says I shouldn't have objected to his waiter telling me precisely how to eat my meal because "it is commonplace in restaurants so the client may experience the full flavour of the dish". Flavour? I didn't notice any.

    What planet is this man from? I've been going to top-class restaurants for decades. No waiter ever told me how to eat the food. You must go to very strange places, Gilles. None more bizarre than your own.

    Michael's missives

    Outside Indian Zing you wore a grey jacket, purple trousers and light blue loafers. Are you colour-blind, or is it a campaign to bring clashing shades into fashion?
    Ken King, London

    You're right. The Bombay Brasserie destroyed the colonial charm of the old interior, replacing it with an anodyne airport terminal. We found the food oleaginous and the new manager more so.
    Mei Lee, London

    The description of Indian Zing food was mouth-watering. I doubt it would deliver takeaway to Chesterfield, so a visit to the Smoke is on the cards.
    Jenni Woolf, Derbyshire

    Regarding your invasion of Dubrovnik: they have a restaurant called Pizzeria Mea Culpa - "I'm to blame". Is the name the result of being "Winnerised" or did it decide that surrender in advance gave it the best chance of avoiding your custom?
    Stephen and Ruth Gold, Glasgow

    At Luc's Brasserie in Leadenhall Market in the City, the waitress spilt a tray of gin and tonics over us. The hostile manageress took the cost of those drinks off our bill. We negotiated £30 off for the dry-cleaning, but got only £15 off because the restaurant added back the cost of the drinks. We decided to pay what was reasonable and settled about 65% of the bill.
    Adrian Jones, London

    Please write to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk