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This place could take River Cafe's crown

I'd heard well of Tinello in Chelsea, owned by the marvellous chef, Giorgio Locatelli. The food is fantastic and the staff, charming and efficient

Published 13 February 2011
News Review
917th article

Michael at Tinello with, from left, Federico Sali, Giorgio Locatelli and Max Sali (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I'm still reeling from the most inept example of restaurant management I've come across in my 106 years of semi-life. It was occasioned by someone I'd previously praised, Charles Pullan of the River Cafe. His ludicrous performance, totally unnecessary, over an advance request I made for a booking, was beyond belief. So, while not counting the River Cafe out, although I haven't been back, I looked for another Italian restaurant.

I'd heard well of Tinello in Chelsea, owned by the most gracious and marvellous chef, Giorgio Locatelli. It's run by two brothers that Giorgio's lovely wife, Plaxy, "adopted": the chef, Federico Sali, and the restaurant manager, Max.

The premises are not helped by silly decor. A window looking onto the street is quite narrow. One side of the place is rough brick (nice); the opposite wall is panelled in dark glass with knobs on, not literally but figuratively. This glooms the room. A simple mirror covering that wall would have widened the look of the place, added reflected light from the window and jollied things up. The room was also low-lit with hanging bulbs, which didn't improve things.

There, criticism ends. The food is fantastic. Max is a hard-working host; the staff, charming and efficient.

We started with bellinis. Peaches aren't in season so the peach juice was tinned, as it is at Harry's Bar in Venice, where the bellini was invented.

We were given deep-fried artichoke, some amazing Tuscan ham and other stuff which I'm too decrepit to remember. I ordered fried zucchini, followed by a large portion of tagliolini with truffles.

I said, "Max, I will pay extra money - I can afford that, you understand - for extra truffles." The truffles came from San Giovanni d'Asso, southeast of Siena. Because of, or in spite of, that, the dish was terrific. I tried a bit of Geraldine's veal cutlet: wonderfully tender.

I finished with a mini tiramisu. Max called it a tiramisu beignet. I'd say tiramisu profiterole. Very good. I think I also had, though wouldn't swear to it, an almond tart with yoghurt ice cream. My notes were rather confused.

I'm certain that as I was leaving, one of the local gentry, who, with their wives/girlfriends fill the place, said, "I have a photo of you and me taken in 1958."

I replied, "Not possible. Nobody photographed me in 1958." I was wrong. It was a photo at a debutante dance when I was talking to Lola Wigan, a stunningly beautiful girl with unbelievable breasts. The man must have been a deb escort. Now, and doubtless then, he was well mannered and charming. In those days, so was I. Been downhill ever since.

PS: I revisited Tinello with Michael and Shakira Caine. They loved it. No 1 among other Italian restaurants is Murano in Mayfair. Angela Hartnett is a stunning chef; the detail and taste of her stuff is amazing. It always costs me £60 extra going to her because I get a parking ticket. I still like San Lorenzo, diminished by the departure of the incredible Mara, but the cooking is great. If you want cheaper, Timo, near me on Kensington High Street, is excellent. Scalini, once good, has gone down the plughole.

  • The National Theatre catering has always been a disaster. To call it pathetic would be a compliment. The management should find out who caters for the Barbican complex in the City of London and sign them up.

    I went to see the impressive play Black Watch at the Barbican. The worst-signposted venue in history. A total disgrace. Impossible to locate. When you get inside, it's a garbled mess. No meaningful signage anywhere in a highly complicated structure. Whoever is responsible couldn't run a flower stall in Beckton.

    However, the catering was exceptional.

    I grabbed a flapjack. Sensational. Not easy, flapjacks. They're either too tough or too sticky, or have a poor texture or bad taste. This one was perfect. Then I noticed a fish and chip counter and tore off a bit of fried pollock. Idyllic. Took the rest. The batter was precise, delicious; the fish, moist and excellent even though pollock is not my favourite fish. The mushy peas were splendid; so were the chips.

    All around were varied displays of food, mostly made on the premises. Nearer the theatre, a counter with pork curry and rice, which looked amazing. There's generous space for eating, lots of seats and tables, lively people.

    At the National Theatre, the few ghastly food choices are appallingly laid out. The main restaurant is a lesson in how not to do anything. At least at the National the plays are well chosen and performed.

    The theatrical offerings coming up at the Barbican scrape the bottom of the barrel. A friend of mine in the business said, "They get so much annual funding from the City of London, they just don't care about their audiences."

    "Don't care" is mild. Totally contemptuous, I'd say.

  • Joke from the Ritz doorman Michael O'Dowdall: saw an AA man crying his eyes out. He was on his way to a breakdown.

  • On Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: definition of a juniper - an Israeli youngster. For more laughs, follow me on Twitter: @MrMichaelWinner.

    Michael's missives

    How nice of you to allow your granddaughter to appear in last week's photo on her own - so beautiful and vibrantly young-looking, with a good fashion sense. I don't think she'll have any problem meeting a suave, handsome, well-groomed, rich young man. Can you suggest anyone to her?
    Kevin Mulligan, Cheshire

    Was Geraldine leaning against an early 20th-century lamppost in last week's photo, or your good self?
    Ray Dean, Sheffield

    It appears you've metamorphosed into a lamppost. Don't move. I must find you quickly. C'mon, Fido - walkies!
    Jermone Carroll, Cyprus

    I'm not surprised at the reception you received at Hakkasan. Your usual dress is that of a plumber attending a job. Have you now realised this? Is that why you did not appear in the photo with Geraldine?
    Leslie Jones, Worcestershire

    It seems at Hakkasan you were caught between a wok and a hard place.
    Ian Lineker, Worcestershire

    When I tried to book for six people at Hakkasan I was told the table would be for two hours only. When I suggested frivolities might carry on they tried to impose a guarantee of £1,500, or I could pay an extra £300 for the table. "What do I get for that?" I asked. "We won't throw you out at 3pm," was the reply.
    Iain Linkleter, Surrey

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk