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Surrender is sweet when your host's a black belt

Published 8 January 2012
News Review
963rd article

At Downtown L to R: Arrigo Cipriani, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards and Michael Winner (Stefano Lanzoni)

There is nobody I admire in the restaurant business more than 80-years-old-in-April Arrigo Cipriani. He's a dapper, smiling host who writes books and has a judo black belt. A lesson to the pompous idiots who exercise their egos strutting around places they don't even own. Arrigo has 14 restaurants all over the world.

He was in London recently for the opening of Downtown, just off Savile Row. It's fantastically well designed by Michele Bonan. There's cherry wood, marble floors, a library on one wall, tall windows with a street view.

Arrigo's normal habitat is Harry's Bar, Venice, my favourite restaurant in the world. You eat in the ground-floor bar area, which is buzzy and full of Venetians, visiting stars and tourists. I've sat next to Dennis Hopper, Kate Moss and Simone Signoret, to name but six.

A lot of male readers, refused entry to Harry's Bar because they were wearing short trousers, wrote to me complaining. Arrigo has bent to avoid losing the dosh. He said rather wistfully: "I now let them go to an upstairs room."

Arrigo himself is always immaculately dressed. He goes from table to table greeting everyone. He's the greatest host.

I went to Downtown for lunch. Arrigo's son Giuseppe is in charge of England. "Will you be here tonight?" I asked Arrigo. "Yes, he's paying me," he said, adding: "I love this business."

The food is perfection. The chef (Arrigo calls him a cook) is Giuseppe Marangi, who was at Harry's Bar for 15 years.

I was going to have tagliolini gratinata, a Harry's Bar special, which is tagliolini baked with ham and cheese. But I switched to uovo ravioli with white truffles. "I've got egg, spinach and ricotta in a ravioli with white truffles added," I dictated. Knowing my powers of non-observation, this may or may not have been true. I followed with liver veneziana, replacing polenta, which I don't like, with rice. Both these dishes were staggering. Historic.

Arrigo's restaurants are famous for their cakes. I scoffed chocolate cake with mascarpone sauce and vanilla ice cream made to order on the premises. Words of praise fail me. The best ever. There's no chocolate cake like this anywhere in the world.

The customers were all young and elegant, except for me. Service is speedy, the atmosphere great. The restaurant managers look like Italian male models.

As a spaghetti sleuth I can reveal Arrigo uses De Cecco spaghetti and on Thursday serves one of my favourite dishes, bollito misto. As General Douglas MacArthur said: I shall return.

PS: My friends Michael and Shakira Caine went on my recommendation. Loved it.

  • I phoned the Wolseley for my normal lunch table. The excellent restaurant manager, Daniel Craig, said: "There's someone at your table." He offered me another one where my friend Lucian Freud often sat.

    "Is it the same size as my usual table?" I asked.

    "Exactly the same," replied Daniel. After the first course my table became free and Daniel offered to move us. As we left I thought the table we'd been at did not look as big as my usual one. Geraldine had a tape measure. She measured our usual table, where we were now sitting, then the one we'd just left. The other table was about 8% smaller.

    I said to Daniel: "You said the table was the same size. It isn't; it's smaller."

    Daniel disappeared, found a tape measure and then measured both tables. He agreed I was right. Then over came a man I'd never met, Jay Rayner, the food critic of The Observer.

    "What's going on with all this table measuring?" he asked. I told him.

    If you want anything measured in your house - I'm available.

  • Hymie was running a delicatessen. A duck came in and asked for a bowl of chicken soup and a salt beef sandwich.

    Hymie said: "But you're a duck."

    "So?" replied the duck.

    Hymie served the duck and said: "I didn't mean to be rude, but we don't get many ducks in here."

    The duck explained: "I'm working in the block of flats down the road. I'm a plasterer; that's what I do, plastering."

    The duck came in regularly. Then Hymie's friend Moishe, who had a circus, came in.

    Hymie said: "Moishe, there's a duck who comes in here, speaks fluent English, has a bowl of soup and a salt beef sandwich."

    Moishe said: "I'll give him a job."

    Next day Hymie says to the duck: "I've a great opportunity for you. My friend runs a circus. He wants to employ you."

    The duck asks: "A circus?"

    "Yes," says Hymie.

    The duck continues: "One of those places where animals are in cages, then they let them out to be part of a big show in a tent?"

    "Right," says Hymie.

    "And," the duck says, "at the top of the tent there's a hole to let the air out?"

    "Right," responds Hymie.

    The duck says: "What the hell do they want with a plasterer?"

    Michael's missives

    I saw you at the Grand Chalet, Gstaad, lunching with Geraldine. Roman Polanski was next to you and it's a favourite of Madonna's. You can witness there the most beautiful ugly people Britain still dispatches. Looking at some of the ladies, one is tempted to ask whether they have already sued their plastic surgeons or keep on frightening the other guests on purpose.
    Werner Pluss, Gstaad, Switzerland

    In the photo at La Genova you had your hand round the neck of the latest chef who served you poor food. He looked very uneasy as you began to squeeze tighter. Is he still alive?
    Stuart Matthews, Nottingham

    What a terrible name-dropper you are. Jeffrey Archer, Norman Lamont, John Major. Don't you know anyone famous?
    Tim Burton, Berkshire

    You asked what you were put on Earth for. It's so that rude, narrow-minded, introspective, glory-seeking and cruel individuals like me can write simple, derisive, pathetic, coarse and caustic comments on grumpy old dodderers like you.
    Nick Jones, La Drome, France

    I felt so sad a few weeks ago when I saw the photo of you with your friends and noticed you were the only one without a knighthood. I resolved to do something about it and start a petition on the government website. But my proposed petition was turned down! I think it's a conspiracy.
    Simon Rigby, Dorset

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