Wear your Bulgari bling - it might just light your way
Published 26 August 2012 News Review 996th article
Michael and Geraldine with Sylvain Ercoli at the Bulgari hotel (Nicolas Grounin)
As it goes these days, no one would expect Bulgari to restrict itself to jewellery design. It does fragrances, leather goods, other accessories. What started in 1884 as hard-working Italians bashing out bits of gold has spread like the bubonic plague and now includes hotels and restaurants.
To complicate matters further, the recently opened Bulgari hotel in Knightsbridge is run in conjunction with a group of investors called Prime Hotels, which has on its advisory board my friend the film producer David Puttnam.
What David knows about hotels is probably as much as I know about reviewing food - zilch. But that never stopped an opportunistic spieler from having a go.
The head of Prime Hotels is Sylvain Ercoli - urbane, great record in the industry, and he told me a very good joke:
A Jewish boy phones his mother and says: "How are you?"
She replies: "Fine."
He says: "I must have got the wrong number."
You may think I'm waffling on to avoid talking about the hotel and the food served in its Italian restaurant. Possibly, but, as it's my solemn duty to tell you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth - none of which exists in restaurant opinions - here is my brilliant, bordering on cataclysmic, summation.
The hotel lobby is dark and gloomy, with too much black leather, too much desperately trying to be chic. The staff, by contrast, are warm, friendly and efficient. The only thing that saves the lobby is five large jars of sweets - everything from liquorice to splendid wine gums, jelly bears and Coca-Cola bottle sweets, all fantastic quality. You can see them on the right in our photo.
In the basement is Il Ristorante, another gloomy room. Happy the place is not. There's a sombre, large staircase sweeping up and cheap Christmas-style lights are dotted everywhere.
Geraldine said: "I don't wear my Bulgari gold watch in summer, only in winter."
"If I'd known that, you could have had it for winter; I'd have given it to someone else for summer," I responded with my usual chivalry.
The food was actually not bad. The starters of stuffed sardines with pine nuts, sea bass carpaccio with rocket, and aubergine caviar with tomato confit and barolo vinegar were pleasant. For my main course I was recommended culatello, a type of ham from further up the pig's leg, possibly including a nostril or three (didn't like that), and then a triumph: a dish I'd never eaten before called focaccia di Recco. Definitely historic. This comes from a little town near Genoa. It's light, like a pizza without the topping. There’s no yeast but it contains a tasty and creamy stracchino, a soft cheese made from cow’s milk. That alone was worth the visit.
Another "great" was to come. Rum baba is one of my favourites, very difficult to do properly. The Bulgari offered limoncello baba. Perfect texture, fantastic. With it I'd ordered a cassata. Disaster. The ice cream was messy, made worse by being smothered in raspberry sauce. The best cassata is at La Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence, near Nice. That is clear-cut, with a line of icing on top and a tiny bit of decorative raspberry sauce.
This review is beginning to make me look as if I know a thing or two about food. Let me assure you I’m the same ignorant git I always have been.
PS The bill for a light lunch for two people, including service charge, was £173.25. Even an ignorant git knows that's outrageous.
This is a message for those of you so depleted in your own lives that you write regularly to tell me how appallingly dressed I am. I hope you have noted that in the photo above, as in last week's, I am wearing an immaculately fitting double-breasted grey blazer made for me by Maxwell Vine of Sackville Street on March 29, 1989.
How many of you could get into, and look so elegant in, a beautifully preserved jacket that is more than 23 years old? The answer is that many of you have big mouths and bigger bellies. So you couldn't. I grieve for you.
From Tony O'Brien, of Dublin:
Hymie the doctor was walking through town when he was approached by Sister Assumpta, the headmistress of the local convent school.
"Doctor," she said, "would you do us a great favour by giving our senior girls an educational talk about men and sex?"
Hymie agreed. When he got home he told Becky he had given the convent girls a talk.
"On what?" asked Becky.
Hymie blurted out: "Sailing."
A couple of days later Becky was in town and met Sister Assumpta.
"Your husband gave a wonderful talk to my girls two days ago," she said. "He was so knowledgeable."
"I’m surprised at that," said Becky. "He's only done it twice. The first time he got sick. The second time his hat blew off, and he hasn't tried it since."
You say a medical specialist gave you until 2015 to live and you weren't sure if he meant the beginning or the end of that year. I think he meant quarter past eight.
John Fletcher, Kent
I read you were planning to ask my company for odds about your life span. A man placed three bets with us covering him for one, two and three years when he'd been given less than a year to live with lung cancer. He collected on the first two but sadly died days before collecting an additional £10,000 for achieving a third. We gave his winnings to Harefield hospital. I might be interested in offering you a similar wager.
Graham Sharpe, William Hill, London
What were you doing in the photo with your right hand behind Geraldine at Langan's Bistro? It obviously made Geraldine smile but the lady behind you looks horrified.
Joyce Marriott, Oxfordshire
Why are English restaurants so parsimonious with bread? Customers often have to plead for a few scraps. Unless with soup, any bread is whisked away before the main course. Are waiters taught this at catering college or is it just meanness?
Peter Ellis, Leicestershire