Published 8 July 2001 Style Magazine 417th article
When in Venice: Michael Winner and Bruno Gavagnin (Georgina Hristova)
In the Winner's Dinners book, Alle Testiere in Venice is awarded "Best Restaurant No-one Knows". A number of readers pointed out I never wrote about it. If I'd written about it, it wouldn't be the best restaurant no-one knows. "Then I phoned the co-owner and restaurant manager, Luca Di Vita, a few days ago and told him I was about to make him famous, he said: "You've made us famous already. Many people come here because of your book." Now I'll make him and his partner, chef Bruno
more famous. Their restaurant was recommended to me by Lady Rogers, the co-owner of London's superb River Cafe. So I wended my way through narrow Venetian streets, asking directions continually, until I came across Alle Testriere. The alleyway outside is only 6ft wide. I paced it out. It's information like that which makes this column so valuable.
Alle Testiere seats 22 people. Luca indicated my table, which I didn't like. The best table displayed a sign saying it was reserved for Pamella. "I'd like to sit here," I said, removing the sign and putting it elsewhere. Luca didn't object. I decided to knock off our photo before lunch. Georgina froze for posterity me holding a chocolate cake and Bruno with a plate of prawns. Later, Luca told me he was a partner in the enterprise. By then, I'd run out of film. So I walked up and down the street to see if I could buy some more. All I saw was the Inishark Irish Pub, a shop selling sexy lingerie, and a posh make-up and perfume place, all of which were closed. So you'll have to take it from me that Luca is a double for Ben Kingsley.
I had no film left because I'd taken so many photos of Georgina on a gondola ride. This cost £60 for 45 minutes and only lasted 35 minutes. The gondolier smoked endlessly, threw his finished cigarettes into the canal, didn't wear a straw hat and uttered only six words of information: "Mozart's house. Casanova's house. Byron's house." All different buildings, I might add. The lads didn't share, even in the old days.
Luca explained they only served fish, so I started with grilled razor clams followed by gnocchi with tiny calamari and perfume of cinnamon. To drink, Luca provided a 1997 Zonta Breganze Cabernet, which is a soft local wine. Very pleasant. Georgina had spaghetti. All the food is sensational. I thought I'd eaten my meal when, suddenly, the main course arrived. This was prawns in tomato sauce with cinnamon and fine herbs. Then Georgina had her dessert. She said: "Why don't you put on your tape I think this is the best chocolate cake?" I said: "Because you're not an expert on chocolate cake." She replied: "But I like it." There's no point in arguing, is there? I had lemon cream and meringue cake and a bit of Georgina's chocolate cake. They were all terrific.
An American came over and said: "Will this be in next Sunday's Sunday Times?" I said: "Not for a few weeks." He said: "How will I get it?" I said: "Buy the paper." He said: "We don't get it in America." I said: "You can buy it in New York." He said: "I'm not from New York." I said: "Read it on the internet." He said: "What's your internet address?" I said: "I have no idea." It's extremely tiring being polite to the public.
Georgina noted Pamella had come in and didn't look happy that I was at her table. I ordered a double espresso. I also observed a party of 12 Japanese had entered. Lady Rogers told me this place was known only to the Venetians. "There's a big article in the Louis Vuitton magazine," said Luca, as if that explained everything.
Staying with Venice information: Harry's Bar, which is still my favourite restaurant in the world, has lost its Michelin star. Why, I cannot imagine. To compensate, the Ministry of Culture has rightly declared Harry's Bar a national landmark. Further Venice recommendations include, for your hotel, the classic Cipriani. For lunch, visit the four Fioron sisters, who run the still-marvellous Trattoria San Marco. A boat trip to Burano gets you to the Trattoria da Romano, owned by Barbaro Orazio. There, you sit facing the ancient, leaning church tower with greenery sprouting all over it. In Murano, you can overlook the canal at Ai Frati, where Luigi Camozzo is a wonderful host. And if you want to journey further, Restaurant Nani, on San Pietro in Volta, is a seafood place greatly favoured by locals in the know. Tear this information out and take it on your next trip.
My husband and I have just spent a wonderful long weekend on the Cote d'Azur to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We were staying at the Royal Riviera in Beaulieu, and took with us Michael Winner's article about Le Provencal in St Jean-Cap-Ferrat (May 27). The restaurant was exactly as Mr Winner described it, and the view from our balcony seat was breathtaking. Thank you for pointing us in the right direction.
Brenda Leppard, Roud, Isle of Wight
Reading Robert Dudley's letter about English's in Brighton (June 24), I was particularly interested in the head waiter's excuse for serving mayonnaise from a jar rather than home-made. We continue to make our own mayonnaise; the only difference is that we are now obliged by law to use pasteurised eggs, as is the case with any dish involving raw egg.
Carole Emmanuel, The French Horn, Sonning, Berks
A group of us recently went to Mezzo in Soho for a special celebration dinner. It should have been a fun evening, but was spoilt by the frankly ridiculous attitude of the staff. When the time came for us to go downstairs to the restaurant, a heavy demanded that two of our party leave their jackets in the cloakroom. We explained that they had a tendency to feel cold, and would rather hang on to them. His helpful suggestion was that we go down, minus the jackets, then come back and fetch them later if we felt cold. When we asked why we couldn't just take the jackets with us, we were told that people leave them on the floor and they catch fire (natch). Things didn't get any better downstairs, with a £5-per-head music charge, stroppy, bossy waitresses, and food that matched the service in its degree of distastefulness.
Adrian Harvey (June 17) refers to the unwillingness of the Ivy to serve Irish coffee. I know the Ivy well, and believe that most of the clientele would consider Irish coffee very "old hat". No really sophisticated person could possibly ask for such a passe concoction.
Stanley Silver, Hadley Wood, Herts
Just to add my voice to the chorus: when I am in my second home in the Ardeche, I regularly eat brandade, both from jars and freshly made. It is never strong and salty. Perhaps Mr Parker Bowles (June 3) should look for another, more suitable, vocation.
MJ Walker, by e-mail
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