When I am lunching with somebody really interesting I much prefer a hotel restaurant. At some of the restaurants I have reviewed like La Petite Maison the tables are too tight for stimulating conversation or in Gaultier the waitering too obtrusive. In a luxury hotel I know I will get space and discreet service. Thus I chose HIX for lunch with Vanni Treves,an eminent lawyer , businessman and philanthropist. I had been recommended by Melanie Gay the novel In Love and War by Alex Preston and I was interested in Vanni’s views. The novel is set in Florence before and during the war. He was born there at that time and his father escaped a Nazi round up of the Jews by jumping with little Vanni from the window of the flat by the Boboli Gardens and heading south. Hi father returned to Florence as partisan where he died aged 28. Mother and son were put up by a succession of families for no more than 3 nights in Rome. She met and married an Englishman who worked for Pricewaterhouse. They came to London, Vanni went to St Paul’s, University College Oxford and he became a distinguished solicitor at Macfarlanes. After that he was part of the rescue team at Equitable Life, chaired Channel 4 and to repay the aid he received from partisans set up the San Martino Trust which every year brings over young Italian Tuscan students for English courses. Truly a man who has enjoyed a rich, successful and varied career and one whose conversation you wanted to hear.
We are duly sat in a corner. I ordered a crispy duck with plum tomato salad. I like particularly at lunchtime the salad appetiser; tasty and no assault on the Daffers waistline!!! This was followed by some delectable sea bass. Again a fish I know well this was served in a pesto sauce was deliciously tender. Vanni had the same starter and steak tartar. I had an elderflower cocktail but we were stuck to water. There was a group of ten diners at circular table, one waived to Vanni and I should have recognised him as the owner of the hotel Rocco Forte.
In most of my reviews I praise the restaurant but less so my guest. In this case it is the opposite as it was such a stimulating lunch and Vanni was so interesting on Florence before and using the war. For those less well informed there was a sizeable British populace of aesthetes and degenerates some of who were rather late in seeing the horrors of fascism exemplified by a brutal piece of work Nicolo Carita the blackshirt leader and enforcer. Almost no one foresaw that the surrender of Mussolini would result in a Nazi invasion the setting up of a satellite Northern Italian state under Mussolini and well organised military resistance. Novels like In Love and War or Franco Zeffirelli’s film Tea with Mussolini give a faithful and moving account of a rather neglected theatre of the Second World War. I felt indeed privileged to hear more from Vanni. I was expecting a somewhat patrician grandee but perhaps it was the courteous Florentine in him and that made his company light and amusing even when the topics we disclosed were potentially depressing. HIX was the perfect place to enjoy this.