Close Encounters: Dining with the big hair raisers

JOANNA BRISCOE LUNCHES AT RICCARDO MAZZUCCHELLI'S NEW RESTAURANT
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The Independent Culture
After a decade of rapt, some might say catatonic, devotion to HELLO! magazine, after a two-hour lunch worthy of its most oleaginous attentions, I now understand where I have been going wrong. I am severely lacking the tawny highlight, the slick of pomade, the precise one-and- a-half-centimetre lift from the scalp. The shibboleths of the ladies who lunch have quite passed me by, but I am here to learn.

My lunch date was none other than Ivana Trump's most recent ex-husband, Riccardo Mazzucchelli, at his newly opened and much hyped Knightsbridge restaurant, Floriana, an event that was completed with a pause to exchange compliments at the table of Raine, Countess Spencer.

HELLO! incarnate. HELLO! in Technicolor. After shaking the hand of the daughter of Barbara Cartland and stepmother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, I was experiencing such a trivia junkie's fit of over-excitement, I would hardly have been taken by surprise if Mandy Smith, Princess Caroline, a dynasty of obscure Euro-royals or a giant panda had walked into the room.

As I waited in the cruise liner lobby with its marble, gold trim and half-hearted topiary, its spike heels, highlights and Vuitton bags, I could barely force myself to concentrate on my host's restaurateur skills or Middle Eastern business triumphs. No, I was distracted by childish thoughts. I was about to meet the man who had done rude things with Ivana Trump.

"Floriana in Italian means a lady bearing flowers. What would be better in life than if the woman brought some grace to the man's life and vice versa?" said Mazzucchelli, arriving to kiss me in a storm cloud of aftershave, then rudely abandoning me in a leap worthy of a sprinter off the blocks as a commotion of furs entered the lobby. Paper-fine skin, white face powder, wind-proof hair. Raine, Countess Spencer, had arrived.

We were led into the dining room. I was in HELLO! heaven, a tender world of ladies who lunch, minor celebrities, minor celebrities famous for being associated with proper celebrities, and a sky-lit, gold-moted haze of flattering lighting. "The beauty of this French stonework is that, whether it is daytime or night-time, it gives you the most beautiful glow on your face," murmured Riccardo in a clotted Latin purr.

Raine Spencer on the matter: "I think it's very becoming to us ladies."

This is a world of ladies and sirs. It is a world of scallops and pianos and champagne lighting. Within mere days of the restaurant's opening, there is squealing, air-kissing and the requisite marriage of ferocious flattery and discreet dining. I predict a huge hit.

Riccardo Mazzucchelli resembles a Siberian wolf hound, his eyes so pale that their disarming, bleach-in-swimming-pool stare becomes worryingly mesmeric. But this is irrelevant. These are the eyes that have seen the queen of HELLO! as no reader will ever see her.

On the sticky subject of Ivana, Riccardo's companion for six years and wife for two, now estranged after a bout of suing and counter-suing, Riccardo said: "I really don't want to talk about anything that refers back to my past." He then promptly delved into that past.

"I adored the woman; unfortunately, it didn't work; leave it at that... I would welcome here any of my past, because if I've loved a woman, I've loved a woman. So I always try to have a good rapport, as I do with anybody. Unfortunately, in this case, it's not possible, but not because of me. I adored her. I adored her. And I think I was loved back, but unfortunately it wasn't possible."

Riccardo, 55, now boasts a girlfriend called Gisele ,who has just left university: "She's very cultural."

Owing to mobile phone, cigar and lady-kissing duties, my dining companion frequently absented our table to fulfil his duties in an excitable round of aphoristic embellishments and floral gallantry.

However, a glorious array of scallops with herb salad and crispy aubergines was followed by a casserole of fish and seafood in saffron sauce with baby vegetables, and a tower of petits fours. The food at Floriana is pretty fabulous. Even Fay Maschler has given the thumbs-up.

By now, we had been invited to the table of Countess Spencer for an interlude of charm and grace, a little chat, a tinkle of laughter.

"The food is out of this world. I think it's excellent. So altogether I think it's a very attractive place that London needs," said the Countess, enthusiastically.

"I don't mean to sound big-headed, but whatever I have done in life, I always have been able to establish at the highest level," said Riccardo.

A lady who lunches suddenly landed at our table. "Ah, you look gorgeous," exclaimed Riccardo. "Oh, you're so sweet. You look very handsome yourself," she replied. She had clearly developed a close acquaintance with the blow- dryer.

I have other concerns - artistic crises, raging deadlines - but just for two hours, I sat where the great Ivana had sat before me. And I saw that I have much to learn about the aerodynamics of hair.

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