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Classics made new: Lilly Poliseno’s food is fresh, witty and intriguing (©Leonardo Trulli Resort)

Puglia makes me think of Evelyn Waugh’s comment on the Sphinx: “As a piece of sculpture it is wholly inadequate to its fame. People . . . went out to see it by moonlight and returned very grave and awestruck; which only shows the mesmeric effect of publicity. It is about as enigmatic and inscrutable as Mr Aleister Crowley.” Poor, tatty, overcrowded Europe of course retains some places of genuine beauty, but why will no one admit that the French Riviera nowadays resembles at best the less-unpleasant areas of Los Angeles, or that Ibiza is no longer a “White Isle” in any sense but the narcotic one?

English people love Puglia, because they think it’s the real Italy. They’re not wrong, since Puglia is mostly hideously ugly and economically wretched, but that is not the reality they mean. They want to believe that the mournful, imposing centres of its white Baroque towns are inhabited by pasta-rolling nonne instead of the stranded descendants of those clever enough to move north, desperately cashing in on the Airbnb.  The coastal strip from Bari down to Lecce is basically an endless concrete tourist conurbation whose revolting appearance can indeed be avoided in the fabled centres of Monopoli or Polignano, but only if one looks straight out to sea at all times.

Not that the Italians are any more immune to collective delusion when it comes to the Bel Paese. My Milanese publisher was in town recently and took me to dinner at Cipriani (because why eat anything other than Italian food?). “Qui e l’Italia dell’Avoccato,” he explained, as the waiter dexterously served the justifiably famous gratin of green tagliolini. “The Lawyer” refers to Gianni Agnelli, whose name conjures for Italians an historical watershed of perfection, somewhere between the end of that embarrassing business with Mussolini and the advent of the corrupt, terrorist-strafed “years of lead”, an age of elegant innocence beloved to the national consciousness.

Cipriani has been doing Avvocato-chic forever, but Margot in Covent Garden has recently elbowed in on the action under the direction of Maurizio Morelli, lately of Latium. Mr Rayner of the Guardian got quite excited about Margot, though not so eloquently as my publisher. “Who in their right mind puts waiters in dinner jackets in 2016?” he remarked with awe. The jackets are perfectly correct, midnight-blue, not black, with proper buttons on the cuffs, and their presence certainly adds a sense of luxurious ease to the proceedings, which is just as well, because Margot is an oddly schizoid restaurant. Downstairs is Agnelli a go-go, a hushed salon of cream and green leather which makes you feel as if you’ve just stepped off the Riva into 1956, but upstairs, where lunch is served, is more Cheshire wine bar-black MDF panels and curious knobby glass decorations protruding pointlessly from the walls. I can’t think who this space is meant for — lawyers from the Inns up the road squeezing in an hour of Dolce Vita between insurance cases, perhaps — but the effect is too jarringly effortful to produce the sense of expansive ease which Margot’s menu requires.

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