It was lunchtime on a Saturday in 1995. I was sitting at a satisfyingly well-placed table in London’s San Lorenzo, the Beauchamp Place restaurant beloved by Princess Diana, with Beatrice Vincenzini, my Italian publishing friend. Mara Berni, the restaurant’s omnipresent and ever so slightly feared co-owner (with husband Lorenzo), hovered around the more illustrious patrons’ tables, dressed in her regular uniform of navy cashmere sweater, jeans, and oversize tinted glasses. Her children—Ghigo, Paolo, and Marina—were never far away.

Left, Joan Collins lunched at San Lorenzo the day before her 2002 wedding. Right, Jack Nicholson and Marina Berni in 1994.

We observed the social cockatoos around us, and we ordered the same three things we always do: bagna cauda with crudités, asparagus risotto, and cotoletta alla Milanese. We finished with an espresso. We paid by check because credit cards were not accepted. We knew this because we used to visit San Lorenzo at least once, if not twice or even three times, each week. We were in a slight hurry, because Beatrice had a fitting with couturier Bruce Oldfield, Princess Diana’s go-to designer, in his atelier a couple of doors down. At least three other women sitting at tables around us would visit the couturier, too, during the course of the afternoon. Later, we walked past Kanga (a shop owned by Lady Tryon, a special friend of Prince Charles’s); Viscountess Astor’s jewelry shop, Annabel Jones; and Kenneth Jay Lane.