Published 4 September 1994 Style Magazine 62nd article
Mimi, myself, I: M Lanteri, left (Vanessa Perry)
Jenny Seagrove used to say you could judge the quality of a hotel by the decibel count of my voice when complaining. On that scale she judged La Reserve de Beaulieu my favourite. It certainly is one of them. It's in the fairly untouched town of Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, between Nice and Monte Carlo.
The setting is exquisite, right on the sea, with a rugged, rocky coastline on one side and the Villa Kerylos a Greek-style masterpiece old-fashioned hotels and more villas on the other. Across the bay is the tiny, lovely village of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. I was somewhat distressed on visiting La Reserve recently to find its owners had run out of cash and the hotel was now in the hands of the Credit Lyonnais bank. The Credit Lyonnais has a remarkable number of businesses it inherited as a result of a rather generous lending policy. One of them the American film company United Artists sends me profit cheques on some of my films. The bank also owns Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
They've splashed out a bit re-decorating La Reserve. It's now got a lot of orange silk and stuff in the suites, which I personally do not prefer to the rather faded, old-style grandeur that was there before, but they remain stunning accommodation with spectacular views. I asked the new general manager, Gilbert Hirondelle, why the walls were so bare. Had the bank closed down on the money before all was finished? I was assured pictures would be arriving, but not during my stay. I also pointed out a rather nasty floor-to-ceiling white plastic duct only partly hidden by a crude wooden grille-door which looked like it came from a shopping catalogue. "That," said Mr Hirondelle, "is the heating." "Oh dear," I mumbled. "Perhaps it could be painted black, then it wouldn't shine at me." Being in my picky mood, I also asked why the wonderful old deck chairs in mahogany had been removed from the seaside swimming pool and replaced with plastic, white loungers. "They were dangerous," said Mr Hirondelle. "We had accidents." He was right, they were a bit dodgy. But superb none the less. I told
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who lives nearby, and he was going to phone and get them for his villa. I wonder if he did?
The undoubted star of La Reserve is Mimi. Mimi is my all-time favourite maitre d'. He has charm, he is warm, he is a terrific worker. He looks the part to perfection. His real name is Barthelemy Lanteri and he's been there 35 years. He's seen Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Orson Welles come and go, he was there when the Aga Khan first met Rita Hayworth in the lobby, his autograph book is a history of the cinema. He glides between the tables, set so close to the sea you could be on an ocean liner; or inside under the painted ceiling of the long dining room, which is one of the nicest in the world, looking out on the non-sea side to a lovely, flowered courtyard. It was in the courtyard, sweating a bit under the hot Mediterranean sun, that I observed Mimi at 9am, single-handed, serving breakfast. "Weren't you here until 11.30 last night?" I asked. "Ah, the waiter rang me at home, he is ill, I have to help," said Mimi, carrying on elegantly. They don't come like him any more. I hope in the boardroom of the Credit Lyonnais they realise what a treasure they have in this far-flung part of their accidental empire.
For some reason Michelin no longer gives La Reserve a star. But I thought the food was well up to par. Their Bellini had a rather red colour and was a bit sweet, but it was genuinely excellent. My gaspacho de homard parfume au basilic was fine and the main course of turbot roti a l'arete au jus court girolles et "grenaille" au cerfeuil was as tasty a bit of fish and mushrooms as you could ask for.
There's something very "old money" about La Reserve. It's not too large, it's charming, it's understated, it's elegant just like me. No wonder I'm a fan. Only once did I raise my voice in bitter complaint. And no, I won't tell you why, because I'm in a rare good mood.
I do not always agree with witty Mr Winner but I do not blame him for having a go at the Waterside Inn. I once had a fish dish there that was frozen in the middle. Profuse apologies did not really make up for it. But I disagree when he raves about the French Horn. When I went to taste his much recommended roast duck, I found it fatty and sloshy and served very inelegantly. If you want to taste a really delicious roast duck with crisp skin and magnificent taste you should go to Frederick's Hotel and restaurant in Maidenhead, but you will have to wait until it comes on his winter menu. For now, you should try his whole sea bass baked in salt. Imposing and heavenly.
B S Lund, Maidenhead, Berks
I am amazed that none of your readers has recommended the Window on the World on the 28th floor of the Hilton hotel in Park Lane. I have lunched there on many occasions and find the service is excellent. The restaurant has the most comprehensive fish hors d'oeuvres table in London, and offers a three-course set lunch, which includes a very good Dover sole, first-class house white and red wines, for £33 per head inclusive. Surely the best value in London, although I hesitate to recommend it in case Michael Winner visits and starts moving the tables about and upsetting the staff.
Peter Parkin, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks
With regard to Michael Austin's complaint about being given a bill after his medical contretemps, I feel he should at least have died if he expected to get out of the restaurant for free. I regret being so unsympathetic but otherwise we shall all be having a nominated seizure candidate at the penultimate course, similar to the nominated driver who has to abstain from a drink. Alternatively, restaurants may have to require a medical before accepting reservations.
Michael Morrison, Sligo, Ireland