Published 14 July 1996 Style Magazine 158th article
Friends: Michael Winner with Jean-Louis Valla, left, and Roger Heyd (Vanessa Perry)
For Christmas 1980 I took Terence Stamp's advice and stayed at the Hotel Lotti in Paris. It was dreary. When the girlfriend and I returned from Christmas Eve dinner, the room had not been made up. Temperamental even then, I stormed out into the midnight cold of the Place Vendome and into the Ritz hotel, where, then and now, they do things properly.
When Vanessa and I returned from dinner recently at La Reserve de Beaulieu, the room had not been made up! I thought of storming out, but where to? Instead, I rang the normally impeccable general manager, M Gilbert Irondelle, and let my feelings be known. Ladies duly appeared, saying: "We're just two to do the rooms, we don't have time." "I came back at 11.30," I said. "What time do I have to stay out 'til, three in the morning?"
La Reserve de Beaulieu, situated in one of the last unspoiled coastal villages on the Cote d'Azur, has always been a favourite. But after an incident like that you tend to notice everything. Why was the bath mat not replaced one morning? Why was I told, on walking toward the paved gardens where people were already eating, "Breakfast is over there," the waiter pointing to a different area that I didn't want to go to? Why was a dirty plate not cleared from the suite" Why was the man at the pool so rude-as-usual? Why was the bathroom so inadequately stocked?
The Reserve bathroom had shampoo, bath oil, soap, and that was about all. The check list for every hotel is provided by the Mount Nelson, Cape Town: cotton buds, tissues, shoe horn, shoeshine things, dental kit, vanity kit, cotton wool, sewing kit, nail file, razor, shaving cream, loofah, soap, bath salts, shampoo, conditioner, bath oil, shower cap, hair dryer, two vases of flowers in the bathroom, two bathrooms, phone in each, and a weighing machine. On that basis La Reserve gets three out of 10.
But there are a great many good things about La Reserve, and I shall certainly go back. I know many of you went on my recommendation because you told me! It is one of the last really elegant, old-style hotels, like an ocean liner, right on the water, with a staggering view of a sweeping bay from the pool and the rooms. The gardens are full of pink geraniums, roses, beautifully laid out flower beds. The guest book has quotes from Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Yul Brynner, David Niven, Princess Grace and dozens more. A parade of bygone elegance and real stardom.
The dining room is one of the most beautiful in the world, a throwback to the 1930s. Barthelemy Lanteri, the greatest maitre d' ever, recently retired. After replacing him brieﬂy with a strange young man, they now have a fine chap, Roger Heyd. The wine waiter, Jean-Louis Valla, looks like Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, a latter-day Francis L Sullivan (that's one for the movie buffs) and very good at his job, too. The food is superb, even though people warned me it wouldn't be! I'll list some of it, so I look professional. Poelee de langoustines aux raviolis de fenouil et creme de petits onions confits, rougets du Cap en vinaigrette vierge, quelques purees de legumes . . . and so on. It's a smaller scale and far classier version of the ghastly Hotel du Cap that everyone seems to love. Strangely, that's managed by M Irondelle's father! You can pick holes in any place if you try (I have!), but La Reserve de Beaulieu is a gem.
Another laugh a minute at Nice, the "How not to run an airline" bit of usually good British Airways. Even a movie star told me how correct I was in moaning about them recently. I said the check-in area could, without too much trouble, have the words "check in" on display. This time, there it was, on a plastic desk stand: "Hand baggage check in only." Next to it, desks of BA people checking in luggage for the hold. As I only have carry-on luggage (girlfriend has to suffer that, too), I duly stood at the placarded desk. Another young lady stood at the head of our queue of three (her, me, Vanessa). I waited. And waited. Nothing. The British Airways girls checking in luggage saw me. But nobody came to my desk. Eventually, a BA girl walking past said: "That desk is closed!" How typical! At last they put a sign on a desk, but nobody had any intention of being there to work behind it! I'd love BA's chief executive, Robert Ayling, to try BA's bit of Nice airport. After that, he might prefer to go into the shoe business.
Mr Winner's recent piece attacking the Eurostar service was completely inaccurate; when I travelled recently we were correctly booked, the trains were punctual, the food (in first class) was excellent, and the staff dealt quickly and well with a variety of requests, some from difficult customers. I would have thought an experienced food critic just might have been able to allow for the fact that it is produced in awkward travelling conditions. For all that, my breakfast and dinner were both far in advance of airline food, and with standards of service and quality that most restaurants would struggle to match. If I had to make a criticism, it would be that the service is getting so popular that the Gare du Nord terminal gets overcrowded at peak times.
Tony Holmes, Abingdon, Oxon