Published 31 May 1998 Style Magazine 255th article
On the pool: Michael Winner and Jean-Claude Delion at La Reserve de Beaulieu (Vanessa Perry)
What a difference a name makes. In this case M Jean-Claude Delion. But let me back up. My friend Willy de Bruyn, the only amusing Belgian in the world, telephones me. Mr de Bruyn owns the Hotel Royal Riviera in St Jean Cap Ferrat, an excellent place greatly loved by my friend (lot of friends popping up), the beautiful Felicity Kendal. She stays there frequently, and gave me what almost amounted to a black look when I said she couldn't nip off there for a long weekend just before we began filming Parting Shots.
Mr de Bruyn is excited because his pastry chef, Christian Faure, has been personally given, by President Jacques Chirac, an award for being best at making cream cakes in the whole of France. I think the Queen should present a Best Pastry Chef award here. It would undoubtedly go to Lady Bayliss, mother of Gavin Rankin, the boss at Annabel's. She used to supply Kaspia when Gavin was there and now, on rare occasions, knocks them out at home for special customers. Her chocolate cake is historic plus.
Willy also tells me my least favourite hotel manager, M Gilbert Hirondelle, has been let go by La Reserve do Beaulieu, a nearby, highly exclusive hotel, and that the place has been bought by Jean-Claude Delion, who owns the renowned St Tropez hotel, La Pinede. I nipped in for lunch shortly after the purchase and everything was improving like mad, so I returned recently for a stay.
La Reserve now has a Michelin star through a new chef, Christophe Cussac, who had two stars at his previous place. The atmosphere is back to the highly civilised aura it used to be, the guests are more buzzy and interesting, the pool has been done over, although it still sports the most surly pool attendant I've come across. I thought I'd really try, so I gave him a jovial good morning. All I got in return was a grunt. I suppose I was lucky to get that.
But the setting of the pool is so great - mountains one side, the sea facing you and the bay of Beaulieu and St Jean Cap Ferrat the other - that my equanimity remained intact.
My first night in what has to be as elegant a dining room as exists - and with no tie required - I ordered a fine blanquette de chevreau. Goat! I last had that on the beach in Jamaica when the locals gave me curried goat. It was memorably marvellous. On this occasion, when they whipped off the silver cover it revealed sard fish. A wrong order. But I got some goat later. It has a lovely taste and soft texture. All the food at La Reserve was exceptional.
The breakfast came in nine minutes, the quality of rolls, croissants, that sort of thing, was as good as I've ever tasted. It's all back to its gem-like state, once tarnished by M Hirondelle's extraordinary management style. Now M Delion is owner, general manager and manager. And it shows.
I had one complaint. Vanessa asked for a linen pinstripe suit to be pressed and it came back furrowed, ridged and in an unbelievable state. The worst pressing ever. Second time around it was fine. M Delion has reframed, beautifully, the wonderful signed photos of stars who stayed at La Reserve. On the second landing are Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; in the bar, my friend Lauren Bacall and her then hubby Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor wrote: "It's still as wonderful as ever; May 1993." in the lobby my (yes, you guessed it) late friend Rita Hayworth and Yul Brynner and . . . I love movie memorabilia. I wish M Delion would remove the architectural watercolours that, make up the other half of the decoration and bring out more of the star photos I remember from the old days.
I could even provide him with a wondrous 10 x 8 of me. Perhaps not. The place is back on top. No need to take risks.
There is one task M Delion and Mr de Bruyn could undertake. Beaulieu and St Jean Cap Ferrat are spotless. Time has passed them by. No litter, everything so well kept, the flower beds, the grass - except for the sea. This shows floating muck in abundance. When I wrote about the area before, a reader who lives there wrote to me that at one hotel (not La Reserve or the Royal Riviera), if you went to the lavatory and rushed to the window you could observe in the sea a few moments later . . . no, I will not go on, you are too sensitive. But it is a downer in an otherwise idyllic setting.
There you go again, writing with your mouth full. The actor's club near the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, was called the Buckstone Club, not the "Buxton" as you described it (Style, May 10). The latter is redolent of pie and chips and red-faced comics - not the glorious earthy food and infamous, boozy company that I remember you blowing your trumpet among all those years ago. Mind you, there was often tourte petite maison, frites avec pois on the menu, and even the occasional visit by a plethoric, but embryonic restaurant reviewer who was something of a wag. Keep it up, Michael. Your column should be bottled.
Michael Alexander, St John, Bristol
Your correspondent John Cole (Style, May 10) had it easy at the Compleat Angler in Marlow. I dropped in last summer and attempted to order a "traditional" cream tea. Although the riverside terrace was only half full, it was more than 10 minutes before I could catch the attention of the lone waitress. Fifteen minutes later, some of the meal arrived - just the scones, cream and jam. Another 10 minutes passed before the pot of tea turned up - minus milk. "Eez coming soon," explained the mademoiselle. Finally, after a further five minutes, I went to the kitchen to fetch it myself. Compleat Angler? Complete indifference.
Charles Catchpole, Hampton Wick, Surrey