Published 4 October 1998 Style Magazine 273rd article
On the terrace: restaurant manager Christian Giana, Michael Winner and chef William Boussin
Paul Firmin picked me up at the swimming pool of La Reserve de Beaulieu. He was a nice chap, so I didn't object. I even acceded when he asked me to dinner. It's the first time I've permitted a civilian (that's what we call someone outside show business) to get me to go out with him while on holiday. In case you're getting the right impression, let me add there's a Mrs Firmin, a pretty lady called Melinda, and Vanessa was also party to this foursome. Mr Firmin (he's in property and trucking) had made a reservation at his favourite restaurant, the Grill of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo. "It's where we had our honeymoon," said Melinda. "I went there for my 50th birthday," added Paul. "And you risk going with me! Brave man!" I said.
Paul checked the dress code. Luckily I had packed a 1950s black, interwoven pattern tie bought from Cyril Castle, with the phone number Whitehall 3751 on the back and another label telling me it was by Guy Laroche of Paris. The main square of Monte Carlo, with the casino, the gardens and the Hotel de Paris, is about all that's left of the old splendour. The rest is high-rise half flats for tax evaders. The hotel has four marvellously naked, rampant women sculpted on the front, with flowers and ribbons above them. The casino nudes were carrying spears. Melinda assured me they were mermaids, but as they had nothing to do with fish tails whatsoever and no water of any kind around them, I think she must have been mistaken.
The Hotel de Paris has a very grand lobby, but the people in it looked as if they'd come off a tourist bus. On your right is the three-star Michelin Louis XV room. Very heavy on gilt. I entered and looked around before being snootily asked to leave. I thought this was rather rude. On my way out, I went in to get names so I could tell them off in print. Once again, I was pounced on. A lady said: "There's some clients, it's not possible to see." "Are these people eating all from the secret service?" I asked. "That lot can see those people there." But a man joined the "Throw out Winner" group, explaining if I wasn't going to eat I couldn't stay.
On reflection, I think they were right. It's a very exclusive place and they don't need gawpers, even if it's me. My friend Maurizio Saccani, manager of the historically good Hotel Splendido in Portofino, should learn from this. You can't mix visiting cruise-ship sightseers with genuine guests who pay top whack for exclusivity.
Thus put in my place, we took the elevator to the eighth-floor one-star Michelin Restaurant Panoramique, Le Grill. Cavorting over the bar were two naked mermaids, which pleased Mrs Firmin. We walked through a fairly dull room to some outer area. "That'll teach me to dine with civilians," I thought. "They're giving us a lousy table." But no. We were shown to a large terrace with very few tables, and the principal one in the centre was ours. There was a lovely view of the harbour, the royal palace, the oceanographic museum and the sea.
There were very cheerful plates with naked ladies draped in peacock feathers painted on them and the menu had a nude lady on the back. Obviously political correctness has no place in Monte Carlo. The food was admirable, too. My soupe de poissons was excellent, Vanessa's melon was fine; my main course prawns and sauce were pleasant, Vanessa said "Mmmm, very good" about her fish. Mr Firmin said his chicken was "superb" and then "lovely".
The strawberry souffle was as good as I've ever had; they poured cream in the middle and spooned it onto a nice hot plate. The accompanying strawberries were almost jammy. I noticed they'd removed the spoon from my ice bucket, so I now had to scoop out the ice cubes with my fingers.
Mr Firmin pointed out the cup and saucer for the tea were both hot, so hot that Vanessa's had cracked and all her tea poured into the saucer. The petits fours were very posh, a chocolate one had the words Grill Room written on it in white script. I had noticed an elegant elderly lady eating alone on the terrace behind us. What was her story, I wondered. Briefly. Then, even though I'd been the guest, I paid the bill. We Scorpios like doing that, we hate to be indebted to anyone. Mr Firmin took care of the taxi back to La Reserve. I thought he and his wife were extraordinarily nice people. For civilians.
On a recent visit to Portofino, I saw no "odd creatures", as Michael Winner described us "cruise-ship people" (Style, September 13), only a few impeccably behaved fellow passengers. The restaurateurs were glad to see us, as were the boutique owners and locals. Frankly, I found the ship a haven from the boorish moguls that stamped around the Italian Riviera as if it were a private kingdom.
Dr R T Dixon, Portadown, N Ireland
I recently stayed at the Hotel San Pietro in Positano, where it was pointed out in the hotel literature that gentlemen were requested to wear a jacket or long- sleeved shirt in the evening. This was reinforced with a large notice in the suite. I am sorry to say that on a number of evenings I saw gentlemen wearing short- sleeved shirts, polo shirts and even a jumper on one occasion. When the restaurant manager was asked why the hotel policy was not being enforced, I was answered by a shrug of the shoulders and a forlorn "What am I to do?" response. Alas, standards seem to be slipping throughout Europe. Perhaps an appeal to your readers to make their views known to hotel management would help to stem the tide.
Peter Duff, Thriplow, Herts
On a visit to California with my wife and son, it was interesting to note the dedication to service. This was encapsulated by a waitress's insistence on lingering near our breakfast table to ensure my son's soft-boiled egg was as he wanted. Contrast this with the po-faced indifference that seems to be the norm in the UK. It makes you realise that we haven't a clue.
C Lawton, Newport, Wales