Published 21 November 1999 Style Magazine 332nd article
Michael Winner with, from left, Kristina Tholstrup, Roger Moore, Nikolai Albinus and Christina Knudsen (Miss Lid the first)
I'd rather live in Balham and pay British taxes than live in Monte Carlo and pay none. The south of France I grew up in has become vastly overbuilt. And nowhere worse than Monaco, consumed by tacky high-rises that sprout like weeds. They've annihilated the lovely old villas and Victorian apartment blocks. When I arrive at Nice airport, I see the towering modern buildings between the terminal and the hills where once I saw Provencal farms with crinkly roof tiles and vineyards.
I spent many Christmases in the south of France. It's usually rather warm. I can recommend it then because it's quieter. There I'd watch mumsie running joyfully between four roulette tables. Famous people would say to me: "How's your mother?"
I'd reply: "You don't know my mother."
"Oh yes I do," they'd say. "Met her in the Cannes Casino."
She'd go up to anyone in movies, from Fellini to Roger Moore, and ask if they knew her son. Like all congenital gamblers, she'd deny she played. "Hear you did well last night, Helen," I'd say.
"I don't play any more," she'd respond tartly.
"But you were sitting in front of a huge pile of chips."
"Looking after them for someone else, darling," was her reply. Thus went a large slice of the family fortune.
It was Rog, bless him, who, last summer, asked me to dinner at La Piazza in Monte Carlo. The only unspoilt parts of the French Riviera are Beaulieu-sur-Mer and St Jean-Cap-Ferrat. There, even in the height of the season, you're in the France of the 1950s. Walk out of the elegant Reserve de Beaulieu, turn left and you stroll along by the sea with tall palms, lovely flower gardens and hardly any people.
Monte Carlo is another story. La Piazza is set between towering "council flat" blocks, with roads, tunnels and underpasses all around it. It's a pleasant, tiled restaurant with pink tablecloths and murals of old Italy on the walls. Our group was me, Rog, his lady friend, Kristina Tholstrup, her daughter, Christina Knudsen, a sparkling girl who finds properties and does interior decoration, and her jolly banker boyfriend, Nikolai Albinus. There was also Miss Lid the First. I mention this because you've only met Miss Lid the Third. There was a Miss Lid the Second who lasted a very short time. You might meet her in the future.
Miss Lid the First was the national sporting champion of a strange country to the southeast of Holland Park. She spent a great deal of time running. She would return fresh as a daisy, and speak of the villas and houses she had run past. I, who had stayed watching telly in the suite, was quite exhausted. Once, she so fell for a villa in St Jean that I had to go and photograph her by it.
Anyway, back to La Piazza, where we started with some excellent crostini - tomatoes on toast to you. This was followed by babajuan, little pancakes of ricotta cheese and spinach in a pastry shell. "You only get them in Monaco," said Kristina. I find ordering extremely tiring. "What am I having, Rog?" I asked. "You're having seafood salad, then you're having loup de mer, branzino, sea bass," said Roger, enunciating very clearly in case I didn't understand. This was the only time ever I had a jacket on and Rog didn't.
Very rudely for one so soigne, I said to Kristina: "Can I taste a bit of that, please?" But I'd taken her ham with my fingers before she could answer. It was very good. My main course was fine. Later Christina, the daughter, said: "I'll have some of your creme brulee." I said: "You can have it all because I should really not be ordering it." When I got the creme brulee, I scoffed it down. "My goodness, I've eaten it," I said, realising it was a bit late. "You ate so quickly I didn't like to interrupt you," said Christina.
Roger looked at the murals. He's posh: he called them trompe l'oeils, and said: "Do you notice the artist hasn't painted any people in the squares or the streets?"
Another excellent Italian restaurant Rog took us to a few days later was called Chez Gianni. I had a blazing row with the limo driver because he sailed right past it, and took me somewhere else. The car firm gave me a discount! Chez Gianni had a nice little garden at the back, although it was still heavily overlooked by high-rise flats. But the food was extremely good. That's two restaurants that stars go to in Monaco. Quite enough for you to take in on a winter Sunday.
We were interested to read your article about fish being too fresh to cook (Style, October 31). A couple of years ago, we went with some friends to a restaurant at Golfe-Juan, where we had noticed an impressive selection of fresh fish being taken round the tables for inspection and selection by the diners. (My husband and I are both vegetarians, but this does not mean that we don't consider the interests of our non-vegetarian friends.) Imagine our horror, therefore, when, on the evening of our visit, the waiter responded to our inquiry about that evening's fresh fish with the information that the catch had come in late and the fish was "too fresh". Our friends were, to use the vulgar expression, "gobsmacked" - they had eaten fish all their lives and had never heard such a tale. We subsequently questioned other fish-eating friends, but none had heard it either and expressed considerable incredulity and scepticism. From that day, we laughed about it whenever we remembered it. Your article has made us realise that we should have been more respectful.
Gillian Beaumont, by e-mail
You often make me laugh, but more often make me furious. Having just returned from La Reserve de Beaulieu, however, I have to admit that, about this hotel at least, you are absolutely right. The transformation is wonderful: this is a jewel in every respect.
Carol Symons, London
I am sure you will be delighted to discover that your photograph adorns the reception corridor in the school where I teach. Whether you will appreciate the teacher's inscription beneath your picture is another matter. It's labelled "Grandad".
Gillian Statter, Manchester
I live in Rome, where, by and large, the restaurants, trattorias and pizzerias are far from glamorous, but the food is cheap and always excellent. Having lived for a few months in London, I can say that there the opposite is often true. In London, it seems, you can only eat well by spending huge sums of money - and for the smallest helpings I've ever seen.
Eric Ranzoni, Rome
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