Published 9 January 2000 Style Magazine 339th article
Family affair: Sylvie, Nando and Marie Coppini with Michael Winner at La Chaumiere (Miss Lid the First)
Menus are a bore. I can't bear it when everyone studies them and starts asking questions about the food. Then people order, then they change their minds. Then the waiter brings the wrong stuff anyway. The whole thing is an utterly tedious ritual. I'd like to see many more restaurants in our new century offering a set menu. If you don't like it, go to another restaurant with a different set menu. I'd like to see courtesy and welcome and comfortable restaurants with a noise level low enough for you to hear other people at your table. And I'd like to see more restaurants owned by people who turn up and run the place, not enormous enterprises run by committees and employees who don't give a damn and make it quite obvious.
I don't think the British are good at hospitality. They're either too po-faced or too concerned with loss of dignity if they do a "service" job. I suffered a very good example of this when I went to the Queens Theatre recently to see Maggie Smith. She's always totally brilliant and the only artiste in the country who guarantees "angels" a profit if we invest in her shows. In the interval I thought how good the counter in the foyer was. It offered a large selection of soft drinks and chocolates. I ordered a Coca-Cola. I asked for ice. The attendant looked at me as if I were mad. "Ice?" he said. "There isn't any." I told him this was preposterous. Then I went over to a man in evening dress whom I assumed was the manger. I told him it was an affront to sell warm soft drinks without ice. The manager looked utterly snooty. A "How dare anyone complain" attitude. He said nothing. Then he grudgingly went to a lower bar and slowly got some ice. Why couldn't he check his bars during the hour-plus of the first act?
There is a restaurant on La Grande Corniche above Eze-sur-Mer in the south of France that personifies the sort of place I like. In an area full of wonderful but rich cooking, with menus so long you need a library card to read them, La Chaumiere is homespun simplicity personified. It's a rustic farmhouse - chaumiere means cottage - run by the Coppini family: Sylvie, Nando and Marie. The only thing you can order, and that must be in advance, is a chicken. Otherwise your main-course choice is totally superb lamb or beef, charcoal-grilled in front of you, the chickens turning above an open log fire.
There's a big wooden table where Nando attacks the meat with a cleaver, cooks it and passes it on to his family to distribute. It's unbelievably popular and rightly so. Starters are a salad with an enormous bowl of crudites. Excellent carrots, cauliflower, radishes, and so on. Great national kick-boxing champion of an eastern European country. She had a delightful colour photo of herself in boxing gloves, one leg dangerously raised in attack position and with long, blonde flowing hair. She said that in her country they had radishes on bread for breakfast, certainly not for dinner.
You also get a historic home made pate: pork, chicken liver and juniper. Then baked potatoes and green salad with the chicken, beef or lamb. Luckily, Chris Rea was there and he'd ordered an extra chicken, so Miss Lid was able to scoff it. Dessert was apple tart, creme caramel or chocolate mousse. An enormous bowl of creme fraiche turns up for good measure. The mousse and the apple tart were as good as I've ever eaten.
The only downer was the English couple next to us, who both smoked like mad before they had even started their meal. I complained, so they stopped. After all, I was with an athlete. After dessert, I joined Chris Rea's table. The smokers immediately started up again.
La Chaumiere is a real, family owned place. They knew who I was, so there was a lot of kissing in the kitchen, embracing and smiling. If you go to the south of France, try and get in. It's very special.
You may notice I'm a bit out of focus in our photo this week. This is because it was rather dark, I'd forgotten to bring my posh Leica camera and Miss Lid the First had to stand far back to get the group in, thus straining the capabilities of the flash. Also, I'm forward of everyone, so I'm on a different focal plain. This should please readers who think I look better out of focus. Or preferably mayonnaise. I went a while back with not in the picture at all. Some people are so cruel.
I was appalled to read, in your article about Harrods (Style, January 2), that customers of the "top people's store" are charged £1 to answer the call of nature (unless, of course, they are fortunate enough to have picked up a Go to the Loo Free card at the Georgian restaurant). The bathrooms may well be "luxury", but surely a shop with the reputation and resources of Harrods can afford to lay on an attendant and a few bottles of Domestos without charging for it?
M James, by e-mail
Good cognac, as I'm sure you will agree, cannot be properly savoured unless it is served in a glass that allows it to be swirled and warmed in the palm of the hand. Sadly, fewer and fewer hostelries seem to recognise the fact. Public houses and bars now invariably present chunky tumblers, or even wine goblets. Beer is served in beer glasses, wine in wine glasses, sherry in sherry glasses. Brandy, more than any other drink, demands the right glass. Perhaps other readers would care to join a campaign for its return.
Peter Harris, Altrincham, Cheshire
When do you think that the trend for paying large amounts of money for smaller and smaller amounts of food in the "better" restaurants will come to an end? I'm tired of kidding myself that a piece of chicken, a potato and five slices of carrot is worth £13.50.
Tim Ilsley, Dublin
For years I have been a regular at McDonald's, and have always been struck by the fact that most of its burgers seem to be of Scots or Irish descent (Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, Filet-O-Fish). The company also employs french fries and milk sheiks, yet the Welsh and the English are not represented. Does this constitute grounds for prosecution under the Equal Opportunities Act?
N Prigg, Birmingham
Shortly before Christmas, you appeared on the BBC's Question Time bemoaning the short sentences handed out by judges in this country. What sentence do you think appropriate for chefs accused of branding their junior kitchen staff with a hot knife?
Andy Lye, Bexhill, East Sussex
How unpleasant for Judith Hulme (Style, December 12) to have experienced the sight of a mother changing her baby during tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town. But not as unpleasant, perhaps, as the attitude of the self-righteous and self-indulgent.
Jane L Payne, by e-mail
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