Published 16 July 2000 Style Magazine 366th article
Michael Winner at Tetou, with, from left, Christine Prins, Corinne Cuzzupoli, Pierre-Jacques Marquise and Paule Morlet (Georgina Hristova)
"The point about this meal," I dictated into my tape recorder recently, "is that it's totally unique. What I've eaten today I could only eat at this restaurant. I can't eat it anywhere else in the world." I was talking about one of the great meals of all time, a meal that's amazingly consistent. The restaurant has been run by the same family since 1920. I first came in 1947. The hut on the Mediterranean where you eat has been poshed up a hit over the years. The little fishing port of Golf-Juan has become overbuilt and overharboured, so it's a gigantic yacht park like nearly every other seaside place in the south of France. The roads leading to it, which were narrow, tree-lined delights, have become proper highways. Although the actual coast road the place is on remains much the same.
The restaurant is called Tetou. It was highly fashionable when I watched King Farouk of Egypt playing chemin-de-fer at the old Cannes Casino, and long before that. I always eat the same thing because it's top-of-the-league historic. First, I have bouillabaisse. The last time I had had bouillabaisse was at the Sir Charles Napier in Oxfordshire. That was absolutely terrible. I hadn't been to Tetou for four years, but as I entered and was greeted by members of the Marquise, Prins, Morlet and Gay families who have run Tetou for ever, I knew everything was ﬁne. The bouillabaisse has lobster, dorade, rascasse, St Pierre and rouget. You get the lobster first, gently placed in the yellow soup, to which you add croutons and garlic. You also get yellow boiled potatoes. The taste of the soup is beyond-belief superb. The lobster and all the white fish are fresh and cooked to perfection. "Huge spoons," said Georgina, using one of them to feed herself. The room is highly attractive. On my right was the beach and the sea. Ahead and around white tablecloths and striped chair covers. The service is unbeatable.
The crowning glory is the dessert. I've never seen it anywhere else. Deep-fried beignets come with enormous jars of home-made jam, sugar and whipped cream. The jams include marmalade with whole slices of orange, cherry, peach, grapefruit, tomato, apricot, melon, lemon and ﬁg. Nine in all, each totally delicious. I remember lunching here one Christmas with a very famous film producer for whom I'd made some movies. "Ah Michael," and he named one of my films, "we did very well with that, we made $20m." I was on 15% of the profit. His reports to me showed the film losing! I didn't even bother to say anything. If I did he'd just have said he'd made a mistake, was thinking of another film. "What a funny business," I thought. "Here's a man who's just admitted swindling me out of $3m and I'm discussing with him where to go for dinner!"
Of course, the south of France ain't what it used to be. But it's still a magical place. To the east of Nice, high in the hills, La Chaumiere continues to serve a set meal of exquisite and simple excellence. And La Reserve de Beaulieu is a wonderful hotel that's got better. The owner, Jean-Claude Delion, has appointed a marvellous lady manager. Estelle Wicky is blonde and smiles a lot. When the Winner's Dinners book comes out in an updated edition this October, I'll make La Reserve equal best hotel in the world with the Splendido in Portofino. I encouraged my friend the super-lyricist Don Black to go. He rang me. "Do you know what a club Sandwich costs here?" he asked "Twenty-seven pounds! " "You're rich, Don, just pay and smile!" I advised sympathetically.
Recently, Miss Wicky led me to the landing before the first floor. There, on the wall, beautifully framed and signed, was a photo of me. La Reserve has a great collection of celebrity photos. Later, Don Black said: "When we came there was a signed photo of the Aga Khan on the landing to the first floor. Then we told everyone we were a friend of yours. The next day your photo was up instead!" I wrote to Miss Wicky confirming a future booking. "You mustn't get a hernia moving my photo around," I said. "I don't mind if it's there or not, but I'll sell more rooms than the Aga Khan." Miss Wicky assured me a maid had mistakenly moved the photo to a bedroom, but it would now be securely in position. If you go to La Reserve, which I strongly recommend, you can always avert your eyes if you walk up the stairs. Or, better still, take the elevator. That's what I do.
Tell me why Andrew Bainbridge is prepared to pay £7 for mineral water (Letters, July 2). Every restaurant I visited in Barbados gave you a jug of iced water upon being seated. This was some of the nicest water I have ever tasted.
John Collinson, by e-mail
Every one of Mr Winner's articles is a most enjoyable send-up. However, I do find his use of "maitre d'" quite jarring. As I am sure Mr Winner knows well, in Britain there are head waiters and in France les maitres d'hotel; only in the United States do maitres d' exist (for this we should give thanks).
Micky Heaton-Merheim, by e-mail
The tasteless, textureless chicken that you encountered in Bruges is a product that is in common use in Britain, especially in cheaper restaurants. It is normally of Dutch origin and is pressure-injected with water and various chemicals. I agree with you entirely, it is disgusting.
Keith Cooper, by e-mail
After many years of reading Michael Winner's column, I have finally concluded we do not enjoy the same tastes. I have accepted his blatant extravagance, his pomposity, his gluttony and even his favouritism of certain establishments as entertaining journalism. But a recent visit to the Splendido in Portofino has finally brought me to my senses - much, much poorer and very disappointed, I have decided I cannot accept his "special" recommendations again. Now, on the other hand, the Altnaharrie Inn at Ullapool, Wester Ross, is worth every penny spent, and more. Enjoying its 20th year, we will be going again this year, our sixth visit ... perfection!
J L Davies, by e-mail
My wife and I enjoyed Sunday lunch at The Vineyard at Stockcross the same day they were graced by Adrian Gill. It was, as always, a first-class experience. This is the definitive country-house hotel - only belonging to that genre because it is a house and it is in the country. It is a chintz-free zone, serene and devoid of pomposity. Chef Billy Reid produces superb, gutsy food with no frills, and the restaurant has the best wine list we have ever seen - and we have enjoyed dining in all the usual haunts. Put the record straight, Michael, they deserved better.
Tony and Alison Pattinson, by e-mail