Published 21 October 2001 Style Magazine 432nd article
Georgina Hristova and Michael Winner outside the Lido in Paris
People say - perhaps referring to my being overweight - "You must eat out a lot." I don't. I only have to go to one restaurant a week to keep you informed and educated. Much of the time I'm at home, where dinner is now just a drink recommended by my friend Gerard de Thame, the distinguished director of television commercials. It consists of ice, strawberries, raspberries, a banana and Actimel yoghurt, whizzed in the blender. This I am just capable of manufacturing. Unfortunately, I usually succumb to a great many buttered biscuits shortly after the drink. Or two pieces of lavishly buttered toast with Marmite before retiring around midnight. So far, I've only lost three pounds.
People also say: "You must know Paris very well." They assume anyone writing about food knows every restaurant in the capital of cuisine. I don't. Paris is so overcrowded, I seldom go there. When I do, I usually revisit places that have given me pleasure, regardless of what new three-star genius chef has emerged. I recently sought advice from the Ritz Hotel concierge, having told him I didn't want fancy food. After two days, I was tired of that. He recommended D'Chez Eux in Avenue Lowendal. "Is this because they pay him a hefty commission?" I thought, rather unfairly, as we set off. Whether they do or not, I was delighted with the result. D'Chez Eux is a rustic bistro with red-checked tablecloths, owned by a very courteous man, Jean-Pierre Court. I dictated that I was having "cassoulet de les berges and marmite avec les confits de canard". It was a superb stew. Out of a pot came chicken, duck, pork sausage, white beans - M Court puts them all in a soup plate. It was enormous and delicious. Before that, I had 12 snails in a special plate, each bubbling in its own little crater. Georgina had pate with pickled onions caramelised with raisins, lentils with garlic and ratatouille of mixed vegetables. Then came an enormous dessert trolley with chocolate mousse, oranges, mangoes, figs in a red sauce, all terrific. Then M Court brought some vanilla ice cream and plunked down a bowl of cookies. This place definitely goes on my "must visit" list if ever I dare risk the Parisian traffic again. The French are the only people in the world who drive as stupidly as I do.
Here are some other good places. Just outside Paris is the beautiful village of Barbizon. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island there in the Hotellerie du Bas-Breau. I'd never have managed. I'd have been eating all the time. The restaurant is one of the best I've ever been to. It's a family hotel, owned for years by Jean-Pierre Fava, with another great professional, Tino Marichiodi, in charge. I had venison with very soft chestnuts and a puree of celery. Everything there is great, but the local Fontainebleau cheese is beyond historic. It's rather like candyfloss or a whipped cold cheese soufflee, made with cream and sugar. The village of Barbizon is full of preserved studios once used by the Barbizon school of painters. Don't go on Sunday, because the narrow street is crammed with cars.
In Paris, the Napoli Pizzeria in the Rue de Rosiers, adjacent to the flea market in St-Ouen, is fantastic. Very jovial, great pizzas, pasta and other things. It's run with a terrific buzz by the brothers Salvatore and Antonio D'Allessandro. The flea market has become rather posh, so great bargains such as I've bought over the years are considerably less available.
Dopey as it is, I always visit the Lido. There's something about a really old-fashioned, high-kicking cabaret show that I find most endearing. The absurdly camp costumes, the superb acrobats and jugglers. the inevitable spectacle flying on rails over your head - it's old-time show business. I once met Miss Bluebell there, the tiny Irish lady who formed the famous dance troupe. The sea-bass starter was fine, and the lamb extremely good for a mass-catered place. Christian Bussuttil. the joint restaurant director, served me very well.
I still like La Tour d'Argent as my really swish place. You need to get the one window table with a perfect view of Notre Dame and the river. You won't if I'm there.
All these places made up for last year's disastrous visit to Le Duc, which came highly recommended by the owner of my favourite restaurant in the whole world, Harry's Bar in Venice. When I complained bitterly, Arrigo Cipriani explained: "Well, I haven't been to Le Duc for 10 years."
"Thanks for a totally out-of-date suggestion, Harry." I said. Then I had two of his bellinis and decided Arrigo was a wonderful fellow anyway.
My husband and I were disappointed to read Mr Niblett's letter (October 7) regarding his visit to Arsenio's. Our experience was the complete opposite. Every table was taken and people were being turned away. The food and service were excellent. Mr Niblett and his wife must have been there on an off day. If they ever visit Madeira again, I suggest that they give it another try. Christine Batter, Cambridgeshire In Michael Winner's article on September 2, he reminisced about the "historic" chicken pie in Claridge's former restaurant. He described the fennel souffle at the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat (September 30) in the same way. I'm afraid that a double serving of this noteworthy adjective in one month is simply too much to swallow.
Julian Corlett, Scunthorpe
Given Michael Winner's love of fresh orange juice, I was wondering if he had had the chance to sample the delights of the Djemaa el Fna in central Marrakesh? Here, he will find traders vending the freshest and best-tasting orange juice on the planet. It certainly beats some of the poor excuses for juice sold in the UK.
Toby Cooper, Bristol
I follow Michael Winner's articles with great interest every week. This week was a double joy, however, as I also followed his Bentley down the M25. This second treat prompts me to say only one thing to him: you have a brake light gone.
Ian A Barker, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Next time Michael Winner is in Beaulieu, we recommend that he visit the Mas Provencal, in the beautiful village of Eze. The restaurant is set in a marvellous enclosed garden decorated with hundreds of fresh flowers. Risotto served from an enormous parmesan cheese and lamb carre on the spit were historiques.
BB Cooper, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France
On a recent trip to Italy, I dined at a good restaurant in that gastronomic hotspot Reggio Emilia, near Bologna. They supplied similar menus for my wife and myself, but the "ladies' menu" was unpriced. This is both a good and a bad idea. A skilful operator on a first date might be able to steer a lady towards a cheap dish without her knowing he was a cheapskate. However, my wife homed in on the most expensive thing on the menu and there was nothing I could do about it.
Mr S Daniels, by e-mail
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