Getting the wind up over a cucumber and sherry soup
Published 20 October 2002 News Review 484th article
A table with a view: Giana, Boussin, Rachel and Gerard de Thame and Winner at the Le Grill (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I don't go to restaurants. I go to tables. If the table I request isn't available, then I go somewhere else. So when I asked Jean-Christophe, the excellent concierge at La Reserve de Beaulieu, to book the terrace of Le Grill at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, that's where I expected to be.
I gathered my friends Rachel and Gerard de Thame, she a famous TV gardening expert, he a big-time commercials director, and off we went. Separately. Because Gerard wanted to turn up in his unbelievably expensive Ferrari, which was perpetually going wrong. I, of modest aspirations, was content with a chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
The Hotel de Paris is one of the last amazingly grand hotels. The stone-carved exterior speaks of empire, conquest and glory. The lobby is gargantuan. I've always liked the top-floor Grill, its one balcony has a marvellous view of the sea, the harbour and what's left of old Monte Carlo. So I was deeply unimpressed when the restaurant manager. Christian Giana, showed us to a table in the main room. The balcony was empty.
"I'd like you to carry this table outside," I said to Mr Giana. He looked extremely po-faced and replied he couldn't because it was windy. I let this go, then asked him to return.
"Let's do this please," I said. "No-one is going to suffer. That young man there," I pointed to one of the waiters, "is not going to become ill. It's an achievable aim. I've been on the balcony. It appears perfectly calm to me."
"I'll see what I can do," said Mr Giana.
"Make it work," I said, a slight edge entering my normally docile tones. Staff then appeared from all directions carrying a table (not ours) onto the balcony and laying it up.
As we started to leave, a nice young couple at the next table said: "We'd like to be on the balcony too."
"Well, you can't," I responded jovially. "Just stay where you are and be quiet."
"This is a different world," I muttered as we settled down on the
terrace. The ladies put their handbags on little padded stools specially provided. That's how posh the whole thing is.
My first course was "risotto mantecato (please don't ask what that is, I've no idea) with sauce, sauteed zucchinis and crayfish". It was superb. Geraldine had something with vegetables, Gerard grilled red mullet and Rachel "chilled cucumber soup with sherry, radish coarsely grated and caviar". She was worried she might be getting drunk as she's a good girl and doesn't normally drink at all. Gerard took a sip to reassure her.
"I'd just lie down, dear, if I were you," I said helpfully.
Gerard said: "The wind's picking up." A few seconds later Geraldine murmured: "I wish I'd brought my pashmina."
I faced the ultimate humiliation of having to request a return to the dining room. Luckily, the wind abated before I got my main course of "duckling roasted over a wood fire, seasonal fruits enhanced with lavender, honey light and spicy sauce". Very good indeed. Geraldine had "roast spring chicken flavoured with thyme, sauteed early vegetables and new potatoes in a flaky pastry". She greatly liked it.
Mr Giana had advised us to order souffles in advance. "They're the best in the world," he said.
I've heard that nonsense before. In this case it was true. My lemon souffle was utterly historic. Geraldine and Rachel shared a chocolate souffle. "It's incredible," said Geraldine.
The number two chef was on duty, William Boussin. He was there when I dined before. I rate him very highly. The food at Le Grill is among the best in the world. It sounds fancy but it's quite clean and simple.
The problem was, the bill came to £454 and I'd left my credit card at the hotel. I possessed only €50, about £33. "Perhaps we could abseil down the side of the building," suggested Geraldine.
"I think if we walked very quickly through the restaurant we might get out," advised Gerard. But Mr Giana wisely accepted my signature and a promise to phone in my credit card number. Me washing up would have been a serious setback for the hotel crockery.
As we left, the restaurant was unbelievably crowded, proving our trip to the terrace was particularly wise. Outside the hotel it was like a madhouse. The area by the casino, which is at right angles to the hotel, was full of tourists staring at nothing. They surrounded poor Gerard's Ferrari.
"How embarrassing if it doesn't start," I thought. But it did. Unlike last year when it was moribund outside La Reserve and staff had to push it to one side.
I thought you might like to hear about our experience on a scheduled BA flight from Nice recently. I am sure that you have seen its new TV advert - "We will not compromise" - which ends with a sandwich packet from a low-cost airline being plonked down on a table. My wife and I were asked by the steward what wine we would like with our lunch. We chose a bordeaux, which was not bad. "Lunch", however, comprised a tuna sandwich and a KitKat! I have complained to BA but after three weeks I still await a reply.
Jeremy Fell, Sutton Coldfield
I was pleased to see from the photo that Michael, enjoying the "super naffness" of the Vineyard (Winner's Dinners, last week), entered into the spirit of the place by being suitably shod in unutterably, gloriously naff white moccasins. I have been trying to buy something similar for months without success.
Ifor R Griffiths, Rochester
Paying £650 a night for B&B at the Vineyard and you are "perfectly happy" after poor kippers! Are you mellowing in your marginal maturity?
Stephen Phillips, London
Sandy Gauld's experience at the Belfry (Winner's Letters, October 6) was tame compared with ours. We waited half an hour for our starters although the restaurant was almost empty. We then had to ask for our plates to be cleared. The carvery had old, burnt food in the corners. The veg were overcooked and the meat was tired. We decided to have coffee in the lounge. Here we were greeted by a remote-control farting machine hidden in a plant pot. This would have been more useful to show our appreciation as we left.
Anthony Charles, Majorca
On your recommendation, my husband and I went to Tetou in Golfe-Juan. Upon entering what looked like a 1970s transport cafe we were told by the terrifying lady in charge that the bouillabaisse, which my husband was particularly excited about, was for two people only. The fish we had was mediocre but we cheered ourselves up by looking forward to the famous doughnuts. Alas, no doughnuts. Dejectedly, we left much lighter in pocket and muttering darkly about the rude letter about to be dispatched to Michael Winner.
June Silver, Cheshire
Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail: michael.winner@sunday-times. co.uk