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The most historic place in the history of historic

Published 29 February 2004
News Review
555th article

Francois and Daniele Roux with Michael Winner on the terrace at La Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Being a well-known romantic I took Geraldine, for Valentine's Day, to La Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence.

This beautiful and special hotel was opened in 1931 by Paul and Baptiste Roux as a Provencal inn near the entrance to the old walled town of St Paul de Vence, where they ran a cafe.

It became a favourite of French painters, who paid for their meals with pictures. Thus the dining room boasts major works by Picasso, Braque, Miro, Matisse and others.

The poolside mobile is by Calder, there's a mosaic dove by Braque, a linger-sculpture on the dining terrace by Cesar and a tiled wall mural by Leger.

I've been visiting La Colombe for decades. I have a photo of myself in the early Sixties in the medieval town looking absolutely beautiful, sylph-like, in a dark suit, a white shirt and a thin black tie. Then it was residential. Now there are endless an galleries, souvenir shops and boutiques. "The best tat in the world," I call it.

La Colombe is still run by the Roux family (no relation to those strange ones over here!) with Francis, the boss, leaving most of the work to his son Francois and his son's wife Daniele.

The terrace is one of the greatest places in the world to eat. I always start with hors d'oeuvres. There are 15 little bowls - herring, black sausage, lentils, onions done brilliantly, and more. You also get slices of sausage.

I follow this with loup de mer. This is common old sea bass, but somehow La Colombe's is juicy and fantastic with a great yellow sauce. An expert would know what it was - but take my word for it, it's yellow. Also some excellent boiled potatoes. I follow this with an old-fashioned cassata, a multi-flavoured striped cake of ice-cream with meringue. This is as good a meal as you'll get anywhere.

Not long ago there was no television or telephone in the bedroom of my suite, the bed creaked and sank in the middle and it took for ever for your car to be brought from their distant car park. It was still one of my most favourite places.

This time my suite had television and phone in bedroom and sitting room; there were two bathrooms; the bed was extremely comfortable; my car came quickly.

The whole place is rustic, but immensely tasteful. Daniele, a superb painter with a studio over the border in Italy, has her own delightful style. "I like to tell them," she said to me, having been on the phone reducing some guest to an oil slick. "You do indeed," I said. "Well," said Daniele, safe behind her wooden barred reception desk, "when I'm right, I'm right." She paused. "If I'm wrong, I apologise." Another pause and she took off her large glasses and smiled disarmingly. "But this time I was right."

Her husband Francois is another treasure. An immensely hard worker, he's serving, rushing around, a pause here and there, then on with the work. What a couple!

The food is not messed about. It's simple and relies on superb ingredients marvellously presented. It's served, inside or out, in settings of extraordinary beauty.

For Valentine's Day dinner Daniele had painted the card given to guests. I thought it was a dove with various hearts on its feet plus a tree. An impressionistic sort of picture. Geraldine assured me it was a swan. "Well, it is unlikely to be a rhinoceros," I said. Daniele appeared. "It's a mixture of both dove and swan," she explained.

She's historic. Her husband's historic. The place is historic. The whole thing is multi-peak historic. That is my highest rating. I have no more to say on the subject.

  • Instead I turn to the Curzon Restaurant & Bar in Mayfair, next to the marvellous Curzon Cinema. I ate some very good pizza-type canapes and other stuff there last Sunday while on duty as a trade union executive. I'm the only member of the Directos Guild of Great Britain to have served, continuously, on every council since it was founded 21 years ago. I was hosting our Awards Ceremony at the Curzon Cinema.

    The award for Outstanding Contribution to British Film and Television went, most properly, to Richard Curtis, whose films include Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral and many more. He's been responsible for terrific movies which people the world over actually want to see.

    The award was presented by Bill Nighy, whose performance as the irascible, ageing rock star in Love Actually was comedy acting at its greatest. After the ceremony I returned to the Curzon restaurant for more snacks. Well, you'e got to keep your strength up, haven't you.

    Winner's letters

    MW displays not only scant regard for sartorial mores but also a cavalier attitude to syntax. Confronted with last week’s monstrous juxtaposition of thumbscrew operatives and crispy bacon, my old English language mistress would have fainted completely away.
    Jacqueline Grace, Lincolnshire

    Employing as many personal staff as you do (Winner's Dinners, last week), how do you manage to look so awful?
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    I imagine the reason Philip Jones can't get his bacon from the US to here (Winner's Dinners, last week) is because the Danes have invaded the shelves already. I'm sure someone of your standing is bound to have an Aga in the kitchen - have a look round when you next go down for some ice - you can't fail to crisp bacon of any provenance in one of those.
    Heather Tanner, Suffolk

    What's happened to your wit, taste and general discernment? For years I've happily followed your recommendations. But to find you enthusing about Groots (Winner's Dinners, February 8) was a surprise! The food is about as good as an average roadside diner, indeed I know many that are a lot better. When l visited it was full of drunken, loutish Brits replete with Union Jack shorts all being encouraged in their boorishness by the owner, Hans. Doubtless you were showing how egalitarian you are. Egalitarianism is not why we read your column.
    David Heeley, Manchester

    You often assert Harry's Bar in Venice is the best place in the world to eat. When I visited it over the New Year I thought it was a poky little tourist trap. Perhaps Michael, or others, could enlighten me as to what I missed.
    Mark Vinall, Essex

    I always thought a carvery allowed unlimited visits to the chef for those with large appetites. However, if you try the Naggs Head Carvery in Chester you'll be greeted on your second visit to the chef with a surly, "You've been once!" Rather spoilt the atmosphere!
    Michael Bennett, Sussex

    How does the lovely Geraldine manage to retain such a svelte physique when Mr Winner's waistline is expanding so incredibly?
    Warren Harrington, Surrey

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST Or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk