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Strictly entre nous, I've kept this secret for years

Published 24 October 2004
News Review
589th article

Regular berth: Winner with Regine and Alain Therlicocq at Le Sloop (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I don't muck about. I'm not just a pretty face. I sometimes visit restaurants for years, taking copious notes, before I decide to share my views with you.

It's like my friend Michael Broadbent, who produces the best wine guide. Of the 1983 Chateau Margaux he writes: "I first tasted it 12 months after the harvest . . .

I tasted it alongside the 82 at Lay & Wheeler's Margaux evening in 1990 . . . I've tasted it on over a dozen occasions in the last decade . . . total difference in style noted at the Wagner tastings in Zurich in 1997 . . ." and so on!

I'm no less diligent. I was introduced to Le Sloop by Andrew Lloyd Webber in the early 1990s. Before I took up my hobby of food raconteur. It's in a row of restaurants stretching along the beautiful harbour of St Jean Cap Ferrat, surely the loveliest (certainly the most expensive) residential area in France.

My first record of Le Sloop reads: "Dinner May 2nd 1998". There was Irish music playing, I ate langoustine salad with asparagus and noted very, very quick service. The dishes were beautifully laid out. I also had "a mixed grill of various fish".

I've been many times since. The little harbour road in front is now closed in the evenings, so it's very peaceful. Musicians and acrobats entertain in a discreet way.

Le Sloop is owned by Regine and Alain Therlicocq. She runs front of house with charming severity. He's in the kitchen cooking. I only saw Alain once in all the years I've been going there -when he appeared for our photograph last year, described by Regine as "a very quiet season". The Americans stayed away after 9/11 and more so after the Iraq war.

Le Sloop is terrific. I've had everything from fillet of beef de Normandie with girolles and red wine sauce to a modestly priced set menu recently - €27 (about £19) for five courses. There was lobster bisque, then blanc de loup, then pastry with fresh herbs and goat's cheese and a dessert of strawberries and raspberries in a mousse. The excellent starter canapes were included.

As we left, the street musicians, who were posh and offered diners a CD of their work, were playing La Vie en Rose. If you go to the Riviera, visit Le Sloop. I always do.

No restaurant host could be further removed from the no-nonsense, controlled approach of Regine Therlicocq than Danka Schulz, the wired-up, delightful co owner of Les Agaves, a superb restaurant in an old building opposite the railway station in Beaulieu, the small town that abuts St Jean.

Danka came from Belgrade to be the flashing light of Les Agaves. Not only has she suffered local concierges booking tables in my name and in the name of my daughter (I don't have one) -she's also plagued by that dreaded restaurant menace, the no-show customer.

My literary agent was enraged when asked to leave a credit card deposit by Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire. I beg to differ. If you buy a theatre seat, you pay. If you don't turn up, too bad. If you reserve seats in a restaurant and don't turn up it can be serious for the restaurant owner. Danka has only "34 chairs" in her small but charming restaurant. "If a table doesn't come, I work for nothing that night," she recalled in a thick east European accent.

She continued, with great energy, telling a story about how five people, booked in by the concierge of the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, never arrived. Danka rang the concierge to find out why. "I was asked to book four tables in four different restaurants on the same night for the same five people," the concierge explained.

"So three restaurants were waiting all night long!" exploded Danka.

"I can do nothing, madame. I am only the concierge," was the response. "If a client tells me to book, then I book."

On my last visit to Les Agaves the marvellous Irish actor Gabriel Byrne sat nearby. I'd interviewed him years ago for The Wicked Lady. Should have taken him.

The actor forced upon me by the star, adorable Faye Dunaway, wasn't nearly as good. But that's history. Les Agaves is now.

The chef is Jacky Lelou. The food is reasonably priced, fresh and well presented. Another place to put on your list. Book in your own name, though, not mine. And if you can't make it, have the courtesy to call as early as possible. I have few virtues. However, contrary to rumour, I'm extremely respectful of restaurateurs. I'm never late. I always show up. In fact, I'm more than considerate and well mannered. I'm perfect.

Winner's letters

The fourth hit on a Google search for the meaning of "bon viveur" refers to you! I'm surprised after last week's tale of reckless consumption you only come fourth!
Jacqueline Grace, Lincolnshire

I note Mr Winner spends a lot of time overseas. What a waste of his palatial Holland Park home. I could house-sit for him while he's away. On his return I'm sure I could stay on. He'd hardly notice my presence among the 46 rooms.
Ben Axford, Cheltenham

I always thought your habit of leaving your shirt outside was a fashion statement. But looking at last week's photo I realise there's no room between your stomach and your trousers. I sympathise.
Dennis Pallis, Kent

You must stop perpetuating the old chestnut (Winner's Dinners, last week) that just because people are Indian they know all about Indian food. If this were true the English would all know about English food. Then there'd be no need for your column, or for you! You could be stuffed and mounted.
Colin Hide, Leicester

I was appalled Paul Merton wouldn't put your choice of snooty waiters into Room 101 when I saw you on TV. Merton obviously doesn't understand the feigning of superiority that only those who feel inadequate and resentful opt to project. When out for a hopefully pleasant evening we not only take a risk with the food and the ambience but also of having to suffer condescending staff and their emotional baggage.
Amanda McCarthy Hertfordshire

Now I know Mr Winner is abnormal. He told us last week that since 1999 his stomach has enlarged. Normal people's stomachs become smaller as they grow older.
Marcus Brooks, Glasgow

Faced with tarka dal last week in Rasoi Vineet Bhatia, you wrote "whatever that is!". Surely everyone knows tarka dal is just ordinary dal only 'otter! Geddit?
Ian Kell, Cumbria

Regarding the problem of what to do with your two remaining wine aerators, why not use them as "letter of the week" prizes? Mind you, judging from your readers' letters, I think some may have a different idea about what you could do with them!
Ruth Rose, Manchester