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A Genius in the gents - and the chef's not bad either

Published 22 May 2005
News Review
620th article

From left: Filippo Donato, Danielle Roux and Michael Winner (Paola Lombard)

Look very carefully, please, at our excellent photo, taken with unbelievable skill by the beautiful Paola Lombard.

If the man on the left (he's restaurant manager of the fabulous Colombe d'Or in St Paul de Vence) recommends a restaurant to you, tell him - politely, of course to take a running jump.

His name is Filippo Donato. Charming fellow. He suggested I visit La Capanna da Baci over the border in Italy in a most amazing and not messed-about medieval hill village called Apricale. It was the only really terrible Italian restaurant I've ever eaten at.

The lady in the centre is Danielle Roux, who runs La Colombe with her husband, Francois. It used to be an old farmhouse inn and the great impressionist painters ate there. Picasso was a regular. They paid for meals by leaving paintings. So it's now littered with incredible, multi-million-pound masterpieces.

The man on the right of the photo is another multi-million-pound masterpiece who may be known to you. If he comes your way, ignore him.

Last year I visited Apricale and hated the restaurant. Danielle has a studio there. She paints. She said: "Why didn't you ask me?" "Because you weren't around," I replied. "Go to Apricale da Delio," said Danielle.

So, recently, I did. On the scenic route, meaning the coast road, which takes in the hideous tower blocks of Monte Carlo. It's a long drive from La Colombe.

Including traffic jams, 2 hours 35 minutes to be exact. Going back on the motorway it was 1½ hours. Both trips were worth it.

Unfortunately Paola wasn't mad about Apricale. She thought the dark, narrow, cobbled streets, surrounded by ancient walls were spooky. "I expect to meet Jack the Ripper any moment," she advised.

Apricale da Delio is at the start of the steep climb to the main square of Apricale. Delio Viale cooks in the morning and then leaves it to his wife, Lella, while he runs front of house. The restaurant is not a thing of beauty, but one wall is glass looking onto staggering hills, valleys and old buildings, so it's pleasant.

The little bread roll was delivered hot. It was amazing. I've never had better. Paola said it had onions in it.

Then they brought some olive oil, which I should have had with the roll, but I'd finished it. So I had another. I don't normally like olive oil but this was sensational.

Paola started with asparagus and potato lasagne. I tasted it and found it exceptionally good. Paola said: "My mum puts more cheese in the ravioli with spinach, that gives it more flavour." I can't remember who was eating ravioli.

I guess she was.

My notes are peculiar - which is fairly normal. I dictated I was having "stuffed rabbit breast with maro (typical local sauce)" to start and later referred to eating "slices of lamb with a stuffing in the middle".

I'd call not knowing what I'm eating immensely inept. Lamb or rabbit, who cares? It tasted terrific!

I can say, with almost certainty, that my main course was "young goat stewed with white beans from Pigna". That was very good, too. I can also tell you, for sure, that the cistern in the toilet was labelled "Genius". I may not know what I'm eating, but I'm an expert on toilets.

Paola said of her chocolate pudding: "Nice, not as good as the Ivy, but good." I'm upset to see the Ivy and associated restaurants are for sale again. The Ivy has retained its standard superbly. But ownership changes are always risky. Then I met the probable buyer and felt happier.

There was confusion when I got (or rather didn't get) my bill from the Hoste Arms in Norfolk, the subject of last week's dissertation. They only sent me my Sunday lunch details, nothing else. They apologised and, when asked, later sent me the real bill. By which time I was so overexcited - and fed up! - I read it as £396 a night. Actually my bizarre little suite, still expensive for a pub, was £396 for two nights. I don't recommend it at that price either.

PS: Last weekend I was in Beaulieu where my friend Philip Green put me up in a real suite, my usual one, at the truly superb La Reserve de Beaulieu. It costs more than the Hoste Arms, but it's worth it.

Thus accommodation fortified I was able to enjoy, even more, the bar mitzvah of Philip's son Brandon.

What a historic "do". After Friday dinner Andrea Bocelli sang for us. At Saturday dinner Beyonce and her Destiny's Child singers, dancers and band entertained and at Sunday lunch Jamie Cullum sang with his trio. If I recover I may tell you about the food another day.

Winner's letters

You told us last week you paid £237.30 for a bottle of wine for Sunday lunch. You obscene, extravagant wastrel! Some people don't earn that much in a week. PS What did it taste like?
John and Judith Booth Merseyside

I'm glad to see you've not totally abandoned the fruit of the grape. While a Montrachet in red does exist with Chassagne Montrachet or Puligny Montrachet it is of course much better known as an excellent white. It must have been an odd wine list that enabled you to make the mistake. Either that or you're out of practice, or specs are needed.
Glenda Brett-Holt, Malta

You said last week that Paola asked for tea bags, but not in hot water because she'd brought her own. How does she transport hot water to the breakfast table? Is it very special water? Please enlighten me.
Brenda Ross, Surrey

Can you confirm my theory that your new companion is not actually real? Rather Paola is a pet name for the grotesque female character in your recent batch of horror movies sponsored by some insurance company? Presumably this provides a good excuse for you to order two meals at a time.
Kevin Ross, Warwickshire

I was staggered to read last week that you didn't know Batard-Montrachet, one of the greatest Burgundies, is a white wine. But now it has dawned upon me. You don't really need to know about food and wine. You write about style and not substance.
Professor Leon Fine, London

Geoff Paver (Winner's Letters, last week) asked when does the great man get holidays? The real question should be: when does Michael work? Chauffeured Bentleys, young and beautiful female companions, hotels at hundreds of pounds a night, expensive wine, private jets and helicopters - all that and he doesn't quite know how to operate his tape recorder!
Leo Armitage, Sunderland

Leafing through my local free newspaper I spotted this advertisement: "Michael Winner lookalike seeks lady companion in her 50s. Crawley area." I don't have a clue what your reaction might be!
Michael Pickett, West Sussex

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