Stepping out of the shadow of their glorious neighbour
Published 24 August 2008 News Review 788th article
Michael with Franck Farneti and chef Frederic Garnier at Mas de Pierre (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)
I said to Danielle Roux of La Colombe d'Or hotel Saint Paul de Vence, "You're not a charity for aged Jews. Your prices are ridiculous. Put them up."
"Tell Francois," responded Danielle. He's husband and co-boss.
My suite cost £320 a night. Totally out of line with other hotel prices on the Cote d'Azure. At the Mas de Pierre, half a mile down a little lane from La Colombe, a suite costs £800. Over double La Colombe.
Personally I prefer La Colombe. It's a very old farmhouse where painters such as Picasso, Braque and many other world-famous artists, paid for their meals with paintings. The dining room is one of the most magical places ever. There's at least £50m worth of mind-boggling art hanging about (once stolen, later returned) and the room itself is of great age and character.
The dining room of MdeP (which opened in 2005) is elegant, modern and chi-chi, but I can understand people liking it.
The terrace of Colombe is magical. It looks over mountains and what were vineyards when I visited in 1947 - now there are villas and gardens. The terrace of MdeP has a reasonable view blighted by a modern extension. This upset Geraldine. "It looks like holiday flats," she observed. "There's no atmosphere. It's all very nouveau riche."
I learnt of MdeP when I saw their immaculate 1954 Rolls-Royce Phantom gliding by, their name on it in gold.
When I bought my 1966 Rolls Phantom from James Bond film producer Harry Saltzman he had his initials HS in gold leaf on all the doors. I either had to change my name to Hymie Slomowitz or respray the car.
The general manager of MdeP, Franck Farneti, is outstanding and hospitable. He showed us round. Very posh, immaculate suites. Pleasant super-rich public rooms. Totally unlike the rustic style of La Colombe. But I guess many people prefer polished modernity to the old style.
MdeP's mimosa (champagne and fresh orange juice) was excellent. The bread was good, Geraldine upped my grading to "delicious". She remained transfixed by the new buildings. "They should paint grapevines on them or distress them with holes in the walls," she announced. She then increased her bread rating to "incredible".
She liked all of her lunch. I started with a delicately superb fish soup followed by mushroom and red wine risotto. Absolutely sensational. My slices of duck were well done, not raw and ghastly as they usually are.
They didn't have a lemon sorbet, which was bizarre. So I had citrus, a mix of grapefruit, lemon and orange. It was so posh they had silver bowls covering your plates, which the waiters took off with a simultaneous flourish.
"Coming here is like visiting your rich cousins who've just made it," summarised Geraldine.
I dictated: "If this isn't a Michelin star meal I don't know what is." I hope my friend Jean-Luc Naret, head man at Michelin, reads this. The chef is Frederic Garnier. Nice person.
At La Colombe the food is simple but marvellous. The loup de mer is fantastic. They have old-fashioned cassata ice cream with pink, white and green layers and meringue around the top and sides. Not Michelin star stuff, but absolutely marvellous.
Now to Maurizio Saccani, whom I nominated as the world's worst letter writer. I saw him recently at the hotel Splendido in Portofino. One of my all-time favourites. Hundreds of you have gone there because of me. You all enjoyed it. Saccani, the managing director, deserves a lot of credit.
A reader who visited because of me was Mrs Froomberg from Golders Green. She was due to have her 40th birthday dinner at the Splendido. She arrived early morning in Nice, three hours away by car, only to find Wee Willie Walsh's British Airways had lost her luggage. "So I had my wedding anniversary lunch in the cafe at Nice airport," she rightly moaned.
I read they're still losing 10,000 bags a day at terminal 5. And it isn't even anywhere near fully operational. Willie Wonka Walsh calls that a success. No wonder BA profits are in freefall.
Another disaster is the shop at the Splendido. Marisa Fattori, who ran it brilliantly, was "let go" by Saccani. Now he's in charge. The salesgirl's desk fills up a ridiculous amount of space. The men's section is six tiny quarter circle shelves in the corner. The tacky Splendido T-shirts are printed, not embroidered.
The staff at their pool and pool restaurant wear T-shirts beautifully embroidered with a sea horse and the hotel name. I always buy T-shirts for my lovely PA Ruby and my chief assistant Dinah. They certainly don't want printed rubbish. So I got the Splendido staff ones for them.
To end, a joke: man says to a friend and his wife, "How was the funeral?" Friend replies, "All right, but the music wasn't much good. We were the only two dancing."
You wrote of the Park restaurant: "The spring roll was old, tired and tasted as if it had been deep-frozen for ever." It must remind poor Geraldine of you.
Martin Langley, Surrey
You appear rejuvenated. Have you had monkey gland injections? I was banking on you kicking the bucket after your serious illness, now my hopes are dashed and I'll have to endure your column for decades to come.
Robert Sandall, London
If you'd asked your servants they'd have told you not to throw your Russell Hobbs blender onto the garden rubbish. We mortals have to recycle at the local tip. Somewhere I'm sure you've never been.
Brendan Regan, Guildford
We should be told what other historic relics along with his leaking Russell Hobbs blender the nation will benefit from when it inherits Michael's house and garden dump.
Richard Griffith, Chiswick
I had a Russell Hobbs experience like yours, mine with their coffee maker. The real test of a company is how they respond when things go wrong. Russell Hobbs failed miserably. I'll never buy any of their products again.
Alistair Nicoll, Sheffield
How lucky you are to able to afford £6m of debt. I can only wish.
Dena Oakford, Kent