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Best meal ever for £13 (car hire not included)

Published 3 May 2009
News Review
824th article

Michael at Le Florian, Bouyon, France, with the Lorenzo family, who own it (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

I'm very adventurous. When abroad, I don't stick to tourist centres: I get a road map and drive on the smallest roads, normally coloured white. There I see the true countryside, villages unspoilt by cranes, uprising apartment blocks, fast-food outlets, supermarkets and all the dross of modern life. I was staying at the magical La Colombe d'Or in St-Paul de Vence. Magical except for screaming children round the pool. They should be bound and gagged. I'd applaud.

The sun wasn't shining, so we got into a rented Mini Cooper S Convertible, roof down, and set off for places unknown. The mountains behind the sea of the Cote d'Azur are staggering. Great rocks, trees, goats, little medieval villages. A thing of beauty. Like me. At lunchtime we arrived at Bezaudun-les-Alpes. A woman leaning from her window told Geraldine (she speaks French) we'd have to travel to Bouyon to find a restaurant. So I took a few photos of my adorable fiancée in rustic locations, then to Bouyon. A ghost city. Nobody there.

The hotel La Coutouniere exhibited the word "Restaurant" in big letters. A menu offered salade de fruits de mer, risotto with mushrooms and truffles, duck in orange. So what? The place was shut. The restaurant L'Auberge de Bouyon was closed too. Facing us, apparently open, was a dreary concrete edifice set among the ancient buildings. A clumsy sign read: Bar Tabac Le Florian.

"This'll be a disaster," I muttered to Geraldine. The interior wouldn't make Exchange & Mart, let alone Design World. A bar, tiled floor, tables, a large television showing the Discovery Channel. I chose a table but the owner, Laurent Lorenzo, told me the head of the village sat there. So I went one table forward, nice view of mountains, medieval town and the bar, where his wife, Laurence (yes, that's it: Laurent and Laurence), was working. To confuse matters further, the wife and mother are both called Laurence. "It's typically nicoise," explained Laurence the wife.

The village chief (very young) had entered and was eating cannelloni cooked in the kitchen by Laurence, mother of Laurent, mother-in-law of Laurence. I hope you're writing all this down.

Let's cut to the chase. The food was absolutely fantastic. Even the tap water, served in a carafe, was incredible. Good as the best of bottled. The bread, baked that day in the local (closed) hotel, was historic. The minced meat in the cannelloni was ham and beef with thyme and spinach. The pasta was perfect. The salad with it totally fresh. I don't normally like tiramisu but theirs was incredible. Geraldine is a world expert on creme brulee but not on men. If she were, she wouldn't be with me. She pronounced the brulee as being: "Oooh." I think that's good.

The co-chef is Laurence the mother's hubby, Auguste. On the way to take our photo I noticed profiteroles being served. I returned to have one. Sheer perfection. Not hard as nails like the ones at Sandy Lane served with great pomposity by their dreadful chef Grant MacPherson. Thought I'd forgotten him, didn't you? Geraldine also declared the coffee to be utterly superb. The bill was €28.80, less than £13 each. If that ain't a bargain, what is?

  • I was recently in the Central Criminal Court. No, not in the dock, stupid. Geraldine and I were at a lunch for the judges hosted by the City of London sheriff, a charming Scot named George Gillon. As they had limited time before going back to the bench, I guessed the service would be speedy. It was. There were 12 judges and assorted justices of the peace. Very intellectual legal chat. Sadly, no sensitive or sensational revelations. As a semi-trained lawyer I greatly enjoyed their company. What surprised me was the quality of the food provided by court caterers, who dish it out for judges, barristers, juries, witnesses, all who can't leave the building for long. It was extremely good.

    I was invited to watch a trial but declined as I'd just been a witness for Arrigo (Harry's Bar) Cipriani in another court. It was Orient-Express, owner of the Cipriani hotel, in Venice, suing to stop the name Cipriani being used on restaurants and produce owned by Arrigo and his son. Arrigo lost. What do you expect if you call me as a witness?

  • The truest saying is: "No good turn goes unpunished." I've just suffered an example. A friend for whom I've called countless hotels to have him upgraded free from room to suite and done many other great (I do mean great) personal favours was publicising a West End show. He personally arranged first-night seats for Geraldine and me. They were the worst seats I've ever been offered in 68 years of theatregoing. I binned them.

    On top (or bottom) of that, the play's producer e-mailed me to say they were wonderful seats as John Major was just behind me. I never realised John Major was the tooth fairy of theatre seats. That his mere presence changed rubbish into quality. He couldn't do much as prime minister (though I like him personally), let alone transform theatre seats. What I only have to put up with.

    Michael's missives

    I scoured the Rich List. No Michael Winner? Who's Madoff with your money?
    Don Roberts, Cheshire

    As you're £6m in debt you might like to hear of an absolute bargain to be found in Morrisons supermarket. Your staff will tell you what a supermarket is. Superb liver and onions with mash and peas for a mere £4.09. It's near historic.
    John Stoker, Gwynedd

    Re your remarks about Selina, to paraphrase Sir Winston: "Tomorrow, sir, Ms Scott will (still) be attractive."
    Bharat Jashanmal, Gloucestershire

    I was interested in your poor opinion of the Bombay Brasserie refurbishment. When I went for my wife's birthday I thought it had lost its elegance, the service was slow, the food portions small and the prices excessive.
    Adrian Johnson, London

    Please refrain from peevishly tooting your horn when the hapless lackeys at the River Cafe fail to raise the barrier quickly enough for your liking. It's in a conservation area and needs to maintain good relations with the locals. It would be a pity if it had to close, especially as you seem to lunch there every other Saturday.
    Hamish Parker, London

    At the Leaping Hare in Wyken Vineyards, Suffolk, we requested English mustard and were told the owner wouldn't stock it as it might contaminate the cooking!
    Philip Arnold, Suffolk

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