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Come to the cabaret - if you're in no hurry

Published 19 June 2011
News Review
935th article

Michael outside the Auberge du Cep in Fleurie with Chantal Chagny (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

The ad agency owner Adam Kenwright, his marvellous New Zealand girlfriend, Hymie (aka Sarah), Geraldine et moi travelled far from our hotel, Chateau de Bagnols, so I could revisit Auberge du Cep, a restaurant in Fleurie.

Chantal Chagny, the owner, has had it and cooked there for 42 years. When I first went, her daughter Helene ran front of house. "She married a chef, stupidly," explained Chantal. "Never marry a chef because they're all of bad temperament."

Pleasant room, flowered curtains, tapestries, plants everywhere - but we waited 15 minutes and no one even offered us a drink. Geraldine was translating the menu item by item.

Adam said, "It's like the Antiques Roadshow." He got up, exasperated, to try to order a drink, going through praying motions with Chantal.

When he came back I said, "Did you achieve anything, Adam?" He said, "She's coming. She's very happy." In fact she nearly threw him out.

Chantal, passing by, said, "I have one table before you for the order; they have been here half an hour."

I asked, "You got any wine?", but Chantal had gone.

Geraldine brought her own gluten-free biscuits. "Are they in your pocket?" I asked. Geraldine said yes. "Then share the biscuits out," I requested. "At least we'll get something to eat." Geraldine declined, continued her translating. "Thank God it's a big menu," I remarked. "It'll fill the time. We should have brought sandwiches."

Chantal said, "Ice and lemon is ordered and I come back to you." Then she sailed off. After 35 minutes ice and lemon appeared on the table, plus some Vittel. I'd ordered Evian. The waiter went to get it. Chantal said, "I'm here. You've got the water." Then she went away.

When she returned I said, "Darling, I thought we'd never see you again."

Chantal said, "In this village life is like that." Then she suggested, "Try the frog's legs, a pigeon - a little one."

"How little?" I asked. "As it should be," said Chantal. Adam ordered spring vegetables with crayfish, followed by spring lamb.

Geraldine switched to the lamb. Then we got some freebies. "Fantastic," I said, reaching out for toasted, home-made sausage sandwiches. They were historic. We got a carafe of the local beaujolais.

I asked Chantal, "Where's your husband?" "I don't have a husband," she replied. "Was your daughter a virgin birth?" I asked.

"No. I was married to a Welshman 50 years ago; I didn't survive," said Chantal. Then she left.

I said, "We'll go and see the church because Adam's meal will take an hour. In fact we could go to two or three churches."

"And a mass," added Sarah/Hymie.

I noticed we were the only table without a bread basket. Eventually I got roasted frog's legs with parsley, garlic and spring salad.

"You see that white-haired lady in the corner," I observed. "She came here when she was 16."

Chantal, who's immensely amusing and a real tartar, gave us a dessert menu. Adam chose a flambe dish, which Chantal had recommended. She said, "No one else must have that dish," and walked off. The rest of us hadn't even ordered.

Chantal went to the table next to us and then across the room to another table while we waited to finish our dessert order. When she returned I said, "I thought you'd left me for ever."

"Be careful," warned Chantal.

I had oeufs a la neige - enormous portion, very good.

Le Cep has one Michelin star. On the internet a customer is quoted: "Un service lamentable." True, but great cabaret.

  • It drives me nuts when people say one thing, do another. I don't go to restaurants. I go to tables. I asked Richard Irmiger, assistant manager of the superb Bibendum, for my usual corner table. He assured me I'd have it.

    Then - shock, horror - I was shown somewhere else. Irmiger said Michael Hamlyn always had that table. Michael, an old friend, is co-owner of Bibendum.

    "Did you tell him you'd promised the table to me?" I asked.

    "Yes," replied Irmiger.

    "And he refused to go elsewhere?" "Yes," replied Irmiger. When Michael Hamlyn appeared, he said: "I'd no idea you were coming. Of course you could have kept this table."

    At the first night of Shrek, a jolly new musical, was Dame Judi Dench. On another theatre visit I'd bought Judi a spam sandwich. This time Judi came at the end of the intermission with a plastic cup of champagne for me. Went well with my ice cream. She's a delight as actress and person.

    As long as you don't expect Hamlet, see Shrek. Great dancing, first-rate performances, colourful and funny.

  • From a reader, Frank Holden: Hymie goes to the doctor, says, "Nobody listens to me." The doctor shouts out, "Next!" . . . Doctor calls Hymie, says, "Your cheque came back." Hymie responds, "So did my arthritis."

    Michael's missives

    You wrote: "Nicholas looked smart. I looked strange." True. Striped shirt and check trousers. Tell me the wattage and I'll send a replacement bulb for the one obviously gone in your dressing room.
    Mary Pentony, Dublin

    If £18m isn't "worth getting out of bed for" I'll pick up the money for you if you'd do the nation a favour. Save the dishevelled pyjama look for the confines of your own mansion.
    Geoff Greensmith, Surrey

    I think your one-man shows are an excellent idea. They should help address your issues of low self-esteem.
    Nic Peeling, Worcestershire

    We holiday in Mull to enjoy the eagles, otters and whales. Sadly, I missed the rarest of all wildlife - a great crested Winner, feeding on the freshest of sea food at our favourite spot, the Bellachroy Inn.
    Natalie Mitchell, Norwich

    In the Winner's Dinners photos I wonder if the person on whose shoulders Michael rests his hand grasps the nature of their terrible fate: that they will be taken out in front of the premises and summarily shot before publication of the verdict.
    Brian Breathnach, Dublin

    No restaurant should have tables for more than two people. Otherwise it invites cacophony. I went into a singles bar but left when I discovered I was the only person there.
    Barrington Black, London

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk