Picasso, Bricusse, me - all the greats have eaten here
Published 13 May 2012 News Review 981st article
At La Colombe d’Or, Geraldine and Michael stand behind Evie and Leslie Bricusse (Jill Arle)
My friend the songwriter Leslie Bricusse (we were at Cambridge together) has been showered with Academy awards for his music and lyrics. Leslie wrote, among other standards, Gonna Build a Mountain, Talk to the Animals, The Candy Man, If I Ruled the World and My Wife’s Gone Down the Plughole So I’m Taking Out Her Best Friend. Actually he didn’t write that last one: Cole Porter did.
As well as being a musical expert, Les is unbelievably knowledgeable about food and wine. He has a house in Los Angeles, so he knows all about LA restaurants. He had until recently a house in Acapulco, so he knows all about Mexican restaurants. He has a villa in the south of France, so he knows all about restaurants there and he has a luxury apartment overlooking the Thames, so he knows all about London restaurants too.
In fact, Leslie has so many residences he could single-handedly house the homeless of India. He’d love to do this but he’s afraid they might make a mess on his carpets.
Leslie’s greatest achievement was marrying the marvellous person and actress Yvonne Romain, who co-starred with Elvis Presley in Double Trouble. Starring with Elvis trumps all of Leslie’s achievements but he bears it bravely.
So when Geraldine and I were staying recently at the fabulous La Colombe d’Or in St-Paul-de-Vence, I said to Les: “Recommend me a restaurant I haven’t been to.”
Leslie produced a beautifully handwritten list of 10 local restaurants from which I chose Le Clos St-Pierre in nearby Le Rouret.
“It’s not grand; it’s very rustic,” Leslie explained as he drove us there. Very pleasant, though - beams, whitewash, simple. Catherine, wife of the chef, Daniel Ettlinger, ran the room. The menu was all in French - looked a bit poncy to me. But I was wrong. The food was unbelievably good. If you’re staying near Nice, find this place and go there.
Starter was some sort of salad with goat’s cheese. Fantastic. Then local rouget (red mullet) in a soup. The zinger was roast pintadeau, a young guinea fowl. On these little birds there’s normally no meat. They’re a nightmare. This was juicy, tender, as good as you’ll get. The dessert was something white and creamy, forget exactly what but I liked it. Even the cheese straws were fantastic. Jolly people, too.
On the same trip I was dismayed to find Chez Guy in Vence, best pizza in the world, seemed to have closed. We were recommended another restaurant, La Terrasse sur St-Paul. Worst pizza ever. Disgusting. Rum baba, obviously bought in, was lumps of turgid muck interspersed with blobs of cream squeezed from a plastic container. Only good thing was the view of St-Paul. Man cannot live by scenery alone.
The terrace of La Colombe d’Or, with its simple French cooking, is one of the great eating places of the world. Picasso, Braque, my Uncle Morrie, everyone’s been there. Picasso, Braque and other artists paid with their paintings, so La Colombe now has a collection worth zillions. For reasons I find deeply insulting, Uncle Morrie’s pictures are not evident.
Our photo shows Leslie and Evie Bricusse and Geraldine and me on the terrace of La Colombe. Looks lovely, doesn’t it? No one more beautiful than me.
PS: Never trust weather reports. All the ones on Google predicted rain every day in St-Paul-de-Vence for the 12 days of our stay. I was desperately looking at Portofino, Venice, Southend-on-Sea, but all looked like 24-hour rain. In fact, it was sunny every day in St-Paul. I have a tan to prove it.
I read about three-hour queues at Heathrow caused by lack of border staff. I don’t do public airports. At Blackbushe, a small flying club in Berkshire, I board a tiny Citation Mustang provided by Blink. I’ve never seen sight or sound of customs or immigration. But there’s a marvellous old-fashioned, upright sweet display. You turn it round and when you come to the bag of sweets you want, you put a £1 coin in the base and the bag drops out.
When I returned from Nice, my Bentley was at the steps of the plane. So were three border staff. Very charming. Took all of five seconds to check our passports. I wonder if they’ll be regular visitors now.
I made a boo-boo. Laurie Anders from Chiswick rightly upbraids me for leaving his name off a very good Hymie joke he sent in. “Please credit me, so my friends can see I have a sense of humour,” he asks. Laurie Anders? Funniest man alive. I thought everyone knew that.
From Don Roberts in Wirral:
Hymie decides to make a will. He calls out to his wife, Becky, who’s washing up in the kitchen.
"Darling,” he announces, "I'm going to leave everything to you."
"You always have," Becky replies.
When you hung out with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, why didn't you ask them to paint your portrait? A painting by either would now fetch more than enough to clear your hefty debt.
Michael Phillips, Solihull
At Quo Vadis you reported Geraldine was pleased with her liver. Can I suggest that she sticks to what's on the menu?
Norman Lowther, Dublin
In last week's photo Geraldine is holding on like crazy to handsome Eddie Hart, co-owner of the restaurant you slagged off. Is this an indication of news to come?
Lillian Simpson, Cheshire
At Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote in Manchester, we arrived at 6.30pm shortly after opening. The restaurant was almost empty. Tables were about 6in apart. We ordered well done steaks; they came underdone. There was difficulty speaking to our waitress, a Spanish student at Manchester University who had been waitressing for only a week. She dropped frites all over the floor, the table and me. The steak was cut into child-sized pieces and drowned in "special sauce", which was not special. After further disasters we left - never to return.
Mark Grove, Manchester