Published 18 May 1997 Style Magazine 202nd article
Boxer rebellion: Michael Winner and Joker at the Michelin-starred Josy-Jo in the South of France (Vanessa Perry)
The Michelin star is coveted by every chef. Come the new guide each year, a few are delighted, most aggrieved. Why, for example, did Martin Hadden at the Room at the Halcyon not get one last time round? I would have starred him, but then I'm only a customer. In spite of that Michelin, throughout the world is the only guide I use.
I was extremely surprised to see in the most recent issue that two restaurants in the South of France coastal town of Cagnes-sur-Mer had recently been upped with a star each. For tea, I had partaken of the worst milkshake ever at the Cafe de la Plage, Juan-les-Pins. It was supposedly vanilla, but tasted thin and bitter. I needed something for dinner to cheer me up, so I went to Josy-Jo, recently annointed and hovering on the edge of the old, medieval quarter of Cagnes.
I was offered a tiny corner table that I ungraciously declined. This left Josy Bandecchi confused. I don't think she was used to tourists being difficult. She found me a round table for six, looking to the door of the farmhouse-style room. On the right was a large bar, behind which was a charcoal grill with a man continually grilling.
The raspberry juice that came with the champagne was not fresh. A Jane Fonda from Barbarella lookalike, circa 1966, entered with high boots, a very short miniskirt and deep cleavage. She was accompanied by what looked like a pit bull terrier. They went to a small square table.
From behind a wall at one side of our table, a hand with a meat cleaver chop-chopped. Vanessa, a vegetarian, thought this absolutely disgusting. We'd just been given out freebie starter - excellent fried zucchini flower - when a man came in holding a pink dog mat, with another man and two women in black trouser suits. A fairly elegant group. They sat at the table next to us and encouraged an enormous boxer dog to reside under their table. I admit to a degree of nervousness. Particularly when the dog stuck his head out a few inches from me. One of the girls said, "Come here, Sugar," and then, "Come here, Cushy," and he went back, what ever his name was.
At point, Vanessa received her calamari, which was not fried in batter, so she mistrusted it. It was moist and uncooked. I liked mine: she left hers. The people at the next table spoke German, French and English
The German said: "Look at that, isn't it a gorgeous piece of meat?"
"He's not referring to you, darlink," I said to Vanessa.
The dog reappeared to examine me, and we were told his name was Joker.
"Does he know you're famous?" asked a man at the table.
I offered no answer. At that point, Joker strained to get closer to the Fonda lookalike's bull terrier. I became increasingly uneasy. Vanessa looked at the slab and said: "I can't believe I've go to look at meat all night."
joker broke wind and was taken out, but not before I grabbed him for a souvenir photograph. The owner gave me his card: Klaus Pieper, Delux Meat Corp SA Trading and Barter, in Luxembourg.
I was given a very sharp knife for some very soft liver and Vanessa got a large daurade.
"I can't eat this fish," she said. "The meat is putting me off, I swear to God I can smell it."
I called over to Jo, husband of Josy. "Madame est vegetarian, est-il possible for the meat to be put the other side of the bar for 20 minutes?" I asked.
The chef, with a great clattering of knives, did so ungraciously. Then the dog sitting on the 1960s touring version of Jane Fonda started yapping like mad. "It's because they've moved the meat nearer to him," said Vanessa. Jane clutched the dog to her ample bosom and that seemed to shut it up.
For dessert, i had chocalate mousse - rather bitter, I thought. Vanessa had mousse au citron du pays. "It tastes like Marks & Spencer's mousse," she said. "I only eat that because my mum likes it."
A not unpleasant meal, but why they get a Michelin star for grilling, I do not know. The other recently anointed restaurant in Cagnes is La Reserve Loulou, an overbright bistro on the coast road with loud music, where grilling was all the rage, too. I wondered if the Michelin man had been a bit tipsy when he handed out his awards in Cagnes. Personally, I think Charlot 1er, which is next door to Loulou, beats them all by miles. but then, what do I know? I come from Willesden.
I was surprised to read Kirsten von Rogers's letter (April 27) castigating Harry's Bar in Venice for being "pompous, pretentious and patronising". I often travel alone and, like Michael Winner, make a beeline for Harry's whenever I am in the city. The cocktails are excellent, the staff genial, and the understated ambience a pleasure to be in. Anyone who, like Ms von Rogers, is looking for beer and twinkling lights must indeed go elsewhere - and long may that be the case.
Suzette Hill, Reading, Berks
I have read Michael Winner's reviews since he started and they make me laugh every Sunday. However, I can't believe that Clive Lucas (Letters, April 6) actually wants him as a guest in his home. I can think of nothing worse. Let him visit Mr Lucas. In fact, let him visit anyone, just as long as he stays away from me.
A Jones Irby, Merseyside
A friend and I recently ate at Kemps at the Pelham hotel, London, after it was recommended by a colleague. Before ordering, I politely asked the waiter if there was any pork in the chicken liver pate - not an unusual question. The waiter loudly conveyed my inquiry to the staff behind the bar, who greeted it with cackles of laughter. My dining companion and I both found this treatment deeply insulting, and would have walked out had we not been so tired and hungry. Admittedly, the food was good, but to be so publicly mocked left a bitter aftertaste.
Naomi Ruben, Harrow, Middx
Two weeks ago, Michael Winner told us he had invested £295 in a bottle of wine to accompany his lunch at Cliveden. I am intrigued: I am sure he has said that he hardly drinks, and Vanessa was apparently driving her whizzy Mazda MX5 that day. So who drank the wine? Was it that the kitchen staff had a special treat? Or did Mr Winner have the cork put back in the bottle so that he could take the remains home with him to drink at his leisure?
Diana Beveridge, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon