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A Lloyd Webber tip leaves me in the tastiest of soups

Published 15 September 2002
News Review
479th article

Swift service: Michael Winner with Jean Marie Gaby of Bar du Port

"That," said Andrew Lloyd Webber as we walked down the charming main street of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, "is the best value in town." He pointed to an unimposing place called the Bar du Port. I peered inside at a large ice cream "fridge", a few basic tables and a bar. Had anyone else recommended the place I'd have ignored them. But His Andrewship is a serious foodie. So I asked Patrick, the number two concierge at La Reserve de Beaulieu, to make a reservation.

Patrick kept checking that he'd booked the right place. He'd never been asked to book the Bar du Port before by any guest at La Reserve and I'm sure he's never been asked again. At the splendid La Reserve a club sandwich costs £38.50. At the Bar du Port for the same money you can have dinner for four.

I sat at a hardtop table on a hard chair, inside, rather than in the small garden area. A very French-looking man, the co-owner Jean Marie Gaby, came out with an apron and a moustache. There were fresh crisps on the table. He gave us some champagne and Coca-Cola. They didn't have the grilled sardines from the cheaper menu of £9.50 so I ordered fish soup and grilled scampi with salad. It was definitely a very tasty fish soup.

A large plate of scampi came immediately after. No waiting about here. Fresh napkins flew in by the minute. This didn't help much as I'd spilt a large amount of the orange fish soup on my shirt. The chocolate mousse finale was memorable.

St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and its neighbour Beaulieu are places time has passed by. Even in August you see very few people because there are very few hotels and no high-rise buildings. Just lovely gardens, billionaire villas, rocks, beaches and seafront pathways. Miss Lynton-Edwards had me do Pilates in the morning and walk at least a mile each evening to David Niven's old seafront residence, in a little square named after him.

I was sorry to note, on the way, an announcement that Poppa Chubby, due to perform in Beaulieu, was unavailable because of "an accident of the artiste". I like the idea of Poppa Chubby.

La Reserve remains superb, although I was served the worst plate of spaghetti I've ever had in my life. It was cold and soggy. The Bolognese sauce was abysmal. This from a two Michelin star restaurant. But most of the food was extremely good.

In the port of St Jean, Le Sloop, run by Regine and Alain Therlicocq, is the best in that row of restaurants, and Le Provencal, looking down on the boats, serves some of the greatest food ever. I had incredible turbot done with vanilla. I then took a sip and said: "Very good white wine." I was only marginally embarrassed when Miss Lynton-Edwards pointed out I'd drunk water, not my Puligny Montrachet 1998. Well, I can't be right all the time. Jean-Jacques Jouteau remains one of the most outstanding chefs on the coast. Le Provencal is historic.

Lord Lloyd-Webber was staying at La Voile d'Or, a splendid hotel overlooking the harbour of St Jean, excellently run by Jean Lorenzi. I got Gordon Ramsay a room there when he and his wife were with me in the south of France.

Gordon deserves a knighthood for his services to culinary art, but I'm reminded of a letter of unparalleled idiocy he wrote to this column. Gordon referred to my complaint that he'd destroyed the Claridge's dining room. It was superbly designed in the late 1920s by Basil Ionides. Architecture Illustrated wrote effusively about his marvellous etched glass and generally superior fittings. The room was listed grade H by English Heritage. It was one of Britain's best hotel interiors. I referred to Gordon's new restaurant in part of the old Claridge's dining room as "glamorous and excellently designed".

Gordon ended his letter sarcastically: "It has to be said there's nothing like a man who knows his own mind."

I do know my mind, Gordon. You destroyed the original Richard D'Oyly Cane-commissioned dining room, divided it up - and put something pleasant in its place. Pleasant is not historic. It's scandalous English Heritage allowed you to desecrate the original room. What you have now will certainly never be graded XXIII, let alone I or II.

Gordon has many talents. Letter writing is not among them. In the meantime, he's preserving the ghastly wood panelling at the Connaught. It's a pity he didn't get an axe and bash it. I think his Claridge's fare is considerably worse than what was there before. But I look forward to Gordon's Connaught menu. I never liked their food anyway.

Winner's letters

I wonder if you have ever taken advantage of the offers at Conran restaurants? At Miyabi, at the Great Eastern hotel, although we had very good Japanese food and service I arrived home to have a cheese and Marmite sandwich, a Bounty bar and a bag of tortilla chips. No, I am not Miss Piggy - my fighting weight is only 45 kilograms! It should have cost £15 for a two-course meal but with extras, such as rice and wine, it cost about £30 per head. Do they see us coming?
Myra Savin, Brentford

If great restaurants can spawn less grand, informal brethren, maybe Michael Winner should start subjecting them to reviews called Mike's Likes.
Michael Simpson Northumberland

My best friend Jackie Reynolds and I have eaten at Mr Chow in Knightsbridge at least once a week for almost 20 years now. The staff are wonderful, the ambience marvellous and the food absolutely delicious. Michael, I give your taste in Chinese restaurants 0 out of 10.
Simon Cowell, Holland Park

Noting Michael Winner's photograph at the Splendido in Portofino, I commented to an employee that he was a great fan of the hotel. He replied: "We have to work hard at it, though, such as suffocating any children who happen to be here." I took in the blissful quiet, and thought, good on you, Michael.
David Wishart, Brussels

I agree with you regarding Mr Chow, but not San Lorenzo. No doubt you get special treatment. On my very last visit, about a year ago, the service was okay but the bolito misto was, not for the first time, poor. Of the approximately 20p worth of meat contained, one piece was virtually inedible. Also, no doubt you have an account. Otherwise, with the no credit card policy, one has to carry a large amount of cash!
Donald Townshend West Kensington

Regarding Richard Bywaters's letter (September 1) about nappy changing in a restaurant, I noticed it was a man changing the nappy beside his table. Was this significant? I should also be grateful that the order was for seared scallops. It could have been pate.
John McLaughlin, Newton Abbot

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