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A Provencal copycat that's in rather bad taste

Published 17 November 2002
News Review
488th article

The real La Chaumiere: Winner with the Coppini family and staff (Vanessa Perry)

In the south of France, on the Grande Corniche near Eze, is one of my favourite restaurants, La Chaumiere. It has a fantastic and delicious set menu. It's run by the Coppini family and others, all marvellously welcoming.

I'm indebted to the supreme restaurant critic Fay Maschler, who hated London's newish La Chaumiere for pointing out there have been two previous "versions" of the French original in London, both of which failed. The latest copycat in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, is totally horrible. Like the previous disasters, it's nothing to do with the one in France. Using their name is an insult.

A PR company, Luchford, sent me stuff about La Chaumiere stating: "Former head chef at La Chaumiere in France, Yvan Gaydon, along with his two Michelin star awarded menu, has arrived at the site of the former King's Head and Eight Bells Inn." La Chaumiere in France consists of Nando Coppini standing by an open fire grilling meat. Apparently, M Gaydon assisted him for a while.

How could Luchford announce Gaydon's "two Michelin star menu"? La Chaumiere never had even one star. My Mr Fraser wrote.

Kelly Luchford replied: "At Luchford we endeavour to ensure accuracy in all press material. In this case information was taken from an interview given by the client and produced externally of my agency with La Chaumiere having the final sign-off." Gibberish if I ever read it. Ms Luchford added they no longer represented La Chaumiere.

We asked M Gaydon to justify his "two Michelin star menu" announcement. "I wasn't the creator of a two-star Michelin menu. It's a misunderstanding," wrote M Gaydon.

So an untrue statement is issued by the PR people. They blame Gaydon. He dismisses it as "a mistake". La Chaumiere in London is the mistake. It's absolutely terrible.

I went incognito for the first time ever. I sat, back to the room, with David and Wendy. He's in business, she in TV. I'll list the atrocious food we were served - at the ridiculous set menu price of £45 a head - even though it pains me to recall it.

First, two baskets arrived with two boiled eggs and seven small tomatoes in each. This could be of no interest to normal people. We also got some mushrooms in a bitter sauce.

"They start off in France with ham and melon and an aubergine puree," said David. The waiter said: "I don't have melon." The ham was quite awful. Thick, tasteless, curling at the edges. Nothing like the ham you get in France.

After considerable time someone took my order for cote du boeuf, medium rare. Then Yvan Gaydon came over and said: "I hope you're having a good evening, Mr Michael Winner." So much for incognito.

We got a big basket of crudites, including radishes, carrots, celery and peppers. There was a dip which tasted like vinegar gone wrong. "Horrible sauce," said Geraldine. Fay Maschler thought it was based on inferior oil.

In France you get a big slice of wonderful country pate. Here a tiny sliver, enough to cover a cocktail biscuit, was put on the plate. It was so cold I guessed it came from the deep freeze. It tasted horrid. The salad was very sad indeed.

My sliced steak was tough, stringy and chewy. I chewed and chewed and it still refused to break down. I spat it out and gave up. Geraldine, looking very unhappy, said: "They don't have seasoning on the chicken skin like they have in France."

Wendy showed me a big chip out of her plate. "Is this bad?" she asked. M Gaydon came over and said: "How is everything, is it all right?" David, Who'd been complaining bitterly throughout the meal, said: "Very good."

"Coward," I retorted as M Gaydon left. "A diplomat to the end," said David.

We ordered a pineapple dessert. After a while the waiter said: "No pineapple. It's not good." I thought: "I've got perfectly good pineapple and melon at home. What's with this lot? Are they banned from the fruit stall?"

My chocolate mousse was excellent. The tarte aux pommes was burnt. Geraldine liked her creme brulee. The desserts were served all at different times.

As we left a waiter asked: "Did you enjoy the evening?" David replied: "Very nice wine." He was learning. I rate my meal worse than the one I suffered at the Stanneylands Hotel in Wilmslow. And that's saying something. In fact, it's saying a lot.

  • PS: I decline to print a photo of the perpetrators of the London La Chaumiere. I offer you the French family and staff in the kitchen of the real La Chaumiere, near Eze. Go there, it's great. Avoid the London version.

    Winner's letters

    Friends of ours from Chiswick recently had a traumatic trip to Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow where they were denied his fish and chips for lunch. This was because they had their four-month-old son in tow and were told his pram could not enter due to "fire regulations". Does this apply to wheelchairs, too, I wonder?
    Marie Plunkington-Smythe, Wetherby

    I was invited to the Ritz recently by a friend. We had the three-course set menu (£43) and drank house wine at £24 per bottle (quite good). The food too, was quite good, but there was far too little of it, with no vegetables as part of the main course. The service was friendly but far too slow. There were also far too many "rules". After our host was told to put his jacket back on (we were all too hot) the waiters agreed to open a window. But when other diners complained about the cold, it was closed. So we stewed.
    Vernon Barber, Essex

    It was disappointing to read (Winner's Letters, last week) that Nick Firkins, a teacher, does not tip. He is paid a relatively decent salary and seems to have forgotten that many restaurant staff, such as a nephew of mine, are paid only the minimum wage. A decent wage can only be derived from tips, which are liable to tax. A higher wage could be paid, but this would increase the menu price.
    Peter Salter, London

    Susan Altbach's kippers and bagels with smoked salmon sound wonderful (Winner's Letters, last week), but where does she get her schmaltz herrings? Haven't seen the real thing for years! By the way, if you ever pass Le Treport on the Normandy coast call in to the wonderful fish market.
    Rebecca Holliday, Chislehurst

    Your consensus about where Parmesan comes from (Winner's Dinners, last week) is absolutely right. The best comes from a village called Cavriago. As most of Emilia Romagna's cows were lost in the last war, a new breed was developed based on the Dutch Holstein. However, a small number of Razza Reggiano survived and have been brought back by Domenico Catellani, a farmer who produces possibly the best milk for the cheese.
    Maurice Hubert, Address withheld

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