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Overpriced, overbuilt . . . but I'm still under its spell

Published 12 September 2010
News Review
895th article

Michael at Les Terraillers with, from left, Chantal, Pierre and Michael Fulci (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

Situated at the base of a high-rise block in Monte Carlo is the fashionable Avenue 31. It's the most ghastly place - the restaurant and the principality. An hour here equals five weeks in Balham. Overbuilt, with tunnels under endless construction so more tax-evader apartment blocks can go up. Nothing like the villa-filled 19th-century delight I used to visit.

My main course - blackened cod with sauce - was horrific. The fish was stale-tasting, overcooked, with not enough sauce. The blackened cod in e&o in Notting Hill is first rate for a tenth of the price.

A British billionaire told me, "I like Avenue 31. Mind you, last time I went my fish was overcooked." Figure that out.

The only place in Monaco that retains any charm is the grand Hotel de Paris, which has a lovely back-garden restaurant, the Cote Jardin. I lunched with a local, Willy de Bruyn, the only amusing Belgian in the world.

The top-floor Grill Room has great views of the bay and the royal palace. The general manager, Luca Allegri, hasn't mirrored the back wall of the terrace, so guests facing that could be in the YMCA. Last year he assured me he would. How long can it take to stick mirrors to a wall so guests facing it can see the view and other diners? Alain Ducasse's superb Louis XV, with a dining terrace at raised ground level, overlooks the square.

Down the coast at La Reserve de Beaulieu the new chef, Olivier Samson, is excellent, the prices stratospheric. A small starter of spiny lobster is €105 (£94). The place was full of gross, guttural Russians with screaming children. It cost me £55,000 for 20 nights including grotesque pool service.

Gerard, pool man par non-excellence, watched inactive as Geraldine lugged heavy umbrellas to shade our seats. One morning she got so exasperated she said, "I'm going."

The manager, Estelle Wicky, assured us Gerard was under control and then left. Things continued as badly as ever. He even grossly insulted Geraldine's nine-year-old granddaughter.

"What a different atmosphere," commented Geraldine on his day off, when an efficient, charming Moroccan, Youssef Belghiti, took over. Pity the pool's so disastrous, because the owner, Jean-Claude Delion, is a great hotelier.

A couple of miles east of La Reserve in Eze-sur-Mer is Cap Estel, the most beautiful hotel imaginable. Never seen anything like it. Only 18 rooms or suites. The two-bedroom suite with terraces, a kitchen and the most enormous living-dining room is mind-blowing. At around £6,100 a night it should be. "I presume that includes continental breakfast?" I asked the charming manager.

"No," Bernard Apthorp replied. "But we could discuss it."

Tetou in Golfe-Juan offers the best bouillabaisse ever, but so expensive. It takes only cash. When I go I have to bring money I couldn't pay the previous time.

In the hills above Eze the Hostellerie Jerome run by Bruno and Marion Cirino remains one of the best restaurants in the world.

In Biot, one of many beautifully preserved medieval hilltop villages, is Les Terraillers. The brochure says: "Chantal, Pierre and Michael Fulci are pleased to receive you in the suggestive surroundings of a genuine 16th-century pottery workshop to let you enjoy a very special moment." The three-course set lunch is a cheap £19. Geraldine had risotto while I had a vegetable tart. Then duck followed by almond and chocolate mousse.

Service was slow. "Go in the kitchen and ask about my tart," I said to Geraldine.

"No, I won't," she responded. "We're supposed to be sitting here and waxing lyrical. Loving the place we're in. There's a soul here. You can feel it."

"You've had a very long time to feel it," I remarked. "We came in at 12.45. It's now 1.35 and I haven't even got my starter." Later I said, "They could find me here in 50 years' time. I'll just be a skeleton in the corner waiting for my main course." All this was a bit naughty, because the food was terrific. I recommend it. Take a lot of conversation with you to fill the time.

This area is lovely. A lot of the rest is overbuilt and degraded since I first came to the Cote d'Azur in 1947. But the south of France is still magical. Sell the house, the children and the dog. Go there.

  • Hymie is on safari. He wanders from the group and comes across a distressed young bull elephant with one leg in the air.

    Hymie approaches cautiously and finds a large piece of wood embedded in the elephant's foot. Hymie takes out his Swiss Army knife and carefully prises the wood out. The elephant raises and lowers his leg, looks lovingly at Hymie, extends his trunk and kisses him on the cheek, then walks away.

    Twenty years later Hymie is at the Chicago zoo. A large bull elephant stares at Hymie. It lifts its leg up and down, trumpets loudly and extends its trunk as if to kiss him. A magical moment.

    Hymie summons his courage and walks into the enclosure. He goes up to the elephant, which twirls its trunk around Hymie, slams him against the wall and kills him.

    Probably wasn't the same elephant.

    Michael's missives

    I note that your ever-burgeoning overdraft has now reached £9m. You can take consolation from the fact that you'll soon have the one thing money can't buy. Poverty.
    Harry Gilbert, Darlington

    The cat's out of the bag! You mentioned that Princess Margaret's apartment resembled the dole office in Plaistow. So that's where you go every week to get your tip money. Don't they have a dole office in Holland Park?
    Charles Gordon, Wolverhampton

    So you talk to yourself for hours? And you're only 74. These are early signs and can be treated.
    Don Roberts, Cheshire

    I'm the secretary at a primary school 20 miles north of London with fabulous views over the River Lea. Our hall is free on October 30. We can rent it to you for £20 an hour for your birthday. If you're good I'll get the school cook to provide canapes at £1.90 a head, the price of a school dinner. Shouldn't increase your deficit too much.
    Marcia Yates, Hertfordshire

    We wrote over seven weeks ago to Gordon Ramsay's company, asking for a table for two to celebrate our wedding anniversary on or shortly after the announced October 12 opening of the Savoy Grill. No response. Perhaps Mr Ramsay is too busy cavorting with the Beckhams in LA to bother about his UK business. Could you help?
    Judy and Stanley De Haan, Kent

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