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The shock of the new - I quite enjoyed it

While visiting Italy and France, Michael breaks his habit of always going to the same places and is pleasantly surprised - three times, no less

Published 4 December 2011
News Review
959th article

Evie and Leslie Bricusse with Geraldine at Alain Llorca (Arnold Crust)

I'm a creature of habit. I go to the same places again and again. Both in England and abroad. Whenever I step out of this limited number of chosen sites I'm invariably disappointed. When people say to me, "Have you been anywhere new?", my answer is: "Why should I?" In the south of France, one of my regular pit stops, I go to hotels La Colombe d'Or and La Reserve de Beaulieu; restaurants Tetou in Golfe-Juan, La Petite Maison in Nice, the Grill room of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, the Hostellerie Jerome in La Turbie, and La Chaumiere on a hill. Don't ask which hill. A hill is a hill. Or it could be a mountain. I wasn't carrying a ruler.

Not up a mountain but certainly up a hill is Alain Llorca, a restaurant just below the fantastic walled medieval town of Saint-Paul de Vence. This used to be called the Diamant Rose and was one of the worst restaurants in the history of the world. M Llorca was chef at the Moulin de Mougins, a famous place not far away. Now he's opened on his own. Nice room, great exterior terrace looking up to Saint-Paul de Vence.

As often happens when I enter a restaurant, the chef wouldn't let me order. M Llorca dictated the meal for me, Geraldine and Evie and Leslie Bricusse. He was at Cambridge with me, made multi-millions and has so many houses scattered over the world, he could accommodate the homeless of India and still leave room for Jackie Collins. Leslie has two Academy awards for lyrics and/or music and/or crochet work. His wife, Evie, beats all this: under her stage name, Yvonne Romaine, she starred with Elvis Presley in Double Trouble.

First came summer truffle risotto. A masterpiece. Then roasted sea bass served with squid, figs and polenta. Then - yes, it went on - roasted pigeon with warm foie gras, ceps and black olives. Dessert was red fruits in a meringue with white chocolate and white chocolate sauce. Historic. A very good meal.

  • PS: Leslie was a lyricist on my favourite song, My Old Man's a Dustman. Beats two Oscars, but certainly doesn't beat starring with Elvis.

  • PPS: Hope you appreciate that I stayed out of the photo.

  • The second new place was Ristorante Byblos in Ospedaletti on the Italian Riviera. Geraldine and her friend Rossie were shopping in San Remo. I had coffee with her husband, Adrian. We prayed they didn't spend too much. I refer to Adrian and Rossie Alan, whose classy Mayfair antique shop, Adrian Alan, sells furniture at prices for which you could buy three huge houses, 60 miles of Miami beach front and 890,000 packets of crisps.

    The Byblos, right on the sea, gave me incredible juicy shrimps; light and fresh fried calamari, not the rubber ones you get in London; lobster spaghetti (superb); and a millefeuille that was mushy and awful.

    The third new restaurant was recommended by a reader. It's a cheap and cheerful place on the Boulevard General Leclerc in Beaulieu, called Le Catalan. Terrific pizzas. I had a pizza Ho-Ho. Don't ask what was in it or on it. Just let me assure you it was pizza-perfect.

    Richard Caring bravely asked me to the opening of his new, beautifully designed steak restaurant, 34, just off Grosvenor Square. I didn't know whether to ogle the steaks - I had a very good wagu sirloin - or the fellow invitees. What a posh lot. I was obviously there by mistake. There was Tracey Emin. Lord this, Lady that, Duke of this, King of that. This will rival the nearby steak place Cut, in the Dorchester Collection's boutique hotel 45 Park Lane.

    I like Cut but have stopped going because the restaurant manager is so unwelcoming. Luckily the hotel general manager, Marie-Laure Akdag, is charm itself, warm and wonderful.

    Richard's place is less of an "event" than Wolfgang Puck's Cut. Be interesting to see how the two co-exist. My bets are firmly on Caring.

  • Still time to call Sparkle Direct aka the Sunday Times Bookshop to get my new tome, Tales I Never Told!, for £13.99 versus the retail price of £16.99. Phone fairy queen Kelly on 0845 271 2135. Tell her what you'd like me to say; I write it on a white sticker and draw a cartoon.

    The Daily Telegraph said: "The book gallops along, borne by Winner's lusty feuding."

    Or come to Fortnum & Mason, first floor this Thursday, where I'll meet you and sign anything but a cheque. It's a marvellous Christmas gift, birthday gift, divorce gift or peace offering to your neighbour to whom you haven't spoken for 15 years.

  • From George Deeth in Warwick: Hymie is sitting in a cafe, muttering, "Eighty-nine times, 89 times but never again."

    His friend Moishe comes in and overhears this. "What's up, old friend?" asks Moishe.

    "Eighty-nine times I invite Michael Winner to dinner. Eighty-nine times," says Hymie.

    "You've given dinner to Michael Winner 89 times?" says Moishe. "That's very generous of you."

    "No," explains Hymie. "Eighty-nine times I invite him."

    "Then what's wrong?" asks Moishe.

    "Last week he turned up," says Hymie. "Never again."

    Michael's missives

    I was the chap who collapsed at your Wilton's Music Hall show. I can confirm my condition was not caused by your name-dropping, I was definitely not dead and I recovered sufficiently to enjoy a curry later that evening. The staff at Wilton's were extremely helpful. I was much enjoying the event and look forward to surviving a complete performance soon.
    Robert Silverman, Essex

    In last week's photo you appear to be shaking hands goodbye with Geraldine. Surely she's not fed up with you already?
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    What are you doing keeping company with such an old reprobate? No, not you, Michael. I'm speaking to Lord Archer.
    Darren Desbrow, Kircudbrightshire

    I'm a crown court criminal hack, but even I spotted a glaring inconsistency in your Rib Room review. You said the treacle tart tasted of nothing, yet you ate watermelon to get rid of the taste. How am I meant to believe anything you write?
    Andrew Oliver, Norwich

    Are you sure you had a marbled steak at the Rib Room? You probably ended up with a fillet as you've been losing your marbles for years.
    Nick Jones, Provence, France

    I see you were hospitalised again because of your love of steak tartare. How about a new TV show: Michael Winner's Dining Scars?
    Nick Flanagan, Sheffield

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk