Dining elite robbed at gunpoint

RIVIERA restaurant owners fear a spate of terrorist-type attacks after an armed robbery at one of the favourite eateries of the rich and famous near Cannes.

For 25 years the Ferme de Mougins has been the favourite haunt of such celebrities as Roger Moore, Joan Collins, Adnan Khashoggi, the King and Queen of Belgium, the Duchess of York and Paloma Picasso.

Originally a sheep farm, it stands in two acres of olive groves and lush parkland at the entrance to the picture-postcard village of Mougins.

On balmy summer nights the diners love to sit on the shady colonial- style terraces, under huge umbrellas, eating provencale dishes and listening to the cigales. These punters are happy to spend 800 francs (pounds 80) each for dinner, delighted to discover the rare wines in the cellars of the owner, Henri Sauvanet.

But on Monday night fear and terror hit the tranquil hostelry (three knives and forks in Guide Michelin), when four armed and hooded bandits stormed the heavy iron gates of La Ferme, having badly beaten, bound and gagged the car attendant. Yannick Maurette-Fleury, a Parisian journalist on holiday with his family in the South of France, said the attack took place at 11pm.

"We were just finishing dinner with a fine old brandy when the hooded raiders struck, yelling `Nobody move!' They grabbed the maitre d'hotel by the collar and thrust a pistol at his head. We realised they meant business".

Mr Maurette-Fleury said the 80 diners, including two pregnant women, had no alternative but to do as they were ordered and prostrate themselves on the ancient flagstones.

The traumatised diners were instructed to remove their jewels and leave cash and credit cards in front of them. The biggest haul came from a man celebrating his 75th birthday. His pockets were stuffed with cash: with a trophy blonde by his side, he was about to head off to the casino on La Croisette, in Cannes, for a post-prandial flutter.

The robbers, having swept up their haul, estimated at 200,000 francs, beat a hasty retreat.

The shocked diners, paralysed with fear, remained spread-eagled on the floor, too frightened to move, long after the bandits had made their escape in a stolen Peugeot 309.

Now Riviera restaurant owners fear a spate of terrorist-type attacks similar to that at Le Ferme de Mougins. "This is not the first time it's happened at Le Ferme but they usually manage to keep it quiet," said Jean- Paul Battaglia, owner of the Feu Follet Restaurant, which is popular with British vacationers.

"The South of France in summer has always been a major attraction for thieves. We expect this to happen as surely as we expect the 14th of July."

Mr Battaglia is not worried about clients being too frightened to dine out. "Some will cancel because they are nervous; others will come hoping for a bit of excitement."