Travel: The French tourism industry threw a party in London, but most of the guests, and even the chefs, were from across the Channel - of course

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The Independent Travel
Just like any other industry, the travel business is full of people who know about how to wine and dine each other. Tourist boards know how to entertain tour operators, tour operators know how to entertain travel agents, and everybody knows how to entertain journalists.

Representatives of the French travel industry, however, as I have just discovered, mainly know about one thing. They know how to entertain themselves.

Good on them, I say. The tourist boards of Burgundy and Champagne Ardenne chose a couple of days ago to celebrate the launch of their latest drive to encourage British tourism to their respective regions by holding lunch for 60 at the Ritz in Piccadilly.

I went along in anticipation of the usual thing - PRs cunningly connecting journalists to alcohol drip-feeds and all the rest of it. But no. The French hosts, it turned out - many of whom had crossed the Channel specially for the occasion - outnumbered their British guests by an overwhelming majority.

An event which one could only suppose was being spurned by the British in favour of cold sandwiches at their desks, was instead being attended by sun-tanned Gallic women with improbably slender waists sipping champagnes in the company of dark men with hair badly in need of being swept from their eyes. I suspect that poodles were being held in the cloakrooms.

"Well," said the joyful representative of Champagne tourism in a language which was certainly not English, "I am glad to see that this seems to be a French gathering. Shall we speak, er, French? But let our thoughts be with our absent British friends! votre sante!"

He spoke about "our British friends" in the affectionate tone one uses to speak about a demented aunt safely out of the way in a distant nursing home. I could see his point. While the British were eating tomato and cheese sandwiches all over London, half of France, it seemed, had converged on the Ritz for an unabashed, self-congratulatory freebie.

Not that one can ever be quite sure about the cooking, even at the Ritz. Especially if one is French. After all, this was the London Ritz. To be on the safe side our merry band of bon-viveurs from Burgundy and Champagne had brought their own chefs with them, namely Bernard Loiseau and Gerard Boyer, who have both been awarded three Michelin stars for their restaurants back in France.

The two chefs mingled with the guests before lunch like two great white gods, exchanging modest glances as the French ambassador, among others, bowed and scraped before them. I understand that French chefs of this stature are held in higher esteem than World Cup winning footballers.

Far be it from me to complain - or even comment - about such a meal. It was, needless to say, delicious. But my main pleasure was in watching so many French people in London consuming so much of their own product with such enormous gusto. If that isn't successful PR I don't know what is.

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