I'd take Chichester over Monte Carlo any day

At the restaurant in the Hotel de Paris, even the bread basket had its own menu
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The Independent Online

With major news stories breaking all over the shop - Rome, Krakow, Shanghai, Arundel, Windsor - it's hard to get too excited about the demise of an elderly royal whose principality wasn't much bigger than Hyde Park, even if he was once married to a glamorous Hollywood film star. I know a few people who occasionally go to Monaco, usually for the Grand Prix, to stay with rich elderly relatives whose families have been in possession of seafront apartments there since the Boer War, and shortly before he went to prison my solicitor opened an office three blocks along from the casino. "Why on earth do you need an office in Monte Carlo?" I remember asking him. Because he had decided to move his yacht from Chichester to the south of France, he explained, and he thought he might as well combine pleasure with a bit of business.

With major news stories breaking all over the shop - Rome, Krakow, Shanghai, Arundel, Windsor - it's hard to get too excited about the demise of an elderly royal whose principality wasn't much bigger than Hyde Park, even if he was once married to a glamorous Hollywood film star. I know a few people who occasionally go to Monaco, usually for the Grand Prix, to stay with rich elderly relatives whose families have been in possession of seafront apartments there since the Boer War, and shortly before he went to prison my solicitor opened an office three blocks along from the casino. "Why on earth do you need an office in Monte Carlo?" I remember asking him. Because he had decided to move his yacht from Chichester to the south of France, he explained, and he thought he might as well combine pleasure with a bit of business.

Looking back on it I dare say that's why he was nailed for embezzlement. It's hardly surprising that a chap has to dip into the client's accounts when he's got those sort of overheads. Did Graham Greene not describe Monaco as a sunny place for shady people? When the authorities moved in to seize all my solicitor's assets to pay off his enormous debts there was no mention of a yacht. I learned later that it had been quietly relocated to an unknown marina in Turkey awaiting his release. I think that's what you call penny wise pound foolish - or maybe just plain dishonest.

I've only been to Monaco once and that was 12 years ago, but the circumstances were so extraordinary and so ridiculously glamorous that it has become as indelibly etched in my memory as my first day at school, my first assignment in Fleet Street, my first - well, you get the drift.

One of my husband's tennis partners was an American wine writer based in London whose wife had just started her own public relations company. It wasn't exactly in the Matthew Freud league. Her best clients were Blue Nun and a firm that produces cat litter. She once persuaded me to do a story about the latter which meant trekking out to a quarry near Redhill which produces Fullers Earth, a vital ingredient of cat litter apparently. The quarry was next to the municipal rubbish dump and I remember Catherine bringing a picnic lunch which we ate down wind of a small mountain of black plastic bin liners. She must have been a good PR because within a year she had graduated to hotels and restaurants, and the next thing I knew I'd been invited to dinner at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo which had just been taken over by the French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse. It had all the usual trappings, umpteen Michelin stars, the biggest wine cellar of any hotel in the world - 250,000 bottles, Louis XV furniture, special antique tapestry stools beside every table for women to put their handbags on while they ate. I don't remember the details of the nine-course dinner except that even the bread basket had its own menu. I do remember tripping over my tapestry stool on the way to the loo, thereby spilling the distinctly unglamorous contents of my handbag - broken lipsticks, biscuit crumbs, an odd sock - all over the floor.

In between the main course and the dessert there was a flurry of activity orchestrated by the headwaiter. Everything on the table, including flowers, glasses, napkins and cloth, was whisked away and replaced by new ones with a new colour theme and the addition of pretty little ornaments such as silver sparrows pecking at crumbs. I could have done with one in my handbag.

The next day I spent observing M. Ducasse in his office interviewing local producers such as an old man who placed two small wizened lemons on the great chef's desk. He squeezed them, sniffed them, licked them. "Fantastique," he murmured. He might have been talking about the Grail.

Then came the high point of the whole trip: a tour of the kitchens and then lunch with the chef himself. There was an army of chefs engaged in every culinary activity from grating lime zest to snipping sausages. One was doing something complicated with a ball of string and a woodcock.

While we ate I watched the progress of the woodcock and the string on the Nasa-like bank of screens in M. Ducasse's office. It was still going strong when we were having our coffee. Perfection takes time, said the chef philosophically. I hope my solicitor was equally philosophical when he was doing time dreaming about the day he'd sail back to his old mooring in Monte Carlo. Personally, I'd rather have Chichester.

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