Perestrello Geller ate at La Pinede, Juan Les Pins Square Gould
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August is the crazy season down here on the Cote D’Azur. St Trop is the worst affected. A Ferrari is no longer a suitably flash way to
rock up at a restaurant. Instead one needs to arrive by super-yacht. Launches are lowered and tracked every crystal-tipped wave of the way by weapons systems capable of repelling the armed forces of a small South American state, let alone a boat full of Somali pirates. Personally I find it a little disconcerting dining on Pamplonne beach knowing that the missile control computers on the bobbing white beasts moored in the bay, might, at any moment, lock onto the heat trace from my Crepe Suzette.
Then there’s the behaviour. Bono tours the tables of Club 55 like some broke busker, cap in hand, asking us all to save the world, meanwhile some new beau is licking the ash from the back of Kate Moss’ throat. Down the road at Nikki you get a side order of bare nipples with the lobster bisque, entertaining though it is, I find I can’t concentrate on the food.
Which is why, this year, I’ve only made the odd trip to the St Trop Peninsula. Instead I prefer the golden sands of Juan Les Pins. The place is bold and brash, and not so bathed in wealth that my Maserati fails to impress. There’s a line of beach clubs stretching to the horizon. I dine at the smart end of town, just beneath La Pinede square. They should bottle the smell of the sticky pines here, it epitomises the Med in summer. My beach club of choice is the appropriately named La Pinede. It’s been run by the adorable Claudine for years. She sits on a high stool at the back surveying her clientele like a proud mother. Nothing escapes her eyes, a crease in a table cloth or a patch of poorly raked sand, are instantly remedied with just a raised eyebrow to one of her staff.
Some beach restaurants use their location as an excuse for a shabby look, taking the view that people dining in their swimming trunks
can dispense with such niceties as table mats and napkins. Not Claudine. Claudine has got the whole concept of the beach club restaurant right. She could transplant her immaculately laid tables to Paris and open a smart restaurant. Admittedly the staff would look a little out of place, in their white beach shorts, but last time I looked Paris was lacking a nautically themed restaurant.
All of which brings us to the food. I have some strong views about what should and should not be eaten on the beach. The kitchens in beach clubs are tiny. Think the Tardis without the Doctor’s expansive technology. Typically there’s room for a fridge or a freezer not both, so any Chef with an elongated menu is overly fond of the defrost button on his microwave. Then there are the wretched fad restaurants. Sushi on the beach should work – raw fish fresh from the sea – but doesn’t. To be at its best Sushi needs a sterile modern kitchen and the loving touch of dextrous sweat-free fingers. Relax over a plate off Sushi on the beach and before you know it your fish will be baked dryer than an M&S ready meal.
Claudine knows all this. She offers a small range of salads, mainly for the clinically vain/insane who refuse to leave their sun-loungers and insist on eating their lunch frying in the sun. It’s not Claudine’s business to judge, but I like to think that she approves of us more sensible souls who put on a shirt and sit down to a glass or two of chilled Minuty over a two hour lunch. The menu is sensibly short. The aforementioned salads and a special or two of the day, perhaps a gaspacho, or melon fresh from Cavaillon. Then, for the main course, a choice from three or four grilled meats and fish.
I tend to have Filet de Bouef and frites. Usually there’s a freshly made Bearnaise to accompany it. The dish might
sound simple, but there-in resides the complexity. A chef cooking a filet has nowhere to hide. The provenance must be right, the cut perfect, and the cooking time to the second. I like mine medium rare. I’d say the Savoy gets it wrong 1 in 10 times, the Wolsely about the same, at La Pinede it’s always faultless.
Claudine’s eyes twitch behind her dark sunglasses at every dish emerging from the kitchen. I swear she can tell rare from medium rare
at twenty paces. If you’ll forgive the pun, it’s a rare talent. Then there are the chips. There’s none of this Blumenthal triple cooking nonsense. Just the type of pomme frites perfected by Parisian brasseries, long thin and golden. It’s an immensely satisfying dish to sit and eat with the waves lapping just metres from one’s feet.
If I’m feeling decadent, I like to round the whole experience off with a fondant chocolat and a large glass of cognac. The beach becomes a blur for the rest of the afternoon and I’m usually only revived by the noise of the staff stacking the sun-loungers, and raking the sand. Often I ask Claudine to lend me one of her staff to pilot the Maserati home.
Inevitably as I open the front door and watch the sunset over the bay of Cannes, I congratulate myself that once again I resisted the siren call of St Tropez, Bono’s Club 55 begging bowl and/or the nipple-on-toast on offer at Nikki, and settled once again for Claudine’s lovingly managed La Pinede.
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