Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000

2000 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
May Gourmet: Quel Neat

by Jim Byerley

Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000 is presented by:

A new star has been uncovered in Cannes. No, I don't mean Uma Thurman in that backless/frontless gown. Richard Neat is a youngish, long-haired Brit who has accomplished the impossible. He has won a star from the very nationalistic restaurant bible, the Guide Michelin. He has made his impressive mark having been open only since last summer in a vital location directly facing the Palais. Neat studied with some of the really big name chefs (like Joel Robuchon) and had already won Michelin-endorsed stars with his restaurant back in London. He has made the channel crossing with ease and assurance. Jolly good show, Monsieur Neat. I'm not sure the locals have been convinced, as the night we dined chez Neat, English was the only language being spoken. The Film Festival is admittedly not a good time to judge a restaurants clientele, as there is an awful lot of cigar smoking and cell-phoning going on all over town. Can't you moguls put down those telephones long enough to enjoy a good meal?

We were greeted in an effusive way by the Italian maitre'd Angelo who worked in this same location last year when it was another restaurant, La Reine Pedaque. The hostess Claire is also a charmer, with whom I had developed a trans-Atlantic fax relationship from New York. The overall feeling was friendly, not stiff and formal. Be warned, however, that Neat is not cheap. We're talking expense account time. The small menu is a la carte only and our bill was 1700 FFR for two, with a just simple Provencal rose from St. Roseline to drink. The current Guide Michelin lists a fixed price lunch for 180 FFR and dinner menus at 220 and 590 FFR, but I guess one must wait for the Film Festival to finish for prices to return to normal.

Compact crusty rolls, served still warm, easily passed the crucial bread test. First impressions are vital and blah bread is the downfall of many a good restaurant. A small plate of smooth rouget rillette appeared as a treat from the chef to tease our tastebuds. The asparagus soup with mushrooms and langoustines, that followed, was a mouthful of freshness. Emulsions, or frothy broths, seem to be all the rage in France at present, and, sure enough, the asparagus soup had been whipped into a foamy frenzy. Delicious. The coquilles St.-Jacques were delicately crisped and reposed on a bed of chopped tomatoes, topped with tender fried zucchini strips. Ris de veau, with touches of Parma ham, elicited satisfied sighs from my dinner companion. Peas and mushrooms garnished the plate of sweetbreads. The lamb cutlet (from Sisteron, no doubt) was one of the most tender specimens I have ever encountered. It was accompanied by a delicately mixed melange of vegetables and juice de agneau.

There aren't a lot of dessert choices on the small Neat menu, but the ones tried were in keeping with the high standard set before. A mini-crème brulee did the job in preparing us for the big sugar rush to come. One confection was a construction of white chocolate in the form of an arch over juicy raspberries that almost tasted as good as it looked. The faux mushroom made of meringue was complemented by creamy almond ice cream. Petits-fors were the standard variety, but were well-executed.

The dining room is soothingly decorated in hushed tones of gray and purple. It is much sleeker than the former restaurant in this space, but it still only seats about 45 diners. Reservations would be most advisable during the festival rush, therefore. A few tables are located on the sidewalk terrace facing the traffic-busy Square Mérimée. Sit there and you take a chance at getting a face-full of exhaust with your frothy broth. The other Michelin-honored restaurants in Cannes proper are the rather stuffy ones in the big hotels (Carlton, Martinez and Majestic). Neat is the easy-going exception and we wish it health and long life. Cheerio.

The only other new Michelin star in the Cannes vicinity this year is the luxe Hotel Le Saint-Paul in Saint Paul de Vence. If you have done the Colombe d'Or to death you might want to give the beautiful 16th century place in the center of town a try. Lunch is listed at 250 FFR, while dinner prix fixe choices are 290 or 560 FFR. Another expense account venue, but who said stars come cheap. Just ask Uma, who probably paid a fortune for half a dress.

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