Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Le Mas Candille
Le Mas Candille is an 18th century "farmhouse" nestling in four hectares of mature grounds clinging to the side of old Mougins Village, just outside of Cannes. Its views are towards Grasse and Les Alpes Maritimes, rather than to the sea which perhaps accounts for its modest room rates. I say modest, but not cheap, because this fine establishment is a 5 Star boutique hotel, accredited to the Relais & Chateaux collection and boasts a One Star Michelin restaurant and Shiseido spa.
I booked a double room through their website for the night of January 1st - or so I thought ! It seems that my booking appeared at the other end as one for New Year's eve, as their vigilant reception manager, Francoise kept inviting me for a special gourmet New Year's Eve dinner at 500 Euro per head.
So when I duly rolled up in very dirty Range Rover, at 6pm on January 1st, they claimed I was one day late ! This should not have mattered since they had plenty of rooms empty and some "walks ins" that arrived 5 minutes after us, were promptly shown to their quarters; but the blonde and I were kept waiting for more than 15 minutes while they decided what room to give us. In the end, as my patience was nearly at an end, they showed us to a small suite in what I guess could be termed their "spa annex". While a good size, these suites are now looking tired and the bathrooms in particular, need a complete refit. Our bathroom had a tiny old style tv, which only had a few channels and set at an angle it would be hard to view it from anywhere, except standing in the doorway between bedroom and bathroom; quite weird.
Keen to see if our palates could be refreshed after the dismal fare in Andorra, we quickly changed and rushed to try out the Michelin Star restaurant, run by Chef Serge Gouloumes. First impressions were not good; we were given a poor table and had an aperitif cocktail list thrust at us, without any enquiry as to whether we wanted one. The decor of the room is shabby genteel in the extreme, with a carpet that must have been designed by a colour blind anarchist and the room draped, tent-like with what looked like my late grandmother's grey shawls. To add to the sombre effect, there was no music and the mixed bag of middle class eurocrats dining there, observed an almost funereal silence as if waiting for the priest to begin his sermon.
After being left on our own for ten minutes, we eventually got to see the menu and the wine list. There is no a la carte, but just a choice of a few dishes. The wine list hardly had a bottle below to offer below 60 Euros, but I spotted a 2005 Cote de Rhones around this level and it arrived with a pleasant chap, whom may have been the sommelier or perhaps, the Maitre D'. Anyway, he was far more pleasant than the wine, which I had to send back; it may not technically have been "off" but certainly was one of the worst Cote de Rhones I can remember in a lifetime of drinking hundreds, maybe thousands of them ! I settled instead for an excellent red wine from Chinon at around the same price.
The practice of limiting wine lists to just highly priced, well marked up, old favourites should be frowned on. Frankly, its a rip-off and almost insulting when their are plenty of fine wines available in any supermarket for less than 20 Euros a bottle. The sommelier or chef should start by promoting some of their personal favourites, from little known vineyards, preferably in the region and offer some personal recommendation for their choices.
I am afraid the food was a disappointment also; the sort of haute cuisine that I came to know and expect 20 years ago in France. I chose asparagus and caviar as a starter; over elaborately put together with various sauces, garnishing and timbales, but with so little caviar I might have well missed it altogether. Next I thought a beef fillet would erase the memory of the terrible one from the Hermitage Hotel the night before; sadly not. While the German beef was fairly tender, it was not properly aged and drowned in some heavy sauce which I can only imagine had been cooked up through a number of "reductions", it was so poignant. I asked the Maitre D' ( or sommelier ) chappy why they did not serve a steak from a good French animal, such as a Charolais and he could offer no explanation; quite stupid not to source meat in particular, from local trusted suppliers.
Desert was some sort of baked apple extravaganza; vivid green and not sure which parts to eat and which were either there just for show, or full of "e" colouring. Pity to mess up a tasty baked apple in this way when there are so many opportunities to embellish it simply and tastefully. This one had some "gingerbread" ice cream on the side; delicious, except the shame was it had melted by the time it was put on the table.
So we retired to our old fashioned suite and watched a 12 Euro movie that must have been at least ten year's old. Another example of an irritating way some hotels chose to make a few bob more from their guests.
There next money making opportunity came in charging for breakfast, which I naively thought would have been included in our room rate. At about 25 Euros each, for a cold buffet, not exactly a bargain. But at least here the hotel at last excelled. Their spread of fresh local produce, including their own breads etc was quite quite fantastic. Some music now enlivened the restaurant and the pleasant staff, the great view towards Grasse made us linger longer than usual before setting off to the Austrian Alpes - but that's another story.
In summary; a place that will please the traditionalists of, how can I put this politely, of a certain age and background. For those seeking a cutting edge sense of style, ambience and cuisine - just a sense of deja vu and then, a gentle let down. It was ten years since I last stayed at Le Mas Candille; it may well be another ten, to give it time to re-invent itself.