La Palme d’Or, Cannes

Cannes is not somewhere to go on a budget.

It is a town of matt black Bentleys; balding, grey haired, bronzed bellied wheeler dealers; depressingly young cash-rich poker players; and, a few days ago, 450 litigators on a very useful and informative team-building and knowledge sharing exercise [aka a work jolly].

In Cannes you pay to gain access to the loungers on a ‘private’ beach owned by the very same hotel you’re already shelling out 300 Euro a night to stay at. A club sandwich and glass of water melon juice on the same beach sets you back a further 40 Euro (which is also, coincidentally, the same price as a couple of small Kronenbourgs and a gin and tonic). Good value, il n’est pas.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to find that it is possible to sit down at a 2 Michelin star restaurant for a 3 course lunch, including coffee and wine, for just 26 Euro more than that club sandwich and water melon juice.

The existence of this option at La Palme d’Or, a celebrated restaurant run by a local guy called Christian Sinicropi, is particularly surprising given the starters on the a la carte menu are each closer to 50 Euro and mains cost anything from 50-90 Euro. The taster menus prices step it up a notch further.

Sure, the offer is tucked right at the back of the menu, with the price in tiny font, but it is definitely there. Film stars and professional casino dwellers probably have no interest in reading this far through, but nothing gets past someone who has been paid to check for misplaced semi-colons and commas for the past 5 years.

I will admit that I wanted to hate La Palme d’Or. I wanted it to live up to my prejudiced expectation of yet another overpriced and superficial Cannes offering. I expected the prix fixe menu would be minuscule, pretentious and have some sort of pricing structure catch.

At the outset of the meal, there were a fair few things to dislike: the waiter’s presumption that we would start with champagne; his obvious disdain when we hungover diners announced a preference for the fizz of full fat Coke instead; the bread that was more show than substance; the goats cheese, carrot peelings and sickly sweet lemon marshmallow lollipops served as “frivolités”, which were indeed frivolous; and the similarly dated, tacky and unimpressive menu descriptions (such as dishes “created and served for Robert De Niro“; the “when the pumpkin meets the corgette [sic]” side; and the “kiss of an angel” sorbet).

Yet, 3 hours later, the overall feeling was one of being content, full, impressed and, a little bit surprised by what we got for our cash.

The starters and mains were all excellent.

First up, wild cep risotto was unctuous, generous and “delicious”; a clever round of shellfish meat was intriguing; and I really enjoyed my flame grilled (blow torched?) but otherwise mostly raw sardines served in a zingy marinade and on top of fantastic grilled peppers, cured sausage and mussels.

For mains, the fish of the day (John Dory) looked perfectly cooked and (again) relatively generous and lamb rolled and roasted in calamari with cuttlefish ink impressive. Both seemed to be enjoyed and I definitely enjoyed my pink fillet of pigeon, on a ragout of tripe and mushroom.

This was proper food, impeccably cooked. Certainly not the measly portioned, half hearted, “use yesterday’s cheap cuts and serve something ordinary”, set menu dishes I’d expected.

Not everything was perfect. I thought much of the presentation was dated and the desserts were disappointing, particularly my ‘Japanese Medlar’ which, with its odd looking and almost tasteless jelly ravioli, was really lacklustre.

But our lunch was much more than a three course meal. It was punctuated by those frivolités, as well as various other amuse bouche and two triptychs of petit fours. I’m in two minds about these as I didn’t particularly like any of them, but given others did and none of us expected them for our lunch menu, I’ll give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt.

More appreciated was the fact that other ‘extras’ were also included – as much decent wine as we needed flowed and our enjoyable meal finally ended after coffees and teas (from the first and therefore most impressive fresh herb tea trolley that I’ve ever seen) were offered and accepted. I suppose it also helped that it was a Friday and, rather than being stuck in the office on Fleet Street, we were sat on a balcony under a blue sky looking out over the Côte d’Azur.

If you’re looking for relevant comparators, it definitely wasn’t as good as a recent trip to the Ledbury. But bear in mind the local alternative of that club sandwich and water melon juice. The lunch offer must be the only thing of fair value in Cannes and as a result we walked out feeling smarter than your average UBS Delta One desk line manager. This was a completely unexpected and relatively bargainous trip to a 2 Michelin star restaurant. When I’ve got a metallic silver Lambourghini, maybe I’ll return to try out the full price evening menu.

La Palme d’Or in 3 words

Awesome tea trolley.

The Bill

66 Euro for 3 courses, wine, coffee and more other little bits than you need.  A Monday to Friday lunch offer, I think.

La Palme d’Or – Hotel Martinez, Cannes – +33 (0)4 92 98 74 14