I have still not found my lost faith but if I do and make it to Heaven, it will be like the place I took Mrs P II tonight. The one fixed point in this trip to the Côte d’Azur was, as it has been for me on every such trip for over twenty-five years, the Restaurant de Bacon at Cap d’Antibes.
If it’s not a cheap place, that’s partly my fault. When a kind client took me there to Sunday lunch for my first visit, it was a local institution; too far from Cannes to pick up trade from the various festivals and trade fairs held there. It was even further from Nice. The local bourgeoisie in Antibes and the wealthy types with villas on the Cap knew it well enough but that was it.
Over the following years I took many clients and contacts there from all over the world. As I returned each year with a new batch of guests, I would see my former guests hosting other tables. On one such occasion, every table was hosted by someone I had introduced. Except, that is, for one presided over by the bemused gentleman who had first taken me there. He was mildly irritated, I think, that I had spread his secret local knowledge so widely.
One family vacation we met a Russian client there who had brought his family to Antibes for their holidays so he could take them to “the Bacon”. One Christmas in Chester I was telling my family that “the best restaurant in the world” was in Cap d’Antibes. Our waiter asked me if I was talking about the Bacon and when I replied “yes” he said that he had trained there and would call the owner to tell him what I had said.
The strange thing is that I loved it before I learned (on my recent diet) to love fish. I never willingly chose to eat it anywhere else. As we drove there in the evening heat, with Speranza’s roof open to the moist air, I began to worry that I had built it up so much that Mrs P II might be disappointed. When I realised that, the old gentleman who took care of me so assiduously on that long-ago first visit having sadly passed away, the family had sold it to a new owner, I was even more worried. I need not have been. His spirit lives on. The food is as good as ever. The wine list is as spectacular as always. The service is just as impeccable.
Our waiter spoke such good English that we did not at first believe he was French. In all my years abroad working with speakers of the world’s most widespread language – ESL – I have known lots of people who have achieved commendable fluency. I worked with lawyers for whom English was a second or third language and yet they functioned in it at a level most natives could not hope to reach. Yet I never met one like this young man, who could pass for a native. French cuisine’s gain is French espionage’s loss!
Sated and happy, we drove the long way home along the coast, rather than taking the autoroute. This allowed Mrs P II to get a sense of the South of France. It’s not all Russian billionaires, bling and super yachts. There were also ordinary French families walking together through Juan-les-Pins and young people from all over Europe partying vigorously on the dark beaches as we passed. I played “Where do you go to my lovely?” by Peter Sarstedt to explain to her how a young me had first heard of a glamorous lifestyle unknown to my happy but modest childhood. He sang of Juan-les-Pins as we drove through it and I smiled.
Tomorrow is our last full day on the Côte d’Azur. On Monday we are back on the road, heading first to Beaune.
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