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Each time we go to Cannes, I notice an increasing disconnect between visitors from what the French call ‘Anglo-Saxon’ nations and l’Hexagone.

This centres around one of the most important features of French life, food.

Before I get to Anglo-Saxons, however, the most glaring example just a few weeks ago was the gathering of 12,000 advertising folk from around the world — not all of them Western — for the annual Cannes Lions week celebrating all things involving adverts. More about them in another post.

Mad Men at table

Here are two brief vignettes involving the self-important and wet-behind-the-ears Cannes Lions.

First, let me say that this group always peeve me, even more than they do SpouseMouse, who doesn’t even like advertising. Ironically, I love advertising. I love Mad Men. I deeply admire advertising veteran Jerry Della Femina who could, by virtue of age, be a grandfather to many of those young pups gathered in Cannes every June. Would that he were. They would be much wiser men and women.

Vignette 1: My better half and I went to one of our regular fish restaurants to find an international group of Cannes Lions at the next table. (Cannes Lions are easy to spot with their postcard-sized dog tags which they insist on wearing everywhere.) These were twenty- and thirty-something men from the US and Asia. Fortunately, the eldest thirty-something from somewhere in North America gently attempted to advise the younger set on what to order and talked up the main Cannois dishes. Unfortunately, even he met with a lukewarm response from the pups. ‘Wellll, I don’t knoooow.’ ‘They call shrimp gambas? That’s just weird.’ ‘Uhhh, I’ll have what you have.’ And these men are spearheading the collective Western messages we get in mainstream media!

I must admit that I was tempted to have a go at their ignorance. SpouseMouse said, ‘You’re going to embarrass me in a minute.’ ‘Yes. Because eating well here is not complicated.’ ‘Just let them figure it out.  They’re not worth the time or the energy.’ Given the proximity of our table to theirs, I could easily have whispered some GBH of the earhole to the Mad Men on my right who are telling everyone else what to think!

Vignette 2: A few days afterward — early the following week — we returned for a second dinner at a new restaurant we found thanks to friends. Having thoroughly enjoyed the menu dégustation a deluxe ‘tasting menu’ featuring a minimum of four courses, large and small — we went for our penultimate meal for 2013. We were handed the à la carte menu once we sat down. Why? SpouseMouse, in the usual English way, said, ‘Please don’t say anything. If it’s à la carte tonight, it is what it is.’ So, I shut up. We enjoyed piscatorial delicacies from the Bay of Cannes, including dorade and rouget. Our starter was a delightful plate of deep-fried courgette (zucchini) flowers in tempura batter.

Whilst we were eating, it was evident that the Cannes Lions and their sponsors — all dressed in t-shirts, jeans (!) or shorts (?!) — had reserved a number of tables at this small, well-publicised and elegant establishment. After the bill was paid, I had to ask about the menu dégustation. The owner told us, ‘This is the only week of the year when we don’t have it. You see, this crowd do not want a menu dégustation. They want to drink and talk, eat a little bit, then go. They do not have the inclination or the patience for flavours or taste combinations.”

The Anglo-Saxon food desert and fussy eaters

And that, readers, is what sums up today’s visitor to Cannes. I am sorry to say that their tastes are dictated by Anglo-Saxon ones, which, by and large, aren’t up to much these days. With a handful of  butchers, bakers and artisan growers left, where does the average Westerner or transplant to a Western country find reliably good food?

He doesn’t. This holds true for those in many English-speaking countries.

Therefore, we are left with a dearth of decent food and good chefs. Oh, of course, you see them on television, but, like the Cannes Lions, how many appreciate a good restaurant — or good food in general? People today go to eat somewhere increasingly for reasons largely unrelated to food — it’s ‘highly rated and has a buzz’, ‘I saw it on a food blog somewhere’, it’s ‘the place to be seen’ and so on. A restaurant becomes an anonymous place; somewhere to say you’ve been, as if it were a museum of sorts. You don’t really enjoy it, but to follow the trend-setting lemmings — many of whom have never heard of classics like pressed duck or ortolan (a François Mitterand favourite, now banned) — ‘you just have to go there’!

As a result, one finds in Cannes — this small city of excellent French food, chefs, fromagers, sommeliers and many others who try their utmost to present their national and regional cuisine competently — to a group of unappreciative foreign diners.

How many times did I run into English-speakers who said, ‘It never occurred to me to try French cheese’? Several. Yet, there was one hotel which did an outstanding job of presenting 20 cheeses on a single board. Not only was each one labelled with the name of the cheese but it also included the type of milk used (e.g. goat, cow, sheep) as well as the region where it was made. Thanks to them, I tried a dozen new cheeses — each one marvellous.

How many times did I run into English-speakers who said in this Mediterranean port city, ‘Uhh, I don’t like fish. I think I’ll have chicken instead’? Several. It’s interesting that, afterward, most of them said, ‘I should have had the fish. It looked really tasty. I’ll know for next time.’


If ever there was a time to try fish, cheese and other French foods, this was it. Out of all the places I’ve visited in France over the past 40 — well, nearly — years, Cannes has the most reliable restaurants in the country. And these men and women stick together to make their establishments work. We had a conversation about ten years ago with a longtime restaurateur who gave us a bit of an insight.

Of course, there are the parochial fussy eaters, about whom more in another post. ‘Oooh, I don’t like this or that’. ‘I’ve never tried it, but I know it will taste bad.’ ‘My grandfather said fish was horrible.’ What on earth could taste bad in Cannes? Restaurants are cheek upon jowl in a concentrated area. If someone messes up with his food, be assured that the other restaurateurs will know about it. He will not last long.

‘Anglo-Saxons’ approach Cannes with bewilderment, even if most menus are translated into English. It is not unusual for us to strike up a pleasant conversation with a potential couple of perplexed diners at the table next to ours. Sometimes they take us up on our recommendations, other times not. However, they do end up with a better dining experience than if they had just hem-hawed around with the menu and the waiter. One time, we even received a complimentary limoncello as a ‘thank you’ from one restaurateur who was not looking forward to dealing with more English speakers.

The final ‘menu dég’ of 2013

Having been concerned about the Cannes Lions, we went to another of our favourite places not far from La Croisette. The family advertise traditional French cuisine ‘at gentle prices’. And they live up to it. A lot of French families — and singles — ate there regularly. They had a lot of bookings for Father’s Day, when the owner presented every dad with a small floral bouquet, customary in France on that occasion.

This man was unworried about the Cannes Lions and, happily, they did not book a table there — at least when we went there. ‘Oh, yes, the advertising people. We have the menu dégustation every day, regardless.’

We had seven courses for €49. Every one was excellent, from tian (carpaccio) of scallop with caviar, to a lobster course, to the pan-fried foie gras, to the fillet of beef, to the cheese course through to the dessert, an enormous and perfectly prepared crème brulée.

That night, the owner and his son shared waiting on our table. The father was doing most of it, but halfway through sent the son round as they were busy by then. The son asked, ‘Anything for dessert?’ The father, at a nearby table,  overheard and said, ‘They’re having the menu dég! Fillet steak’s up next! Get with it!’ It was the first time we’d ever heard it referred to as menu dég. We still chuckle.

So, that’s what one can largely expect in Cannes — good food at good prices. Fussy or diffident eaters can rest assured that they will get the very best food as well as a positively memorable dining experience. A world of culinary wonder awaits.

Try the restaurants along Rue Félix Faure (runs parallel to La Croisette) and Le Suquet (just west of l’Hôtel de Ville, near Marché Forville).

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