There are some restaurants one can go to only so many times before the dining experience goes out like a flame on a worn candle.

For us, two restaurants in Cannes which fit this category are Mantel and L’Antidote, which I’ll write up in another post. Either the food or service — sometimes both — are responsible.

We are amazed that these places get such good reviews in the Guide Michelin and on Trip Advisor. Why?

(Photo credit: Trip Advisor, photographer GAET06, “devanture”)

N.B.: I am using ‘front of house’ below because I am not sure that the person referred to was the maître d’hôtel.

We have eaten at Mantel three times, twice in 2013 and once in 2015.

It takes its name from the chef and owner Noel Mantel, who has had a distinguished career, starting at the iconic Hotel Negresco in Nice, then for Alain Ducasse at the Louis XV in Monaco and Pinède in St Tropez. He later was appointed head chef at Restaurant les Muscadins in Mougins where he stayed for a decade. He opened Mantel in 2002.

It is located in Le Suquet at 22 rue Saint Antoine.

Reservations are recommended as the restaurant is very popular not only with tourists but with conferences — especially Cannes Lions — and Film Festival stars.

Our first visit in June 2013, admittedly, was marvellous. We ordered the €30 prix fixe menu. The signature amuse bouche of onion tart arrived quickly, cut into four. Nothing special but okay. SpouseMouse and I both started with the fried courgette flowers in tempura batter, which came with mesclun (local leaf) salad and fried basil. They were very good. We followed this with daurade Royale — local sea bass — which was competently prepared but no different to what other less prestigious establishments were serving.

The desserts, however, were to die for. The waitress came with two dreamy plates, both of which had one chocolate coated dome, a few chocolate chip and walnut biscuits and a wild strawberry tart! We drank Château Minuty (rosé) Cuvée Prestige, which is everywhere in Cannes. If I remember rightly, it was a price consideration. Service was efficient. Wine was presented and poured correctly for tasting, so that we could clearly see the label. I recall that detail, because the waitress was walking the young apprentice sommelier through what he had to do. In short, we could hardly wait to return.

Our second visit a few days later in 2013 was somewhat different. The Cannes Lions — ad men — conference was in full flow. We asked for the prix fixe menu and the front of house told us that they do not feature it during Cannes Lions because, as we understood from what he said, they wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. If the stream of young American ad people coming in wearing scruffy tee-shirts and denim cut-offs with flip flops was any indication, he was probably right.

The nondescript onion tart arrived. I ordered the courgette flowers again as a starter. SpouseMouse opted for the squid in persillade for the main course and chose local sea bream for the main. I ordered a combination plate of local sea bream with red mullet. We deemed both excellent. However, we declined dessert. I do not remember whether it was the price differential in ordering à la carte that caused us to arrive at that decision or if the assortment we had ordered the week before wasn’t available for Cannes Lions week. We drank another bottle of Château Minuty Cuvée Prestige. In all, it was a disappointment compared with our first visit. That said, we had Mantel on our list for 2015.

June 2015 saw our return to Mantel on what had been a cloudy, windy and cool day punctuated by showers. Cannes Lions hadn’t started yet, although their health sector conference had. The prix fixe menu was still on.

The same old onion tart arrived, cut in four. Really, it might be an idea for them to alternate between that and something else, depending on the day of the week. It’s not that good.

Both of us ordered the courgette flowers fried in tempura batter, but, whilst good, they were not as crispy as before. Perhaps the humidity played a role as we were eating outdoors. We followed that with two plates of squid ‘fondant’ which were quickly sautéed. I don’t remember what the fondant was but the dish was unremarkable. Everything needed salt — for me, anyway — and it was disappointing that I had to take the stopper out of the salt shaker only to find that it was filled with rice (counteracting humidity). Despite that, I managed to get a few grains of salt out for my main course. But — and it’s a big but — with all the wait staff about the place, not one approached the table and offered to refill the salt shaker!

SpouseMouse didn’t like the front of house’s attitude, which alternated between offhand and condescending throughout, unless he was talking to a preferred customer — personal acquaintance or big spender. We drank Château Minuty Cuvée Prestige once again. For dessert, SpouseMouse chose the fruit tart and I the crème brulée. Both were acceptable but on a par with what we could get in London. SpouseMouse’s homemade crème brulée is much denser and flavoursome. It is the standard by which I judge all others. We were sorry that the dessert assortment from 2013 was not on offer. Perhaps they have a different pastry chef now.

In any event, after we left, we agreed — regrettably — that Mantel has nothing more to offer us.

Overall, this rare average review of the restaurant dated July 2015 from a Trip Advisor contributor in Liverpool sums it up.

It seems that, based on Noel Mantel’s prestigious cooking experience, he could be more imaginative in the kitchen. Maybe he lacks the right staff. I see that they are taking applications this summer for a variety of positions, especially in the kitchen.

I wish him the very best but we won’t be returning.

Tomorrow: L’Antidote

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