PLEASE NOTE: THERE HAVE BEEN CHANGES AT THIS HOTEL. THE RESTAURANT IS NOW CALLED 'LE ROOF'.
Close to the port of the Old Town of Cannes is the Church of Notre Dame de Bon Voyage. It is a large and handsome pile. On the outside of its northern aisle is a large plaque, which records the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte landed nearby in February, 1815, when he had escaped from Elba and was about to begin his march on Paris. Indeed, he is said to have spent a night in the church before he set off. If you are not too startled by this intelligence – and, I must suppose, many an Englishman has been taken aback by it – you will notice, on the other side of the street, the imposing stone façade of a grand hostelry. This is the Five Seas Hotel. It has 45 rooms. It is full of objets d’art and its ambiance is one of comfortable modernity.
My own room, number 307, looked directly across at the hotel’s ecclesiastical neighbour. This was a spacious billet, with a restful décor of brown, off-white, burgundy and black. The lights were dimmable and the two large wardrobes contained plenty of hanging space for my travelling suits. Both these aspects of the apartment pleased me. I also liked the fact that all the snacks and all the drinks (which were non-alcoholic) in the mini-bar were complimentary. (I do not normally even dare to open the doors of these machines, for fear of setting off electronic additions to my bill.) Thus I was able to tuck into some grand crisps and sip a glass of fruit juice as I relaxed in the red velvet rocking chair.
The bed had been made wonderfully soft, at my request, so I knew I would be able to sleep the sleep of the righteous once night fell. Within the bathroom – reached through a large sliding door – I found one wash basin, a decent bath tub, a separate shower and toiletries by Cinq Mondes of Paris. The loo was in its own room near the entrance to the corridor.
Eating at the Five Seas is done on the 5th floor, either at the Brasserie or in the well regarded dining room, the Restaurant Sea Sens. Chef Arnaud Tabarec, from Burgundy, is widely admired both for his commitment to French cuisine and for his talent in creating dishes which are as unexpected as they are agreeable.
When I went for dinner at Sea Sens I found a room of bold and bright colours. My table was graced with proper white napery and good Spiegelau glassware. The waiters and waitresses wore black, and were amenable to my request that the volume of the canned music be turned down. Upon arriving at my table I was impressed immediately by the really delicious, crusty sourdough bread and lemon butter. I had to be severe with myself, so that I did not eat too much of it. Still, a happy distraction was outside. For, through the plate glass windows, was a fine view of the floodlit mediaeval castle high above the town. I sat back and thought this was a good place for a good dinner.
I began my meal proper with a “Signature Dish”. This was a chicken egg, cooked at 63∙5 degrees, with fried mushrooms, bacon and chicken jus. These, of course, are simple ingredients. But the care and intelligence with which they had been cooked turned them into an impressively delicious combination of intense tastes and luscious textures – a creamy confection of the best sort. My main course was even better, although its modernistic presentation certainly took me aback at first. But this was first rate breast of duckling, rubbed with mild spices and served with beetroot and a sharp honey jus – an effective and intriguing combination of tastes. I would have like more vegetables with it, but at least their lack of abundance enabled me to tuck with gusto into the concluding strawberry and rhubarb mousse with shortbread and ice cream. (These three courses were 85€.) With them I drank a pleasantly quaffable Côtes du Rhône Villages (La Nerthe, 2013).
The wine list has 201 offerings. All, except 4 ‘foreigners’ (3 Italians and an Argentinian), are French. Prices run from 45€ for a Provençal rosé to 2,950€ for the 2004 vintage of Lafite. Other bottles to catch my eye were: 1995 Margaux (1,750€), 2006 Lynch Bages (530€), 1999 Ausone (1,250€), 2001 Grange des Pères (285€) and Krug Grande Cuvée (435€).
I returned to the fifth floor, this time to the Brasserie, for breakfast. At the morning hour the culinary standards were maintained. Everything I took from the buffet – croissants, pains au raisins, crusty bread, marmalade, fruit, cereals and cake – was of high quality. And from the kitchen were brought to me excellent onion omelettes and that trio of dishes with which my grandfather used to start each day: porridge (made with water, not milk), chopped raw onion and sliced brown bread and butter. Odd, but wonderful.
The Emperor Napoleon, not long after his landing nearby, met his Waterloo. But I think the Five Seas Hotel (and its acclaimed Restaurant Sea Sens) will continue to please its fortunate guests for many, many years to come.
1 rue Notre Dame, 06400 Cannes, France.
Telephone +33 (0)4 63 36 05 05
Double rooms from 204€-316€, breakfast included, according to season
Check the hotel website for the rates for specific dates and for special offers
Restaurant Sea Sens – open for dinner only. Closed Sunday and Monday