The Carlton in Cannes looks exactly what it is: one of the great hotels of the French Riviera. It was entirely appropriate, therefore, that it should be used as the location for Alfred Hitchcock’s film, To Catch A Thief. Certainly, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant would have been familiar with these surroundings before the first cry of ‘Action!’, for the rich and famous had been thronging the lofty halls of The Carlton from the moment it opened in 1913. Its imperious white vastness still dominates the middle section of the Croisette. To go to Cannes and not set foot in The Carlton seems positively perverse.
Even if you are not staying at the hotel, there is one overwhelming reason for entering its portals – its brilliant restaurant. I am old enough to remember when the dining room occupied the loftiest chamber in the building, at the left end of the façade. But this is now used for conferences and meetings (c’est la vie in the world of large luxury hotels), so today its quarters are at the right end, and are slightly more modest. Still, the food, the service and the atmosphere continue to be very much ‘Carlton’ – which means tip-top. I enjoyed my dinner here tremendously.
Let me first salute a gentleman of the Old School. Yannick, the maitre d’ who looked after me, embodies that old-fashioned courtesy and style which delights your correspondent. He could not have been kinder or more attentive. As long as The Carlton is in such hands, it will deserve all the plaudits heaped upon it.
The weather being mild, I was taken to a table on the terrace. Here, settled in a comfortable wooden armchair, surrounded by potted palms and with a view of the sea, I felt all was well. The napkins and tablecloths were of beige damask, the fine glasses were by C & S and the waiters in their white shirts were busy all around, lifting silver domes. The Carlton Restaurant is deservedly popular, and I feared for a moment that the service might suffer because of the high number of diners. But I need not have worried. The service was both efficient and proper, and included that little sign of high standards – the replacement of the napkin when a guest left the table for a moment. The Restaurant Manager, Sylvain Micholet, deserves high praise for the manner in which his room operates.
And high praise must be given, too, to Head Chef Laurent Bunel. His cuisine is based upon the very finest ingredients, combined with skill, intelligence and flair. If you want a traditional, grand French meal in Cannes, you should head for The Carlton and rejoice as you enjoy the wonderful dishes of Chef Bunel.
I began, as you should on the Côte d’Azur, with lobster. This was cold and of the ‘blue’ variety, presented with small vegetables preserved in olive oil. Served on a large, white, round plate (and bravo! to the use of such crockery), this was a treat for the eye as well as the palate, the tastes combining as beautifully as the vibrant colours. My main course was the very best beef, of rare succulence and flavour. This large piece of matured rib had been stir fried until it was pink and tender. Served with proper chips, Béarnaise sauce and a super salad, this substantial dish was fit for a king. I managed to finish it, but only just – so I was relieved that my concluding Grand Marnier soufflé was of the lighter sort. But it was still utterly delicious. (These three courses were 128€.)
Head Sommelier Daniel Canton presides over a cellar of 35,000 bottles. More than 500 entries are on the wine list. As you would expect, these include many which are for those who possess the deepest pockets, but there is still space for a glass of Louis Latour’s Grande Ardèche chardonnay for 12€. There are lovely clarets, like 1990 Pétrus (6,800€), 1998 Lafite (3,800€) and 2005 Margaux (3,500€) and serious temptations from Italy, like 2011 Ornellaia (590€) and 2013 Gaja barbaresco (540€). As I was eating beef, I thought I should go for a burgundy, and enjoyed the smooth red fruit of the 2016 Beaune du Château Bouchard (105€).
The Carlton in Cannes looks exactly what it is: one of the great hotels of the French Riviera. And it has one the great restaurants.