Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Dining in Cannes: Villa des Lys at the Majestic Hotel

by Jim Byerley

The lobby of the otherwise staid Majestic Hotel is veritable chaos between 6 and 7 P.M. on the opening night of the Cannes Film Festival. Many of cinema's biggest names or the esteemed jury members stay here during their Cannes visit. Devoted star-watchers linger in the hotel's opulent lobby waiting for the telltale bell dinging, which signals the opening of yet another elevator door. Avoiding the crowds in front of the Palais across the street, where one can see little but the backs of thousands of heads, the Majestic lobby allows one to observe the rich and/or famous on equal footing. That's if you pass muster with the security guards.

Look there's Vanessa Redgrave exiting the elevator and strolling casually out the front door. Sophie Marceau? Mais ouis. That's Mike Leigh, not Spike Lee. Mike is on the jury this year after having won the Palme d'Or last year for "Secrets And Lies." An official car pulls up out front, flags waving. Luc Besson the director of "The Fifth Element," tonight's opening film, bustles into the lobby. He heads straight for the Majestic head, takes a quick whiz, and returns to his car. Even an honored director needs a pit stop, now and then.

Still no Jeanne Moreau, no Catherine Deneuve, no Isabelle Adjani. But wait. A crowd forms around the elevator bank. Who is left? No one seems to know. Ding. Out come Bruce Willis and Demi Moore who are quickly hustled into a car waiting at the Majestic's back door. This is certainly more fun than attending the opening ceremony itself.

Anyone hungry? Why not hit the Villa des Lys just past the hotel's bar, after having worked up tremendous appetites watching for celebs? The deluxe Majestic Hotel has finally gotten a chef that can compete with the competition down the Croisette at the Carlton and the Martinez. Bruno Oger was trained under Georges Blanc and as stated by Gault-Millau "knows a thing or two about mixing and matching flavors." The Michelin Guide has honored the Villa des Lys with one * star for the very first time this year.

The dining room is elegant and gracious. Why doesn't someone tone down the lighting, however? No one is planning to do brain surgery here. The crowd is an interesting mix. From formal dress to jeans, all is accepted. A lavishly-gowned matron almost loses her floor length Chinchilla wrap, which gets caught on a chair at our table as she passes. Diamonds are obviously her best friend as she is sporting major jewels at her throat, on her ears, around her wrists and fingers. The man at the next table wears a bright yellow polo shirt. There are uptight producer types sitting alongside the swingers who are letting the cleavage hang out tonight. Andie McDowell, getting ready for the paparazzi, is having her lips applied by a make-up artist at a corner table. No one stares. Service is done with a smile and with little attitude.

We opt for the prix-fixe menu "Festival" at 300 FF. A small cup of the-best-cold-tomato-soup-you-have-ever-tasted is set before us. Cucumbers are in there too, but this is the most sophisticated gazpacho I've encountered. Another little dish follows which contains a potato puree with crab. Yum. I want more of this one or at least to lick the bowl.

The first course is a stunning terrine with alternating layers of eggplant and lotte. There is a hint of red pepper, too, adding a dash of color. Olive oil is drizzled here and there. Use some of the superb olive bread to clean your plate of excess oil. The main course is a simple, unadorned piece of veal served glowing pink. Tender and delicious. Another ingenious French version of mashed potatoes is the accompaniment. More olive bread to soak up the gravy? Certainment. Another swallow of the Domaine de Ott rose, and we are happy festival-goers indeed.

Desserts are on the luscious side. A chocolate soufflè sits astride some caramelized bananas and a dash of chocolate sauce binds it all. Another features a creamy slice surrounded by various orange sections all swimming in a tart, citrusy sauce. Petites fours follow. The chocolate truffles are even embossed with a gold Palme d'Or. How thoughtful.

No doubt the ceremony and the screening have finished by now. We join the throngs of formally clad strollers on the glittery Croisette. Deciding on an after-dinner drink at the Carlton, we must brave the crowds at the hotel's entrance chanting "Michael, Michael, Michael." They must surely mean "Jackson," not "Ondaatje" or "Eisner."

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