I’M NOT GENERALLY A HUGE FAN OF DESSERTS, attempting to minimise sugar and fat intake, but after lockdown I was craving the social aspect of cafe life, so I spent time both with friends and alone enjoying coffee, drinks and desserts in some of the best outdoor establishments in London, the South Of France and Paris. It was a time to celebrate and feel free after months of quarantine, and it felt goooood! For twelve reviews – good, bad and mediocre – with combined marks out of ten for food, service and ambience, read on…”

Nicky Summer

TOP RIGHT in the video image above is a raspberry sponge dessert from the kitchen of Alain Ducasse, who’s company is responsible for the catering throughout Versaille. I ate this with a morning espresso from a van at the entrance to the estate of Marie Antoinette before later having lunch in the Ducasse restaurant in the grounds. The dessert was beautifully presented and tasted fine, but the cafe I had quickly checked out on the first floor was a disappointment and the informal courtyard restaurant where I eventually had lunch was also a disappointment – mainly due to the service, which was belligerent/atrocious – frighteningly and insultingly bad to the point I took the name of the waiter’s name (Nasser) and promised to report him; yes, THAT bad. Having operated as Lifestyle Ambassador on behalf of a private members club in London at which Ducasse was consultant chef, it pains me to write these words because I’m loyal and admire everything he has achieved internationally over the years. Running a huge operation, which includes the catering at Versailles, is no mean feat – and quality control is obviously an ongoing challenge. However, I like my reviews to be authentic – and here it is, the bottom line: The cuisine during my visit in July was acceptable, the service and atmosphere were not – neither reflected what I’m used to at other establishments that bear the Ducasse name ie the crystal chandeliered ‘Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee’ and the gilded ‘Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse’ in Monte Carlo. It’s a real pity…” 6/10

ABOVE: “One of the most delicious gelatos I have ever tasted in my life. I could rave on about this dessert for a long time but, basically, it’s a mixture of citron sorbet, lemon ice cream and Chantilly cream. The presentation was rustic perfection, with a sprig of herbs, candied lemon, a wafer and a chocolate wand decoration. When I visited Harry’s Dolce Vita opposite Harrods in London, just after lockdown, I wasn’t expecting to get a seat – however, most of their usual crowd had already left for the South Of France, the Amalfi coast, Ibiza and Mykonos, therefore I immediately got a table inside (the tables outside on the pavement terrace were all taken). The interior of the restaurant is similar to a very glossy, panelled railway carriage – the Orient Express with an Italian vibe that includes a fabulous bar with charismatic cocktail mixologist, huge displays of fresh flowers and original framed black and white prints of Hollywood stars in Monte Carlo. The mainly Italian staff is impeccable – friendly but not intrusive – the style of service just what you’d expect from Cipriani. This experience launched me back into ‘Let’s live a summer of “Le Dolce Vita” mode’ – and I did! I’d never let a little pandemic hold me back…” 10/10

ABOVE: “I have certain expectations of brasseries, cafes and bistros, and unless they have a name behind them the expectations are not very high. This comes from years of not very good food presented worldwide as ‘French’ but not really very French at all – it’s as if stating that the cuisine is French allows a chef to get away with liberties that otherwise wouldn’t be acceptable. However, in France – where the reputation of the entire nation is reliant on the standard of the cuisine – it’s different. Even the tiniest bars and brasseries serve the most delicious food. At ‘Le St Germain’ on Rue du Bac, which was my ‘local’ for a while, everything I ate was fantastic – the best barbecued tuna nicoise salad, the best glass of red wine, the best desserts, the best everything… friendly staff, great music, lovely crowd. This profiterole dessert dripping with hot chocolate sauce was presented with all the flamboyance it deserves and the waiter thereafter became known to me as ‘Mr Profiterole’ – I have no idea what his real name is, and he didn’t seem to mind his new one. This brasserie isn’t as well known as ‘Cafe Flore’ or ‘Le Deux Magots’ nearby, but it’s just as good and less touristy…” 9/10

ABOVE, TOP LEFT: “The measure of a good chef is being able to ‘spring’ an ‘off menu’ special request on them and being delighted with the result. This summer-inspired pineapple dessert with a coconut glaze, crushed nuts and floral decoration was one of the best I’d tasted all summer. Chef Sasha at Ugo Alciati’s ‘L’Assaggio‘ in Paris dreamt that one up and deserves a round of applause for his effort!” 9/10

ABOVE, TOP RIGHT: “The Volkswagon and Moet & Chandon van installed outside Hotel Hermitage was the perfect place to escape the summer heatwave…raspberry gelato and a glass of chilled Champagne were my choice – but the staff are not personable, eye contact is rare and even with the music there’s none of the authentic charm you find elsewhere along the Monaco/French coast. Monte Carlo can feel soulless – and none more so than in the height of August, when I was there…” 5/10

ABOVE: “A lemon sorbet boozy dessert from a local cafe where I ate almost every second day (at an average of €35 per day) while I was in Paris during the summer. The main reason behind this choice of eating place was proximity to where I was staying, but also because it serves fresh juices, and I do like to get my vitamin quotient in. The food is good but the service extremely erratic – one day friendly, the next cold and aloof; one day service is impeccable, the next day the service is slow and the staff are looking at me like I’m a complete stranger while giving me the side-eye; one day the meal nicely presented, the next it’s cast down in front of me – without a word and no eye contact – in a way that I wouldn’t serve my dog. I never really knew what reception I would get – so I stopped going. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – the more loyal one is to a place, despite it’s flaws, the more you’re treated with disdain. Since September when everyone returned to the city, coaches thunder past, police sirens blare, decaying leaves line the cafe awning and the pavement, kids are ignored by their parents and the staff while being allowed to scream non-stop, smokers light up on the no-smoking pavement tables, the white furniture is grubby, the digital menu codes almost rubbed off and faded – doing a bit of light work on an iPad and remaining sane at the same time was virtually impossible. The ‘icing on the cake’ for me came (after I’d already published a few upbeat Instagram posts on her cafe), when I happily notified the owner, who was very concerned about the impact of covid restrictions on her business, that I planned to write a supportive review and circa 200k people around the world would see it – in particular in Paris, the South Of France, London and California, which forms the demographic of our readership and her very own customer base. Her written response/s were so contemptuous I immediately reconsidered publishing the review and also reconsidered ever dining there again. The desserts are good, the salads OK, the juices amongst the best I’ve tasted anywhere. However, I go by the attitude of the owner, and by how they treat their staff, and by how the staff then treat me and the rest of the guests… as I always say, from the top it filters down – an emotionally erratic owner produces erratic staff which produces erratic service which naturally produces dwindling custom. (As the saying goes – at this point in my life, if I catch one bad vibe then I’m out). We’re only talking about a local corner cafe here, but after that experience, I know I won’t ever be back and I’ll be surprised if it makes it through the coming winter. ‘Bye y’all!” (PS: The cakes here are proven to make you bottom heavy – ladies, beware!) 4/10

ABOVE: ‘Le Notre‘ produces the most fantastic patisserie and I ate this cake during a picnic on the boardwalk of a beach in Cannes, on the Cote D’Azur. This dessert is a miniature black forest gateaux – very light chocolate mousse on a bed of chocolate ganache, surrounded by sour black cherry coulis, chocolate and cream… a dream of a dessert – completely addictive! 9/10

ABOVE, LEFT: “This meringue dessert is the speciality of Eric Frechon, Hotel Du Cap Eden Roc; ABOVE RIGHT video clip features three fruit desserts by Cedric Grolet at Le Meurice in Paris; BOTTOM LEFT: Dessert by Alessandro Verdanelli of ‘Sushi Cupcake’ in London; BOTTOM RIGHT: Dessert by Angelo Musa at Plaza Athenee. As you would expect from these chefs and establishments, the desserts are exceptional and the service flawless.” 10/10 *Each chef appears in an individual review upcoming in the online magazine.

DISCLOSURE: As a professional advertising model, actress and interior designer of many years standing, my career is rather more developed than simply posting on social media. I do know social media managers and the service they provide, but this is not in any way part of what I do personally; the content I produce is purely a reflection of my lifestyle as I go about my daily business. I’ve been associated with hospitality all my adult life, working with and/or producing reviews on behalf of brands headed by super-chefs Alain Ducasse, Cedric Grolet, Jean Christophe Novelli, Angelo Musa, Wolfgang Puck, Jean George Vongerichten and I’m long time friends with culinary legends such as Pierre Schaedelin and Marco Pierre White – so I do know the industry extremely well – from front of house to back of house, up and down and round about; I know what’s right and what’s wrong, the standards that should be achieved and when they are not. I am not paid to endorse the hotels/restaurants/bars/cafes featured here, I settle the bill myself – unless otherwise clearly stated – therefore my occasional reviews are entirely independent and authentic. As the publisher of this online magazine, I am happy to support brands I know well and shine the spotlight on an excellent product and great service whenever they are deserved.

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