I suppose I am not unusual in liking to be taken care of by those who are skilled, friendly and efficient. That is why I enjoyed my last visit to the Restaurant ‘B’ so very much. Because of the attentions of the staff to my every whim, I felt special. And when I feel special, kindness pours out of me in every direction – to bring a rosy glow to the surrounding world, naughty though it often is. On this occasion I wish to name those who made me so happy, for they did their jobs remarkably well. They are Vincent Bertolotto, the barman, and waiter Romain Lançon (the latter in a waistcoat). I present to you pictures of them both. Because of them, and the food and drink they brought to me, I wish to recommend to you this lovely eatery in St Tropez. Of course, you, like me, will already love St Tropez, for it is in this prettiest of towns that we can sit by the quayside and marvel at the passing procession of the chic and the beautiful. And you will already know that there is one name which conjures up the style and glamour of this gorgeous town: Byblos.
I have not yet stayed at the Hotel Byblos, but on my visits to St Tropez I have been aware of its presence at the heart of things. With the looks of a little Mediterranean village – which has been transported miraculously right into the middle of town – the Byblos for decades has attracted the rich and the famous and yet has managed to remain exclusive and private. Its poolside restaurant is the subject of this essay – the Restaurant ‘B’.
Here is a tip for those of you, like myself, for whom climbing is not a favourite past-time. Go to the Byblos by car. Your driver will certainly take you to the hotel entrance on the avenue Paul Signac, from which you will have no difficulty whatever in reaching the restaurant. I arrived on foot at the entrance on the avenue Marshal Foch, near the Place des Lices, and found the climb up the many steps a bit of a struggle. An elderly lady overtook me with ease halfway up. As you know, I am not made of very stern stuff. At the top, I was restored at once by the lovely surroundings. The swimming pool shimmered at the centre of what did, indeed, look rather like a gathering of pretty Provençal houses, their vibrant colours reflected in the water. I thought this terrace of terra cotta tiles – onto which the Restaurant ‘B’ spills with elegant insouciance – a lovely spot.
At dinner, the chef – Vincent Maillard, a gentleman of considerable culinary talent – calls his dishes “Les Byni’z du B”. Essentially, they are numerous dishes in small portions, built around common themes – tapas for the French Riviera, if you will. Because there are so many dishes, some people leave the selection to the chef and then sit back to see what arrives. I have dined in this manner previously, and I can report that the dishes offered are delightful to both the eye and the palate. But I am a conservative old gent, and I wondered aloud to the excellent Vincent whether a more traditional arrangement might be possible. In a few seconds – driven, I am sure, by the entirely proper principle that the man sitting at the table is always right – he put into my hand the luncheon menu and told me that I was at liberty to choose whatever I wanted from it. This is what I call real service, and I congratulate this young man on providing it. (Apparently, he used to work at Cliveden – hence, perhaps, his command of the English language.) I thus enjoyed a splendid meal of four substantial portions, served with immaculate timing and courtesy by Romain.
Indeed, the first course – a refreshing tomato salad, with basil, spring onions and mozzarella – was so substantial that I could eat only half of it. I was probably saving myself for the wonderful truffle risotto, which – with extra slices of the divine fungus shaved over it at the table – was truly gorgeous. The fillet of beef proved that the kitchen was working to the highest standards, for the meat was tender, full of taste and accompanied by delicious pot-roasted vegetables. After these delights, I feared that the pudding might let the side down. But not so. This tiramisù might well have been the finest ever to enter my mouth. Absurdly and delightfully rich, it was really that good. (These four courses cost 102 euros.)
My wines came from the list used at Spoon (one of Mr Ducasse’s restaurants), which occupies another part of the hotel. I noticed a 2003 Montrachet (Drouhin - 620€), 1990 Pétrus (4,200€) and 1962 Yquem (1,740€). With my salad I quaffed a glass of Australian 2009 semillon from the ever-reliable Cape Mentelle (12€), and with the risotto the flintiness of a Chablis seemed right (W.Fèvre, 2009 - 13€, glass). But the red was the best: a super Côte Rôtie – recommended by Vincent – with pepper, spice, damson and hints of cabbage (P.Faury, 2008 - 90ε).
I left the way I had arrived – the descent being, as descents are wont to be, rather easier than the ascent. As I tripped down the steps, I was grateful to the Byblos and its Restaurant ‘B’ and grateful to Vincent and Romain – for adding to the glamour and the style of our beloved St Tropez. I had dressed well, I had eaten well, I had drunk well and I had been served well. What could be more St Tropez than that?