I had one of the most catastrophic eating experiences of my life in Cannes, during the Film Festival. It was many years ago. As a freelance, I was covering the festival for a British newspaper. Being young, stupid and broke, I dined on a hot-dog from a street stand. This was not a good hot-dog. I emerged from my hotel bathroom three days later - thinner, greener and even more broke, for I had missed all my deadlines and still had the hotel to pay.
So the first message about eating in Cannes is to be wary of street food sellers. A hot-dog is not worth a near-death experience. Hygiene standards may have improved, but I wouldn’t stake a short-break on it.
The second message is that there’s no need to. In Cannes, you may dine like a Hollywood star – dine on an adjoining table to a Hollywood star – and thus be obliged to re-mortgage your house.
But you can also eat at reasonable prices in any number of brasseries, bistros and less famous restaurants. Granted, they’ll not be as cheap as a hot-dog but neither will they try to kill you. On the contrary, they mainly offer local Provençal food which, as everyone knows, is among the healthiest on the planet. All those fresh vegetables and fruit, the fish and the olive oil: there’s no surer way of staying svelte and living for ever.
So please crack on with the easiest of consciences. Should you wish to give mortality a chance, start with a pastis apéritif and continue with as many glasses of Provençal wine as seems meet and right. Most famous are the rosés, but there are some terrific reds (try the Bandols) and whites (Cassis) about, too.
A handful of other points to help you on your way:
• It’s cheaper to eat well at midday than in the evening. Posh restaurants, stratospherically priced by night, often have more affordable menus at lunch-time.
• Cannes is not Spain. Eating hours are more recognisably normal to English speakers: 12-12.30 to 2pm for lunch, 7-7.30 to 9.30-10pm for dinner. Certain brasseries and hipper establishments may serve later in the evening.
• If you order water (“de l’eau, s’il vous plait”), they’ll likely bring a bottle and charge you for it. If, like me, you resent paying for water, ask for a carafe (“Une carafe / un pichet d’eau”). This will be tap water. Restaurants must provide it free.
• Cooking times for steaks are treacherous in France. What we consider well-done, they think of as burned. There is a reason for this. French beef cattle are generally slaughtered later than cattle in the UK. So, cook steaks too long and they toughen to the consistency of a bowler hat. Be on your guard, though. As a result of all this, cooking gradations are one step lower than we’d expect in English.
• So, if you like your steak well done, ask for it very well done. (“très bien cuit” – tray bee-enn kwee). The waiter will tut-tut – no-one in France eats steaks thus – but, what the hell, it’s your meal, not his. If you like it medium, ask for “bien cuit”, medium rare – à point (ah-pwen), really rare – “bleu” (bleuh) and really, really rare – still moo’ing – “saignant” (say-nion).
• “Service compris” (service included) on a menu doesn’t get you out of leaving a tip. It simply means that the waiters are getting paid. In the old days, French waiters received no salary. They were entirely dependent on tips. This was too hazardous for modern tastes. So legislation demanded that they be paid a wage. So restaurateurs stuck service compris on their menus to inform clients that they, the clients, were no longer responsible for the totality of the waiters’ earnings.
• And there the phrase remains, generating misunderstanding to this day. Thus, and as elsewhere in the world, you are encouraged to recognise good service with an additional gratuity. There is, though, no reason to strive for US excesses. If the service has been good, I leave 10-12 per cent. Pretty reasonable attention rates whatever coinage I have about my person. If, by contrast, service has been off-hand or arrogant, I beat the waiting person about the head and take money from his or her pocket.