I reported recently that when in France we’d had some good meals, and we sampled (in part anyway) two extremes of examples of 2 starred Michelin restaurants.

The first, entirely satisfactory experience was in a luxurious conservatory type room in an expensive hotel in one of their coastal towns. While the men were parking the cars, Elisabeth and I were climbing a short flight of stairs at the entrance, she carrying the folded wheelchair and me walking. The front door opened, and someone relieved Elisabeth of the wheelchair, and advised me that if I found stairs difficult, they had a lift at the side. Our name was taken, our reservation confirmed, the men arrived, and we were shown in to the elegant restaurant which had a beautiful view of the bay. The linen, china, glassware and flowers were all a delight to examine. To our amusement, we ladies were brought a kind of hook and shelf that fitted to our chair on which you could place your handbag.

We decided we would have the most modest menu, which had 2 or 3 choices for each course and included a bottle of wine. The men had pastis and we had champagne as an aperitif. There was delicious home-baked bread and an amuse-bouche. I am ashamed to admit that out of the plethora of meals we ate, I cannot recall what exactly we ate here, but it was all very good. There was no feeling of disapproval that we had chosen a less expensive choice (it was still quite pricey you understand), and the service was impeccable – it was attentive without being tiresome; it proceeded at exactly the right pace – show enough that you felt you could relax, but not so slow that you became impatient. This kind of service, which you barely notice, is difficult to deliver.

There was only one wrong note. A waitress from another table, a middle-aged woman in black, came to our table. ”You have a Princess, called Charlotte.” she declared in tones of great excitement. “Ah, yes,” we said, “We’d heard that on the news.” We smiled at her. But this was not apparently what was expected. “Are you not pleased?” By this time I’m reflecting that I’m not required to hold a random conversation with a waitress on a topic of her choosing, and her not even our waitress, but we reply politely that yes, of course we’re pleased. It is good that the child has been delivered safely; the mother is well; and they must be pleased to have a boy and a girl. I don’t know what raptures she is expecting – they got rid of their monarchy but if they feel they need one, they’re welcome to ours so far as I’m concerned, but the waitress stomps off, clearly in a huff, delivering her coup de grace over her shoulder. ‘And it is good for England as well!’

The maitre d, one of these unobtrusive chaps who just appears out of nowhere when he’s required, (and hence the excellent service) materialises at our elbow soothingly and the meal proceeds.

But discussing this later with Elisabeth, we think it is significant that neither of us can remember anything we ate here. We can remember that it was all very pleasant; that the service was superb; the occasion enjoyable; and the food was very good – but we wonder if a Michelin star is worth what it used to be.

I considered complaining about the impertinent waitress but the maitre d was so competent I reckon he had dealt with it anyway.

Another starred Mchelin restaurant on our last day. Elisabeth and I approach the restaurant while the men park the cars and settle Milo. We try various doors around the building but cannot gain admittance. A chef emerges from some hidden door and opens a gate and directs us into a car park from which (if we’re lucky) we can enter the building. As we approach the doors we pass a plastic life sized orange pig. Inside, the place smells of spa and three ladies in dressing-gowns are consulting the receptionist. We wait. When they finish, the receptionist looks us over, and then decides there is something more urgent requiring her attention elsewhere and walks off, leaving the reception empty. After some time, a young male receptionist arrives. Elisabeth says we have a reservation. He denies this. She insists. He finds it, but does not apologise. I say I wish to visit the ladies’ room but this request is ignored. Although the dining room is empty, we are ushered to an unprepossessing table far from the window and with a lot of passing traffic. Worst of all, above this table is a giant photo of an unattractive man in chef’s uniform. I take even more exception to him than I did to the pig, The men arrive and we are presented with the menu. There are three prices of menu printed, but we are informed that only one is available today, (the most expensive) which costs 90 Euros per person. I have already decided (at about the point where we passed the pig) that I do not care for this establishment, so I shut my menu decidedly, and the decision is made that we will leave. The waitress says, “We can propose for you a simpler menu.” But I think, and will you also remove the photograph of the chef, and we sweep out, passing more people in dressing gowns.

We drive down the road and we find a rough building in a wood, practically a shack, where we can see the chef working (he is amusingly grumphy) and the waitress (perhaps his wife) is a beauty with a swan neck, and for some modest sum we have a delicious meal (there is very little choice) which includes kebabs of lamb and wonderful home made ice cream, served on mis matched china and surrounded by French families.

You can keep your orange pig.