Dining is the main marketing tool of Résidence de la Pinède, on the eastern outskirts of St Tropez. Look at the culinary accolades that this luxury hotel has – when Arnaud Donckele won his third Michelin star in 2013, he was, at 36, the youngest holder of that accolade; that same year, Le Chef magazine named him chef of the year; today, Gault-Millau gives him 19.5 out of 20. Today, it is near impossible to get a reservation at the 40-seat, dinner-only restaurant, outside on a terrace shaded by a 250-year old cypress that is custodian, so to speak, of the hotel that Bernard Arnault fell in love with, and bought January 2016 for his LVMH portfolio. The gal looked out of her upstairs room as today’s sun rose – see above – and remembered, with such delight, last night’s dinner (even the courgette wafers, to left, that came with one of the many pre-meal amuse were a work of art).
Restaurant Manager Thierry Ditullio also deserves praise, for the art of his serving crew, who glide around as if in a ballet. They are all so passionate, explain everything minutely without later bothering you continually. The first amuse evoked a smile. As the name of the 36-room hotel implies, there were formerly pines and olive groves here, and to set the ambience, a 15-inch living olive tree is brought to table, a wide wood belt around its trunk. This holds a pair of oysters with fennel, a pair of minute grapeseed tartlets, and two anchovy-filled olives. Amuse follows amuse – as Arnaud Donckele says on his impressive menu, ‘Being a cook is a simple act of love and sharing, between the produce and the people who grow, farm or fish it’. He names producers for many of his dishes.
I start with vine-ripened yellow and black Crimean tomatoes, over which is poured iced tomato essence with Lambruscum vinegar. My main course (seabass fillet and cheek cooked in vine shoot embers, nage of local vine-ripened tomatoes from Yann Ménard’s garden, courgettes scented with Alpille oregano) comes in two dishes. The cheek is still smoking as it is brought under a glass cloche, removed to get the aroma. Having started with Sacha Lichine’s Whispering Angel Caves d’Esclans Rosé 2016 we go on to another Provence wine, Domaine de la Tour du Bon En Sol 2014, a Bandol Mourvedre from winemaker Agnès Henry. The cheese trolley is wheeled up, to no avail, and shortly after we have finished berry feuilles with, separately, frozen nougat ice cream with Grasse rose and caramelised almonds, and fruit water essence apparently produced over 24 hours, a postprandial drinks trolley arrives, again unsuccessfully.
In the morning, once the sun is up, I am up and out, walking any slight hill I can find for exercise (I could have gone up and down the 30 spiral stairs that lead from room 237 down to the terrace, and the heated pool and the adjacent beach – the only private beach in St-Tropez. I meet up with Olivier Raveyre, born in St-Raphael and determined to travel (now, as GM here since 2007, he is a full hour away from his birthplace, but his circuitous professional route took in London, and Burj Al Arab, Dubai). There are all kinds of plans for this gorgeous place, says this super-passionate hotelier, whose aim in life is to please. Bernard Arnault has bought the adjacent plot, and undoubtedly the LVMH influence, and potentially even more Cheval Blanc association, will become apparent. Already about 60% of hotel guests are repeats, presumably making dinner reservations first and then booking a room. TO SEE WHAT A TYPICAL ROOM IS LIKE, WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW