The restaurants making waves in Monte Carlo
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Monte Carlo has long been a centre for gastronomic as well as motorsport excellence. Auguste Escoffier, the father of French cuisine, cooked here in the 1880s. And when Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV at the Hôtel de Paris became the first hotel restaurant to win three Michelin stars in 1990, it set a standard for in-house dining that luxury hoteliers have been chasing ever since. One of the latest chefs to land in Monte Carlo is Yannick Alléno, who already presides over two three-Michelin-starred restaurants (Alléno Paris and Le 1947 at Cheval Blanc Courchevel), among others around the world. Known as “the king of sauces” for his innovations in, yes, sauce-making, he takes over Le Vistamar, now rebranded Pavyllon after Alléno’s one-star restaurant in Paris at Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo. As a spokesperson told me, a superstar chef with a radical concept is increasingly what Hermitage guests are looking for.
Alléno has said he wants to ditch the “super-gastronomy” and “chichi and pompom” you might find elsewhere in favour of a less formal dining experience. The question is how much fanfare guests actually expect, given that Monaco is all about being seen and being “fancy”, as one regular informed me. Alléno’s five-course Monte Carlo tasting menu delivers some beautiful touches, including a steamed cheese soufflé in a watercress and smoked eel sauce, which apparently took three months to perfect. But the fireworks I was expecting didn’t materialise. The menu is still evolving. Alléno talks of revolutionising his roster of cold dishes; not tartare or salads but cooked meat and fish served cold. He cites dishes like seabass in a white sauce and poached chicken in a vibrant green sauce that will doubtless provide an opportunity to surprise and delight his diners (and Michelin inspectors) without resorting to “pompom”. If anyone can make cold chicken desirable, it’s him.
Another recent development is the awarding of a second Michelin star to Marcel Ravin’s Blue Bay at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel. If you were wondering why chefs should be drawn to Monte Carlo, Ravin is a case in point. The Martinique native took the helm at the Blue Bay in 2005 and earned his first Michelin star in 2015 with a menu that fuses Mediterranean traditions with Creole influences.
French gastronomy isn’t exactly diverse. But Ravin has always felt welcome in Monte Carlo, where the international crowd brings a worldly palate that enables him to cook the Caribbean-infused cuisine he wants to. The Bay Hotel also affords him the resources to deliver a two-starred experience, including a 4,300sq ft organic kitchen garden on site. From his 12-course tasting menu (there are shorter versions), I could tell a skilled chef was at work. To accompany the bread, for example, Ravin has developed a Mandja olive oil infused with turmeric that is stunning in its spicy, earthy complexity. I particularly enjoyed the citrus-foam-topped grilled squid, which left a lemony moustache you had to lick off after each bite. He also serves up bistro classics at the hotel’s more informal L’Orange Verte.
It speaks to evolving sensibilities at the Hôtel de Paris that the site formerly occupied by Alain Ducasse’s Ômer is now home to Lebanese restaurant concept, Em Sherif. The menu at Ômer was also Lebanese. But the new concept was founded by a chef who actually made her name cooking from that region. Beirut-born Mireille Hayek’s hot and cold meze, salads and spicy meats are clearly a hit. When I dined there, the crowd was an appreciative and rare mix of teenagers, business folk and ladies-who-lunch. It was by far the liveliest spot I visited.
For old-fashioned pleasures, I was suckered by Le Grill on the eighth floor of the Hôtel de Paris, a restaurant whose rotisserie dishes and soufflés continue to wow. My charcoal-roasted poulet was brought to the table in a sort of incense-wafting thurible, carved tableside and served with potato puffs. To follow was a Grand Marnier soufflé. You couldn’t call it cutting-edge. But it was fancy and sometimes that’s enough.
Ajesh Patalay was a guest of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer
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