The amuse-bouche spritzes the contemporary Riviera scent to the gastronomic spectacle at Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris. The delicately simmered Mediterranean fish and the refreshing fragrance of citrus fruits are in a contemporary style finished in front of you. As the foggy steaming glass cover is lifted, a lemon bouillon is added on the sizzling stones for a final subtle touch of a local aroma. Then it is closed for a short moment before you are allowed to savor the almost raw morsels. On the hot stones sizzle five simple preparations of delicately seasoned seafood – a gallinette with celery, a red-finned scorpion fish with fennel, a bonito and olives, a mackerel with lemon, and a tender cuttlefish with capers.
“The Riviera has always been the prodigious inspiration for my cuisine. Everything is inspired by this land that sings the sun“, poetically muses Alain Ducasse. While the Mediterranean seafood expresses the life in the sea, the bread reflects the terroir. A stone-milled wheat flour from Soisson (Lazer, Hautes-Alpes) and the “truffled” wheat grown on the same land with truffles by Patrick & Pascale Duler at their Domaine de Saint-Géry in Lot region, are used in the moist country bread served with your meal. Vegetables are the conductors of the fine cuisine and the crispy sheet of wheat crackers imprinted with dried veggies is staged on your table to assert this millennial cuisine flagged by Ducasse.
From Louis XV to Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris
More than a quarter of a century ago, then a 30-years-old chef originating from the southwestern French region of Landes, took the helm at the prestigious Louis XV restaurant in Monte-Carlo. Not long after that, the restaurant received its third Michelin star, which it guards until today.
The queen of the Riviera has been recently transformed and with it, its name changed. Since April 2015, the restaurant bears the chef’s name instead of being called after the French King Louis XV. Now at the Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris a new millennium infuses the interior design, but the essence of the food remained faithful to tradition. Local herbs, grains, fish and vegetables from Ducasse’s preferred producers dominate the cuisine.
If you dined at Louis XV before the refurbishment, you will notice the substantial change of the visuals. To the disappointment of some of the frequent diners, the mood of the dining room and particularly at your table has changed profoundly. It is not anymore the elegant and nostalgic affair in Monaco that you will experience while dining there, now most of the diners are tourists, affluent, sure, as the price of the meal well exceeds two-digits.
The interior is mainly the work of Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku. Where once stood an abundant display of flowers, to me a more poignant expression of the lifestyle of the Rivera, now stands a marble and ebony wood from Mozambique. This centrepiece is titled L’Office and it is where the bread, butter as well as the chocolates are displayed and then dispensed to the tables. The Murano glass chandelier is also very contemporary as are all the cutleries.
The menu and the kitchen are currently overseen by the chef de cuisine Dominique Lory, who inherited Ducasse’s passion for local produce. Vegetables from Menton grown by Alexandra Boyle at her Jardin des Antipodes are celebrated in some signature plates such as the Primeurs des jardins de Provence à la truffe noire, a sublime starter that has been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening in 1987! The succulent vegetables are gently cooked to a perfect level of crispness or softness as desired, and the intense truffled bouillon is so decadent that dipping in the house bread easily clears the entire plate.
Lightness is also celebrated in spring when the asparagus season blooms and the simply steamed les Asperges vertes à la vapeur sneak into the menu. Always perfectly cooked, you rarely taste asparagus as good as this! Plenty of olive oil is used in the kitchen, so using right three local producers – the Domaine de la Ginestrea in Sospel, Olivaie de la Pierredite in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, and Domaine de la Royrie in Grasse, was necessary.
Another classic Ducasse dish, the Cookpot de légumes de saison (millet in a minestrone broth was included recently) is cooked with respect to nature. In spring, the bouillon is made with extracted green pea pods, so not much of the entire produce gets wasted. Inspired by the sustainable-minded US chef Dan Barber, Alain Ducasse encourages his chefs to waste less in their kitchen. Innovation with a contemporary young costume calls for fresh condiments, robust juices, and intense bouillons on the plates.
The liveliness of the San Remo gamberoni in a rockfish jelly and three scoops of caviar on the top is accentuated by the sea flavours touched by the refreshing jelly. Always a firm favourite of my husband and a classic dish. Nothing rivals the tenderness of the prawns from San Remo!
Ducasse applies nose-to-tail cooking also to the vegetal world. His ‘root-to-leaf’ cuisine (as I call it) stems from the chef’s respect for the environment. He said: “Before cooking, there is the nature“(he even titled one of his cookbooks “Nature”). Therefore, the artichoke heart used in one of his signature plates – Primeurs des jardins de Provence à la truffe noire – does not let the rest of the plant unattended. The leafs that would generally be thrown out are used to make the bouillon (I do the same in my home kitchen also with carrot tips as the broth tastes more interesting).
Authenticity is another Ducasse’s buzzword. By it, he means using also humble local ingredients such as chickpea grown by Noëlle Taxil-Wardell, the Myrte du maquis (a local shrub whose leafs are traditionally used in cooking meat) from Rocquebrune, but also the veal from the Pyrenees rasied by Jean-Marc Salies, and poultry by Arnaud Tauzin in his native Landes. The Milk-fed lamb, red leaves lettuce, tiny spelt and herb pesto is slowly cooked to achieve the perfect tenderness, while the Guinea fowl from les Landes, girolle mushroom, and sorrel condiment is a reminiscence of the chef’s origin. His parents raised chickens for the now controversial foie-gras, which you do not see on his menu in Monaco anymore.
After the main plates, freshness is re-established by a vegetal palate cleanser. As you spoon out the green apple or sorrel (sour herb) granité from the shiny bowl, you are set for the forthcoming sweet course or the savoury cheese plate.
Cheese from all over France is offered on the tempting trolley, but the highlights are local goat cheeses by Isabelle & Georges Monteiro in Peymeinade. I never resist, so fresh!
Even if you do not order any desserts, you will not come short of sweet treats. You are at a three Michelin star establishment after all. The little sweets served with your coffee, tea or my favourite here – the freshly cut herbal infusion, are assembled around the citrus fruits theme early in the season – bergamot-noisette, lemon in limoncello, lime and tangerine confit, kumquat with a marmalade of limequat, while red fruits arrive with the summer.
Dessert lovers behold, as the chef pâtissier Sandro Micheli uses the best hazelnuts in the world from the nearby Piedmont region in Italy, strawberries from Carros with eve’s milk cheese and vanilla, local raspberries with lemon verbena tea and ice-cream, honey from Provence graces the “tender rhubarb” as well as the citruses from the Riviera in his Two way grapefruit souffle and granite. Local natural abundance shines in his by fruit-inspired creations. From more afar comes cocoa in the Soft chocolate cake with cocoa nibs ice-cream and rum in the traditional Baba au Rhum sponge cake served with an irresistible lightly whipped cream.
Perhaps the only substantial disappointment at the restaurant for me is the wine, by it I mean mainly the service. The sommelier that has worked there since we came the first time over a decade ago, is generally not very pleasant. The wines are too overpriced and the wine waietr always tries to oversell. Beware of his sneaky practices and rather go for a nice Provencal bottle for a reasonable price. The list is split into three sections: the Season, the Moment and the Heritage. It is nothing more than a small selection of seasonally changing wines, then a pick of now ready-to-drink vintages and finally, the most expensive bottles of the French stable of the list come in the heritage. Considering the contents of the famous cellar in the underground of the Hôtel de Paris, the wine list is not broad enough.
Topping the mournful state of my intrepid vinous spirit, the wine by the glass selection is also extremely limited. In the age of Coravin and the Enomatic wine dispensers, at most gastronomic restaurants today you get a large selection of very interesting wines, but at Hôtel de Parish you have to be satisfied with the sommelier’s pick of one average white Burgundy and a red Bordeaux. Ducasse supposedly allowed a Provencal wine to be served by the glass, but after tasting it, I concluded that it was a mediocre wine for such an abundant wine region. The wine experience at the restaurant must be rated from a connoisseur’s view as very disappointing.
This is a shame, since the food has always been solid, authentic, vibrant, light, fresh, and cooked with the respect of terroir as Mr. Ducasse always teaches to his multi-Michelin stared pupils now in abundance disseminated around the world. As Louis XV in the past has nurtured a generation of ingredients respecting chefs, who today carry out their own vision of food to their diners, I hope it will continue to do so in the future under its chef-centric new name – the Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris.
Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris: Place du Casino, MC 98000 Principauté de Monaco
+377 98 06 88 64; firstname.lastname@example.org