The opening plate at Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris spritzes the contemporary Riviera scent to the gastronomic spectacle you are about to experience. On hot stones sizzle five simple preparations of delicately seasoned seafood – a gallinette with celery, red-finned scorpion fish with fennel, bonito and olives, mackerel with lemon, and a tender cuttlefish with capers. The elegantly simmered Mediterranean fish with refreshing citrus fragrance is finished in front of you. The foggy, steaming glass cover is lifted, lemon bouillon splashed on the sizzling stones for a final subtle touch of a local aroma. Then it is closed for a brief infusion before you are allowed to fork out the almost raw morsels. Voila! Ducasse of the 21. century.
“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 by the sea, the bread reflects the terroir. Stone-milled wheat flour from Soisson (Lazer, Hautes-Alpes). “Truffled” wheat grown on the same land with truffles by Patrick & Pascale Duler at their Domaine de Saint-Géry in the Lot region. The moist country bread tastes of the land. Vegetables are the conductors of the fine cuisine, so crispy sheets of wheat crackers imprinted with dried veggies are staged on each table to assert the 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 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 twice transformed and with it, its name changed. Since April 2015, the restaurant bears the chef’s name. Now, at the Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris 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 change of the visuals. The mood of the dining room and particularly at your table has changed profoundly at first, but now it is back to balanced nuance of modernity of the dining tables with the wonderful frescoed walls. The new interior is mainly the work of Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku. The Murano glass chandelier is also very contemporary as is the cutlery and plates. Most of the diners are affluent tourists, some not used to dressing up properly. Jacket is required.
The chef de cuisine Dominique Lory inherited Ducasse’s passion for local produce. Vegetables from Menton grown by Alexandra Boyle at her Jardin des Antipodes are celebrated in signature plates such as Primeurs des jardins de Provence à la truffe noire. A sublime starter on the menu since the opening in 1987. The succulent vegetables are gently cooked to perfect crispness or softness when desired. 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. Supplied by three local producers – Domaine de la Ginestrea in Sospel, Olivaie de la Pierredite in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, and Domaine de la Royrie in Grasse. Innovation with contemporary flare calls for fresh condiments, robust juices, and intense bouillons on the plates.
The San Remo gamberoni in a rockfish jelly and three scoops of caviar on the top are accentuated by the sea flavours in a refreshing jelly. A classic dish here. Hardly anything 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 stems from his respect for the environment: “Before cooking, there is the nature” (one of his cookbooks “Nature”). The artichoke heart served in one of his signature plates – Primeurs des jardins de Provence à la truffe noire – also uses the plant’s leaves in the bouillon. The signature dish – Cookpot de légumes de saison (with millet in a minestrone broth 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 American chef Dan Barber, Alain Ducasse encourages his chefs to waste less in their kitchen.
Authenticity is another Ducasse’s buzzword. Humble local ingredients such as chickpeas grown by Noëlle Taxil-Wardell, the Myrte du maquis (a local shrub whose leaves were traditionally used in cooking meat) from Rocquebrune, veal from the Pyrenees raised by Jean-Marc Salies and poultry by Arnaud Tauzin in the chef’s native Landes. Milk-fed lamb, red leaves lettuce, tiny spelt and herb pesto is slowly cooked to achieve perfect tenderness, while Guinea fowl from les Landes, girolle mushroom, and sorrel condiment is a reminiscence of the Ducasse’s origin. His parents raised chickens for foie-gras, which was erased from the menu in Monaco for sustainability reasons.
After the main plates, freshness is re-established by a vegetal palate cleanser. Spooning out the green apple or sorrel (sour herb) granité from the shiny bowl, you are set for the forthcoming desserts 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!
The chef pâtissier Sandro Micheli uses the best hazelnuts in the world from nearby Piedmont region in Italy, strawberries from Carros with eve’s milk cheese, raspberries with lemon verbena and local seasonal produce. Honey from Provence graces the “tender rhubarb” as well as the citruses from the Riviera in his Two way grapefruit souffle and granite. Natural abundance shines in his fruit-inspired creations. From afar comes cocoa for the soft chocolate cake with cocoa nibs ice-cream and rum in the traditional Baba au Rhum sponge cake served with irresistible light whipped cream.
The little sweets served with coffee, tea or my favourite freshly cut herbal infusion, are assembled around citrus fruits theme early in the year – bergamot-noisette, lemon in limoncello, lime and tangerine confit, kumquat with a marmalade of limequat. Red fruits arrive with summer. Chocolates from Alain Ducasse Chocolate Manufacture grace the whole year for the final sweet touch on your palate. Freshly caramelised almonds whiff their intense aromas into the elegant dining room.
The only substantial disappointment of Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris is the wine. Mainly the unwelcoming service. The sommelier is unfortunately not very pleasant. The wines are too overpriced and he has always tried to oversell. Like at the Paris three star restaurant, the list is split into three sections: the Season, Moment and the Heritage. A limited selection of seasonally changing wines, ready-to-drink vintages and finally, the most expensive bottles of the French stable in the ‘Heritage’. Considering the contents of the famous cellar at the Hôtel de Paris, the wine list is not broad enough.
The wine by the glass selection is also extremely limited. In the age of Coravin and the Enomatic wine dispensers and the pedigree of the cellar at Hôtel de Paris, you are left with the sommelier’s choice of an average white Burgundy and one red Bordeaux. Provencal wine is also served by the glass, but the recent one was a mediocre. Ducasse’s new restaurant at Hôtel de Paris, Ô Mer, does wine much better.
The food has always been solid, authentic, vibrant, light, fresh, and cooked with the respect of terroir in Ducasse’s teaching. As Louis XV. nurtured a generation of ingredients respecting chefs, I hope the new name – Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris – keeps the produce high in its now more commercialised regard.
Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris: Place du Casino, MC 98000 Principauté de Monaco
+377 98 06 88 64