Michelin champion Joël Robuchon at the Metropole in Monaco

The French chef Joël Robuchon holds the record 31 Michelin stars (as of 2017) for restaurants bearing his name. There is no other chef to date, who would achieve such a distinction from the most famous restaurant guide in the world – the Michelin Guide. As he spreads his brand globally I have had the opportunity to dine at most of his restaurants including the first and perhaps most casual Le Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris, London, Hong Kong and in New York as well as at the more formal restaurants in Monaco, Macao, and in Singapore.
Mashed potatoes a la Joel Robuchon
Over the years I have learnt one very important thing about the restaurants set up by one chef in different locations across three continents. Even the holder of “The Best Restaurant in the World” title, which Robuchon earned by the International Herald Tribune in 1994 for his restaurant in Paris, can disappoint. Well, for those of you indulging in ultra rich old school French and American flavours Robuchon delivers. Once his cuisine might had been extremely appealing, for he was titled “Chef of the Century” by Gault Millau in 1989, and the “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” in cuisine in 1976, but in the new millennium with accent on finesse, lightness and focus on ingredients rather than masking everything with too much of cuisine, his food is slightly outdated. Still, you may love it depending on your mood and taste preferences. I explain why.
French baquette
Joël Robuchon has a number of signature dishes such as the exquisite Lobster Ravioli or the super smooth buttered Mashed Potato puree (50% butter!) that let you enter the heaven of taste, and so does the bread cart. Yet, there are many other more seasonal and locally adapted creations that, for the insanely high price are seriously disappointing to that level, that one cannot finish even the tiny portion from his “small dishes”. If you plan on eating at one of his restaurants be prepared that you will not be getting much value for your money spent. A chef tagging his name on a restaurant is putting himself under a great risk. He must trust his appointed teams, however skilled and dedicated, that they will consistently deliver what the customers expect. Since today many diners travel extensively and have the opportunity as I do to try the various restaurants under one chef, thus having a valid point of reference, it becomes extremely challenging to please them. I used to love The Atelier in London in its first years, but as it started to be inconsistent, I stopped dining there. Macao was also overrated, as it made for quite a spoiled birthday dinner of mine. The rare to see wine list saved it though. The same might apply soon for the Monaco venue, but Hong Kong and Singapore were both solid when I went.
L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon in Monaco
In Monaco (2 stars Michelin) the responsible chef has been for years Christophe Cussac whose experience in gastronomic French cuisine is according to the books, but he does not seem to grasp the Robuchon’s touch using Japanese and Spanish ingredients and techniques. I dined there in 2010, 2011, 2012  and most recently in January 2017. The long gap was because there are just many better Michelin stared restaurants to dine at around the French Riviera. From Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris, nearby La Chevre d’Or in Eze to the “magnifiqueLe Cap at The Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat.
In a beautifully decorated and elegant room of the Metropole Hotel you feel almost majestic. Luxurious and comfortable chairs, Persian carpets and the extraordinary, attentive service make the dining experience a joyful affair. The clientelle is mostly coming from an affluent background, ladies adorned with a stunning jewellery, Hermes Birkin bags and mostly older gentlemen sipping on vintage Cognac after their dinner. Yet some come with the entire family to celebrate birthdays since the restaurant feels cosy.
L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon in Monaco

Food choices: Small Robuchon signature plates a la carte, seafood and meat focused tasting menu and the recently added vegetarian tasting menu

The food at Robuchon is ultra rich, flamboyant, striking and buttery. His plates are not about delicate, elegant representation of ingredients, but an indulgent, suckling carnivorous affair. His recent book Food & Life follows the healthy eating trend and inspired his new eight course, plant based and gluten-free menu (€98 coffee or tea with desert included). The vegetarian tasting menu that I tried on the most recent occasion was just a mashup of incoherent dishes with no apparent connection between each other. I never felt one ingredient staring, just too many flavours hitting the palate. I was struggling to make sense out of this trendy effort of Robuchon. Certainly, this menu was created to accommodate the increasing number of vegetarian and gluten-free food requesting customers, but if you dine at gastronomic restaurants often or if you are not a vegetarian and just balancing your diet with some meatless meals out, then do not go for this menu at the Robuchon. His seafood and meat-centric cuisine does not seem to comprehend the delicate beauty of vegetables.
L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon in Monaco
The first bite from the vegetarian menu after eating the always superb ultra crunchy baguette with a slab of unctuous butter that all Robuchon’s restaurants do so well, was the Quinoa crusted golden ball with smoked piquillo. The spicy bite of the Spanish piquillo chilli was so minimal that the only taste I was able to distinguish was the dry nutty quinoa, boring. Next came Pumpkin light ice cream mushrooms marinated in pistachio, a cold dish that I could not understand. Why pumpkin with marinated mushrooms? It just did not taste very good together, I could not finish it and had to spoon out a bit of the crab from my husband’s plate. That was just a start (later I would order a plate of the tested and tried mini-burgers and cut a morsel of the veal off my also slightly disappointed husband – both, the burgers were too sweet and the texture of the veal was just too dry). In the third veggie incarnation came the saviour, Crucifer with olive couscous, mashed potatoes and white truffle. The buttery potato mash and the always special white Alba truffles saved the colourful heads of cauliflower scattered all over.
L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon in Monaco
Another plate in this seasonally nuanced menu that remained from the beginning (with the quinoa) was the Artichoke roasted and unctuous covered with a chickpea and turmeric cappuccino, which was very nice, but quite rich after the previous ultra unctuous mashed potatoes. Then came Salsify golden on a red miso hummus, hazelnut emulsion that was poured over the plate at the table.
L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon in MonacoGood, but the following Rice risotto style with beetroot and parmesan cheese shavings was by all means as all of the plates beautifully presented, yet I much more prefer the Italian risotto style than beetroot in my rice, sorry. To finalise the erroneous menu selection was the dessert Citron de Menton candied in light cream with poached pear, served in a transparent glass, topped by golden leaf and lime underneath. Too sweet and overpowering the exquisite Menton lemons that I buy often at the local farmers market. Vegetables are my favourite gifts of nature, but in my mind I was crying: give me some cheese, fish, meat or seafood, please Mr Robuchon!
On the small plates menu, well this is quite a large cut, the lovers of a great Spanish ham will not be disappointed by LE JAMBON IBERICO DE BELLOTA thinly sliced and served with a toast. Still, in Monaco you can get at least as good Bellota at Avenue 31 for less. For anyone liking soft and delicate scallops with slightly crusty touch the Scallop in its own shell with crunchy vegetables and sprinkle of powdered paprika will be a great choice – a flavour bursting piece of seafood mastered perfectly by the great chef.
Scallops served on their own shell at London's L'Atelier by Joel Robuchon
An absolute winner from the starters for me remain the Lobster Ravioli. They will hit your budget slightly as you will pay a bit over €50 for this tiny snack. LA LANGOUSTINE en raviolis truffés à l’étuvée de chou vert is served with truffles and cabbage, and I fell in love with it the first time I tried them a decade ago. The delicately cooked lobster is so tender and interesting, with the unlikely green cabbage and truffle combo, that it always charms everyone who has ever eaten it with me on the table. I want two, €100 and still hungry!
Eager to experiment I have burned myself with the choice of Smoked Mackerel with Asparagus. The mackerel was unpleasantly slimy that I could not finish it. So I gave a chance to another fish, this time in red wine sauce with fried onions, and mushrooms. It was nice, but not outstanding. To fix my taste, I ordered another tasty dish I knew from the past Robuchon encounters – the non-vegetarian Purple artichoke with chorizo and thyme cooked in Morrocan tajine style. Covered by a conic top L’ARTICHAUT VIOLET à l’encornet au thym et au chorizo en tajine is a tasty blend of exotic spices exposing themselves as the lid is taken away. Intense and playful. In this case I would say that the vegetarian artichoke was equally good.
Gourmet burgers
The beefy Mini burgers with seared foie gras and onions served with hand cut fries used to be the best burgers I have ever had, but these beef juicy nibbles are served with an ever sweater sauce spoiling it all. What a shame for such a great peace of meat and sesame bun.
Staying in the meat realm LE VEAU en paillard aux feuilles de riquette et artichaut poivrade, a thinly pounded veal with artichokes is one time tender as it is cooked just right, but on the last ocassion the meat was too dry.
The cheese offer was reduced by a large stride. Only the most famous French cheeses, comte et al. come for these preferring savoury finish. Top quality was maintained.
The desserts trolley is provoking everyone as the waiters whizz it from a table to table. Whether you are full or not, you will probably end up getting one. The chocolate cake, the crumble pie and the mouse with vanilla cream are all great traditional French pastries.
Clos Vougeot ChardonnayRed Burgundy wine
Drinks: The wine list is quite modest for a restaurant of such a calibre, but if you are after French wines, you will find a good bottle. The head sommelier has worked at Robuchon in Monaco since I remember going there. The Chardonnay from Clos de Vougeot by Domaine de la Vougeraie is quite a rarity. We went for the same producer’s red Pinot Noir Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2013 and despite the wine’s youth I was drinking just perfectly. Another nice surprise was the Riesling from Alsace by the glass, and the Loire dessert wine Beaulieu by Château du Breuil, which the sommelier treated us to (free of charge) with our desserts. Not too sugary, yet honeyed tones were playing with the fruit and flower flavours like a bee savouring these delicacies of nature before honey is created.
Price: Sky-high expensive (many tapas style “small dishes” in the €30 and well above level)
Daily for lunch: 12:15-2:30pm; dinner: 7:15-10:30pm
+377 9315 1510

Alain Ducasse at Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo

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.
contemporary French gastronomyAmouse-bouche at three-Michelin star Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris
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.
Three Michelin star Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris in Monte-CarloFrench bread
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.
Italian prawns and caviar at Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris
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!
Vegetable based plate by Alain DucasseThree Michelin star restaurant by Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris in Monaco
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.
Cheese plateluxurious chocolate by French chef Alain Ducasse
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!
Desert at Three Michelin star restaurant by Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris in MonacoSugar rosted almonds
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.
Alain Ducasse restaurant at Hotel de Paris in Monte-Carlo
Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris in Monte-CarloHerbal tisane at Alain Ducasse at Hotel de Paris in Monaco
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

Monaco through local eyes

The glamorous words Monaco and Monte-Carlo cling like a toast of crystal champagne flutes with intoxicating indulgence. A sun deprived post-London syndrome and seeking safety in the crime ridden Côte d’Azur turned us into residents here. The climate is superb. Those thirsty for prestige desire to live in this Mediterranean Principality, yet there is much more to experience there than the speeding Ferraris and super yachts docking in the blue sea. The European tax heaven has its decadent materialistic side, yet most of the residents condensed on its 202 hectares are middle class multinationals seeking not showing off, but good life. They chose to live in Monaco because of the high level of security, great weather, quality education and healthcare. The life expectancy is over 85 years! Another blue zone? Visually getting there.
Port of MonacoOld Town of Monaco

Cosmopolitan Monaco: daily life of a resident

While enjoying some of the costly benefits the Principality offers like dressy superb dining, culture and events, we like to walk in our trainers and sweatpants when heading for groceries and mingle with some of the entertainingly overdressed visitors or retired ladies walking their coifed dogs on the concrete. Some try hard to fit in, which is bizarrely entertaining. Grounded in the mundane life, we shop our groceries at the local farmers market or one of the French hypermarchès, get a sandwich, freshly-baked cake and a cup of tea at the locally-owned independent Teashop, or indulge in a scoop of gelato at the Corsican maître glacier Pierre Geronimi. When not ordering in (via the convenient Roomservice app) or cooking at our tiny homes, we head out to casual eateries like the Italian Il Giardino. To work it all out, we swim in the crystal clear sea or in one of the three olympic-size swimming pools, go for a breezy run along the dashing sea coast, hike up to La Turbie or Roquebrune village, hit tennis at the Country Club, golf up in the hills, practice yoga asanas on the beach or improve our combat and self-defence precision at the International Academy of Martial Arts of Monaco. We live well and long. The only stress is traffic and noise from the never ending construction. We can walk since everything is near enough and shut down our windows to shield our wellbeing from the upsetting decibels.

The unique assets of Monaco

Size matters here more than elsewhere. Surpassed only by Vatican, the Principality of Monaco is the second smallest country. The Gare de Monaco was carved in the rock so the trains do not take the rare space. Tiny, independent city-states, some governed with a firm grip like Singapore, others with a divine backing (the Vatican or the “Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain” on a remote Greek peninsula), have always attracted the wealthy and powerful for their security and high standards of living. Monaco adds its income tax-free fragrance and wealth of cultural and sportive indulgence to the lure (except for the US passport holders). The convenient location on the Mediterranean in the proximity of a well-connected international airport (Nice) attracts yacht owners and jet setters. Above all, the high level of security is Monaco’s greatest asset. Violence is rare, but material crime cannot be curbed to zero because of its porous border with France. world's biggest yachts in Monaco

Reaching for the future

An autocracy that prides itself in its omnipresent and hard-nosed police guarding the roads and more than anywhere protecting the pedestrians, comforts anyone with democratising cravings. The real Monégasque by birth enjoy undisputed privileges. Affordable and modern housing, business support, high quality health care and education (Chinese is now also in the curriculum), so there is not much to complain about. The world’s rich will pay for it through their spendings in the city-state. Ostentatious fireworks are flashing in the sky as if they were traffic lights, charity galas, luxury fairs as well as the world’s most prestigious yacht show each September sails in the most wow mega boats for sale. There are billions of assets docking in the harbouring Principality’s two ports. In the main Port Hércule moors Lady Moura, Lady Nag Nag, and other curiously named yachts reflecting the sun’s gleam off their ultra-polished decks and high-rising hulls. The world’s most futuristic private super-yacht, the monstrous A has been spoiling our sea view annually around the Grand Prix, luckily its smaller sister the Motor A balanced the harshness of the military style mega boat. To me the old money billionaires have a better taste as the elegant, old sail boats like these owned by both Princesses, grace the ports of Monaco.
Traditional house in Monaco

Walking through Monaco’s history

One of the best local guides with decades of knowledge and an enviable zeal is Brigitte Grob, the founder of Monaco Walks. Brigitte gave me a sniff of the unknown in my own town. During our walk, while sharing engaging stories, she showed me hidden treasures, that most locals do not know about. Facing the glistening waters of the Mediterranean, the area has a lush past that reaches far back into history. The harbour was inhabited by the Greeks, who named it Monoikos, in the 6th century BC. Le Rocher, the naturally protected rock of Monaco withstood countless attacks and once served as a shelter for the ancient peoples and as a fortress. The Genovese Grimaldi family grasped the rock in 1297 and split from Genova in 1419. The current castle was built on Le Rocher, and this is also the oldest built up area of Monaco. Historically, Monaco was also part of France, a colony of Genoa, and today the constitutional monarchy is under a lucky protectorate of France.
Musee Oceanographique a Monaco

Sustainable lifestyle in Monaco

Sustainability might be the most important value the Grimaldis seek. Not just sustaining their reign over the little country and Monaco’s status as the luxury destination, but also environmentally. Prince Rainier III., the father of the current Prince and the husband of Grace Kelly, was a very active supporter of beauty, ecology and building. The last passion was a necessity to accommodate the growing population that yielded Rainier a nickname the “Builder Prince“. Under his rule a wise law was enforced that all flat rooftops have to be planted with greenery.
Albert II., his son, now continues in the visionary steps with his marine life protecting efforts, and a foundation supporting also local organic urban farming. The Swiss-born Jessica Sbaraglia and her Terre de Monaco organic projects like gardens at Monte Carlo Bay and Novotel hotels she managed the organic plantings on my and dozens of other residents’ terraces. As you stroll the roads of Monaco, all the orange trees you pass were not chemically treated. Also in Monaco, the world’s first entirely organic Michelin stared restaurant (Elsa by Paolo Sari at Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel) serves local vegetables, grains, sustainable meat and seafood to its affluent diners (a very slow food and service).
The nature in the surrounding Alpes Maritimes is perfect for hiking. Monaco is the western anchor for a 2.445km long Via Alpina hiking trail traversing five countries all the way to its eastern Adriatic dock at Trieste.
The fish tanks inside the eponymous Oceanographic Museum, built by Albert I., the explorer grandfather of the current Prince, are fed with sea water through pipes hosing high up from the sea. For certain species the water is adjusted so it facilitates their natural environment. The sea creatures displayed inside could not have wished for more comfort. To the disgruntlement of the local sushi chefs you will not find any bluefin tuna on the menus. The waters around Monaco are the cleanest achievable for residential shore, even for farming the local exquisite oysters known as “Les Perles de Monte-Carlo“. Served at the legendary Cafè de Paris, Le Quai des Artistes and other Monaco restaurants, still the fresh sea shells taste best with a glass of organic Provençal wine directly at the oyster farm. Overlooking the port of Fontvieille and the rocky tip of Le Rocher with the sandy-hued Oceanographic Museum, this is the most authentic experience in Monaco.
Sustainable citiesEcological Insect house

Building modern, still green Monaco

Eschewing the sustainable efforts in the name of progress, by developing Hong-Kong style high-rising apartment buildings and sea extensions à la Dubai became too tempting since the area cashes the highest prices per square metre in the world. Brigitte grasped the situation poignantly: “Crane, the bird, is Monaco’s national symbol, so now you see the steel homage to it all around.” The building never stops, perhaps only during the numerous French holidays.
It might seem that every morsel of land was build up, yet there are still parks and gardens. From the sprawling cliff of the Jardin Exotique, the Palace Park, Fontvieille Park, Princesse Grace Rose Garden, and the patch next to the sea converted into a Japanese Garden, the green spots unveil themselves when you look from above. So hike up or take the elevators, like in Hong Kong there are plenty to make the journey around more palatable for your feet.
The best views are from the Exotic Garden, from the terrace at Villa Paloma or from the bar inside the Vista Palace hotel towering above Monaco. Brigitte, the guide, took me inside the Jardin de L’Unesco adorned with sculptures, but what is the most impressive for any architect are the fountains. She informed me that, “it is logistically extremely challenging to have streaming water atop a building“. The garden was built on the roofs of the Fontvieille commercial centre, a modern residential quarter built on reclaimed land during the late 1970s and 80s.
With nowhere else to expand then to the sea, reclaiming land seems to be the way ahead to satisfy the never drying demand for residency in the already very dense area. A new startling project is under way right next to the popular local Larvotto beach. Adhering to the marine protection efforts, all coral reefs had to be shielded from any potentially harmful intervention.
Modern church interiorThe Cathedral of Monaco

Preserving cultural and natural beauty

Although the constitution ensures religious freedom, most churches and chapels are Roman Catholic. There is a charming church of Monaco’s Patron Sainte Dévote as well as hidden modern architectural treasures such as the Eglise du Sacre Coeur on Chemin de La Turbie. Sainte Dévote is the patron Saint of the principality and there is her sculpture inside the mighty Cathedral of Monaco, where all the Grimaldis including Grace have their tombs. Brigitte advised: “Look for latin scripture if you want to find her resting place.” There is even a synagogue that was recently ripped off the rocky hillside and with a minimalist simplicity rebuilt.
Culture and art have been flourishing from the era of Princesse Grace, the American iconic actress who married Prince Rainier in 1956. Through her artistic penchant she helped to beautify her adopted country. Her efforts continue today. More recently the Villa Paloma became the most interesting government run gallery for contemporary art. Boosted by superb views of the Castleit is a must visit (entrance-free Sundays). An open air, Roman amphitheatre in the Vieux Ville fronts the crystalline sea, what a stage!
Arts and architecture in MonacoSculpture in Monaco
To sate your sartorial appetite in this land of honey, the marbled Le Métropole shopping mall and temporary futuristic bubbles sell the vanities of ultra-luxurious brands. Zooming in, fading façades, some just steps away from the always freshly painted castle, have a different story to say. As Brigitte disclosed, all the buildings in sight of the recent glamorous wedding procession of Prince Albert and Princesse Charlene were repainted from the government’s repository.
Monaco excels in looking well-manicured on the outside, but leaves some spots untamed. What remained untouched brings a pinch of an old charm into the overbuilt hills. Like in Nice’s Old Town, their unkept make-up attracts though their sincerity.
Streets of MonacoReligious sculpture in Monaco
The main traditional market, Marché de la Condamine, benefited from a recent revamp. Not because of its romantic setting down under the castle, but we locals enjoy the reasonably priced freshly made pasta, pizza, socca, superb sushi and even Basque delicacies and healthy organic meals there for a casual outing. Here, meet for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or just browse the farmer’s vegetables, local and imported exotic fruits, seafood, seasonal mushrooms (chanterelles, porcini, truffles), and other fresh delicacies. The farmers under the arches rotate on pre-scheduled days, so you will find something different daily (ex. Sun).
Mediterranean fresh producefresh pasta

Events all year round

Monaco thrives culturally. Although the elegant casinos still generate most of the leisure-connected revenue and many gamblers and luck-teasers keep enjoying them, there is much more cultural richness to be discovered in Monaco. In spring, Printemps des Arts and Arts de Monaco annually change their programmes for constant excitement. During the summer enjoy the open cinema atop the old town (right bellow the prison for the Hitchcock vibes), the concerts at Monte Carlo Sporting Summer Festival where the world’s music stars perform during an overpriced, rather average dinner (better pack a picnic, a bottle of wine and spread a blanket under the night’s stars on the sandy Larvotto beach right next to the venue and you will hear everything). Great jazz musicians flash their instruments at the casual La Note Blue venue and restaurant also on the Larvotto, while each November the more polished Monte Carlo Jazz Festival at the gorgeous Salle Garnier inside the Opera House brings the jazz indoors.
Monaco has its own internationally acclaimed ballet group, philharmonic orchestra, soccer team, and the Princess Grace Dance Academy honing local dance talents.
Tree sun and sea
The scope of aesthetic and other sensory indulgence is refreshing for the tiny country of Monaco. In the stressed contemporary world we need more life quality improving places to live. Having one of the longest life expectancies in the world, after reading my Monaco guide, you perhaps better understand why the blue sky makes all the difference.

Hôtel Métropole – decadent Joel Robuchon‘s two Michelin restaurant befits the palatial hotel right in the heart of Monte-Carlo, luxurious spa pampering, and by the late Karl Lagerfeld photographed mural alongside the outdoor lounge pool attracts the Russian and Italian fashionistas on balmy evenings. Marbled floors roll out the shopping parade underground. Aside from all the luxury, the local porcelain by Manufacture du Monaco breaths elegance into any interior or a boat.
Hôtel de Paris – the star of luxurious accommodation in the Principality underwent a multimillion reconstruction. New spa, new suites, the best hair studio in the Principality, and the best gastronomic indulgence in town at the three Michelin stared Alain Ducasse is a must for any gourmand. I am not a huge fan of the food at The Grill, but the bird eye view over the Casino is easily best in town. A more casual Mediterranean dining designed for sharing awaits at Ô Mer by Ducasse.
Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel – the most exclusive, yet seasonal (April-October) contemporary hotel. The first “100% organic” Michelin stared restaurant in the word, rooms with exquisite sea views and direct access to the prestigious Monte Carlo Beach Club with its olympic size seawater swimming pool, beach volleyball, yoga, organic pizzeria, pool dining, and open only in summer La Vigie Lounge & Restaurant is locals favourite for al-fresco seafood-centric dining.
Monte-Carlo Bay Resort – all in one for a true resort experience right by the sea with its own garden (my favourite fitness training), two large swimming pools, organic Cinq Mondes Spa, a Michelin-stared, exotically accented Blue Bay restaurant (too slow service for us), a casino, an urban farm and the most elegant tea room in Monaco.
Hermitage Hotel – the Belle Epoque beauty is perfectly located just next to a new shopping arcade, some rooms overlook the active Port where super-yachts meet elegant sailboats, freshness is the decoration’s halo. The one Michelin stared Pavilion by Yannick Alléno is best in summer when the terrace ushers an elegant soiree, while extensive Thermes Marins spa offers the most advanced scientific healing and the widest wellness offer in town – from thalassotherapy, the most healing cranio-sacral touch I have ever experienced, a cryo chamber popular with the local soccer team, aqua gymnastics, to health-focused L’Hirondelle with daily changing market and wellness menus, a juice bar, and an outdoor terrace where the elegant Carla Bruni lunched with Nicholas Sarcozy before her giving a concert in the Opera.
Hôtel de Monaco – a bargain three star treasure, with an individual, cosy character. Located just outside Monaco in Cap-d’Ail its access to a seaside walking path makes this boutique hotel ideal for savvy travellers on tight budget.

Le Teashop: the best tea time in Monaco

Sourcing directly from tea farms and trusted importers that are locally involved in the most important global tea regions positions Le Teashop as the premium tea purveyor in Monaco. The personalised space also offers something more than any of the cafés in the affluent Principality – education and a sense of community. This cocoon for Monaco tea lovers is a family business owned and founded by Sharon Woodstone and her father, a former pharmacist, helps out when she spends time with her daughters. During their school’s lunch break, you will often find the girls alongside their grandmother sipping tea with a cake at Le Teashop. Sharon’s unquenchable thirst for new tea paraphernalia, while offering the best quality and diverse products from the soul-soothing tea realm, draws in regular customers.
Le Teashop tea accessories concept tea store in Monaco

French family values in Monegasque business

From carved cast iron tea pots, fragile white bone china, practical tea caddies, carry-on tea thermos adorned with colour-printed Japanese washi paper, funky tea strainers, through ultra-rare teas to her own signature blends, the concept tea store offers her fine taste, open-minded entrepreneurial spirit and humour. As I interviewed her, Sharon’s youth-glaring mum whoops into the store nodding, smiling and pointing out towards the glass doors: “My mum designed the board outside”, adds the proud daughter.
I was sipping on Sharon’s favourite morning tea, enchanted, inhaling the unbelievably complex, cookies resembling aromas of this pure high mountain wild black tea from Taiwan, when it downed at me: passion and strong family values are the most admirable French traits of Le Teashop. It is a work of love, where her father often assumes the role behind the counter, her mother swirls in for a cup of her favourite sencha and her English pilot husband hand-crafted the sleek wooden shelves and tables. The family connection penetrates every aspect of the store. Sharon revealed that, “the decoration of the store was done by me and my husband, we love decorating and for here we wanted something welcoming [that is why we used lots of wood], not too flashy, something simple, but with a good quality. We also want to show some pictures and sculptures to make it more cosy.” Many local photographers and talented artists approach them, desiring to exhibit their work. One of my local friends, a promising Canadian photographer with an impeccable eye for details, Jennifer Barnaby, who also provided her images for this post, recently showcased her gorgeous ingredients framed in the popping black canvas. I have never seen a sea urchin so intriguing! Indeed, a unique opportunity in Monaco for the emerging artists and craftsmen. Hands-on classes in weaving were offered for children, while culinary wizards could explore the art of raw chocolate.
Pride gusts through her lips. “One of the best compliments we got from people entering the shop was when they’d say that they do not feel like they are in Monaco.” Indeed, a great tea shop should be an escape from our busy lives. Offering something for everyone, even to the globetrotting and demanding tea veterans like me, drives her success.
tea in Monaco

Tea treasures at Le Teashop

It is less common to see a black tea from Taiwan abroad, so I adored the long, twisted and wide leaves of the precious brew she offered me. While I was sniffing the wild wet leaves like an excited dog getting onto something on his stroll in the park, Sharon informed me that “It is different from the Camelia Samica and Sinensis. In Taiwan there are many types of tea (about 14, but most do not contain theine so they cannot be recognised as tea, but this one contains the exciting, steadily releasing tea substance), but they are not recognised internationally as tea. The Taiwanese Tea council would like this specific one to be recognised as the third variety of tea, which the highly competitive Chinese strongly oppose.” Now, this is a real not just plainly commercial tea store for tea enthusiasts like me! Trying unusual teas, like wines becomes the quest of most connoisseurs. For example she offered a white pu’er from China, sending anxious shivers to some of her customers holidaying in the distant corners of the world. I hope it doe not sell out before I come back, many thought.
Having access to all these interesting teas, does she have a preferred one? I get a swift, but a diplomatic response: “Depends on my mood, on the time of the day, on the weather and season. In the morning I like black tea, in the afternoon I tend to prefer an oolong, in summer on a hot day I feel like having green tea. Sometimes it takes me like half an hour to decide which tea I want to drink!” I am slowly realising that we share the same tea habits and preferences, as she further confesses: “Myself I like unblended teas, but rooibos I like with a fragrance. People ask me to have more blends, but I try to introduce them to pure teas. I started with fragranced tea as most French do, but what I liked the most about tea is the tea time by myself, taking time and reading a book.”
Le Teashop concept tea store in Monaco

Teaching and training the tea palates of Monaco residents

Still, some customers do not understand the gustatory value of tea, and she gets frustrated: “Many people come here and ask me for tea to cure a sore throat, to detox or to loose weight. I am not a pharmacy and neither do I promise magic weight loss based on some beliefs, as I only sell tea which tastes great.”
Most of the locals prefer, so far, the tea blends. Le Teashop offers a wide variety of the popular, established blends such as the fragrant Earl Grey, but also a black tea concoction called ‘Monaco’ inspired by the local sweet biscuit fougasse. This biscuit is made with anise seeds, orange flower water and orange peel and all topped with almonds and nuts. It was so far the most challenging task that her expert tea blender had mastered: “It took about five trials to succeed. I even made fougasse and sent it to the tea blender since it is more suitable for tea than savoury snacks such as the local barbajuan.”
During the summer, eight different daily cold brewed iced teas and infusions freshen up by the heat torched palates of those browsing into her store on Place des Moulins. The most popular flavours are lemon and ginger, mint, jasmine, and peach with white tea. This endless stream of ideas embraces all ages including kids. Sharon giggles, saying: “I have some 14-year old ‘clients’ that come here from the school nearby. That is why we have bubble tea, some without tea, based on sweet syrups because the kids prefer these to tea.” In summer, she includes fruit syrup bubbles like strawberry and lichi, while in winter she switches to the classic black chewy tapioca pearls.
Le Teashop in Monaco
Although a native Monegasque, she explored other parts of France. It was mainly in Paris and Nantes, where she discovered pure teas in small tea shops. Later her interest drew her to a tea course, where she was shown a gong fu cha by a Chinese tea expert and also participated in a Japanese tea ceremony. Gong fu cha tea preparation nevertheless attracts her the most.
With an ignited passion for tea as well as organic food and sweets, she bakes the tea cakes herself and serves a small slice with each pot of tea that her customers order. Seeking the best quality she uses purely organic ingredients in her overwhelmingly gluten-free pastry. Some cakes such as the popular matcha sponge cake remain, while others inspired by blogs, some cookbooks, her garden as well as by the local market when she sees some interesting seasonal ingredients. “Now I am experimenting with a vegan cheesecake and want to include some raw cakes with almonds and sweetened with dates”, she adds. In early fall, the figs from their garden were baked into a fluffy cake, while late in the fall her persimmons were made into a sirup.
Le Teashop in Monaco
Le Teashop’s concept extends to enlightening Monaco’s international residents through frequent tea tasting events with experts and occasional philosophical discussions with a French philosophy teacher on various topics such as ‘Can we escape time?’ Sharon explains that this is strongly linked to tea, as in China and Japan you take your time while drinking tea. Our culture is now more inclined towards fast-paced coffee drinking on the go because we feel time-pressed. She shares this story: “One of my friends once told me, when she had to talk with someone that she did not want to spend much time with, she offered the person coffee, and when she wanted to have a chat with someone interesting she proposed some tea, because she wanted it to last.”
Supporting intellectual discourse and community in the multicultural Monaco is needed because most events happen in French, a language that not a majority of the local residents understand.
I attended a pu’er tasting. Guided by Oliver, a tea expert based in Yunnan, who introduced us to an intriguing variety of pu’erhs from different vintages. Some were over 40 years old! Most of the classes are conducted in French, but some events are in English. You can check “Le Teashop” Facebook page for any future happenings.
With Le Teashop installed in Monaco, I do not miss almost anything here, perhaps only … snow flakes in the winter, as for these I still need to drive up to the mountains.

Cipriani restaurant in Monaco

Cipriani restaurant in Monaco is not a fine dining establishment, yet is as fancy as it gets in Monte-Carlo.

The sleek interior is designed to evoke a luxurious yacht. At Cipriani in Monte-Carlo, the investor Flavio Briatore bashes his F1 racing wealth on the wall posters of the luxurious restaurant as visually loudly as do the fashionably clad ladies joining their affluent dining partners. I admit, I always over-dress up too to fit in.
Monaco's Cipriani restaurant

From Venice to Monte-Carlo in style

Cipriani started as the Venetian to-be-seen venue originally known as the Harry’s Bar. Branching out around the world, the high-end Italian restaurant chain adopted the last name of its owner Giuseppe Cipriani. Today, the family’s fourth generation is in charge of this global restaurant empire. Its latest addition to the family album is its fanciest embodiment.

The food was rather disappointing during my first visit early after the opening. For the very high price tag (for simple Italian cuisine) one expects perfection. My second dinner there about a year later proved that Cipriani in Monaco can cook simple Italian food well.

From the solid appetisers I recommend the Burrata with tomatoes and basil. This raw dish is purely about the freshest and high-quality ingredients, and that was managed at Cipriani with excellence. The Asparagus with goats cheese is nice but boring. The raw Artichoke with parmesan shavings, after mixing the parmesan in, was decadent. I also like the Octopus salad. Fresh, the seafood was tender, not chewy as it can happen with the tentacular sea beast.
Burrata with tomatoes and basil
Some of the main courses were not good during my first visit. The Veal Escalope (Milanese style) was very dry. For such a classic dish this was a major disappointment delaying our next visit at Cipriani restaurant in Monaco until we heart from the fellow locals that it mended its misdeeds. Our numerous subsequent meals were solid, the Veal Milanese was much better; tender, juicy and tasteful. My sister got sick once after she ordered the Sepia with the black ink and polenta, a huge plate of black ink and just too little of the corn polenta. The local Mediterranean fish is sometimes grilled just right, no excess oil and very fresh, other times it was too dry. Forget the bitter and boring side salad served with it.
Artichoke with parmesanVeal Milanese
If there was one reason you should come to Cipriani, then it would be the pastas – they are cooked al dente mostly according to traditional recipes and taste simply heavenly! I tried the Seafood Spaghetti and could not stop adding more to my plate. The waiter serves you a little from a hot dish and then leaves it next to you so you can eat as much as you can. It looks like a huge portion, but you will probably end up eating the whole thing, how good it is.

The service is mostly crisp, elegantly white bow-dressed, yet casually nonchalant and efficient. Not spotless. Once, I was given my sister’s appetiser and main course – fine at a pizzeria around the corner, but not at Cipriani known for its impeccable service.
Waiter serving pasta at Cipriani
The dolci (deserts) selection is fashioned around on a tray. It looks good. Mostly cakes of rather international character than purely Italian, but a tiramisu fits in. We got a slice of a flabby creamy cake, boring enough that one spoon was sufficient.

Aperitivo, cappuccino in a chic Cipriani style

The members of the Cipriani Club have an access to a private bar and terrace upstairs. The rest of us can have a drink at the restaurant’s corner bar by the entrance. An aperitivo is a must at a true Italian establishment. We have ordered Bellini, a cocktail made of Prosecco and peach puree, the perfect start to the evening.

The wine list is prevailingly Italian. Ordering Antinori’s white Chardonnay is a safe bet, not a cheap option. A bit oaky to my palate, resembling New World Chardonnays but it went well with our food. More indigenous Italian varietals should appear on the overpriced wine list.

My cappuccino was a disaster! At a vending machine in Milano’s subway I get a better deal. The foam was full of air holes and the coffee too strong for a cappuccino, more like the French powerful roast that I dislike. Oh la la, what a faux-pas!

Visits: Between July 2012 & September 2019
 Daily 7pm – midnight;
+377 93 25 42 50
 1, Avenue Princesse Grace, 98000 Monte Carlo, Monaco

Chanoyu Japanese tea ceremony performed by a tea master in Monaco

The precise and thoughtful movements of a Japanese hostess or a tea master when performing traditional tea ceremony, known in Japan as Chanoyu, have highly spiritual as well as psychological value to all participants.
Chanoyu Japanese tea ceremony performed by a tea master at Hotel du Paris
The gentle strokes of a Japanese woman during the Ikebana flower arrangement, the bows appending the fragrant incense as well as the mind-refreshing tea ceremonies have a common ground – they are all manifestations of the asian Zen philosophy.
Anyone who has visited the Zen temples in Japan can comprehend better the underlying concepts of these for lay people seemingly unimportant tasks – the peaceful movements, the humility and self-less manners. Calming and impactful, these all stem from the same root:
Balancing one’s mind in order to be in harmony with nature (our surroundings) is the ultimate goal of these activities.
Wiping a bowl of matcha during  Japanese tea ceremony
Monaco has a significant Japanese presence. Many visitors and locals alike enjoy a stroll in the principality’s seaside Japanese garden, and some stumble upon the charming bamboo shelter tea house. There are more inspiring asiatic activities taking place though. Throughout the year, the cultural muscle of Monaco exercises its clout during manifold multi-disciplinary workouts. Printemps des Arts being one of the most challenging and vigor-showcasing acts of all.
Guest drinking a bowl of japanese matcha
The Chanoyu Japanese tea ceremony was performed this year by a tea master So-oku SEN inside the Monaco’s iconic Hotel du Paris. What was the most striking to my highly perceptive eyes was how the delicate colours and gentle gestures depicted in the gigantic French murals adorning the walls of the Salle Empire blended unanimously with the ceremony itself.
It was a Zen marriage of two genders – one of the French origin while the other was Japanese.
 Japanese tea ceremony meets French opulence at Monaco's Hotel du Paris
There are many traditional as well as forward-thinking tea schools dusted across Japan. One of the later is the adaptive Printemps des Arts that was established by Sen Ichio Soshu, the first tea master of Mushakouji Senke, who opened the tearoom Kankyuan in Kyoto in 1667. This was located on a street called Mushakouji, hence the school’s name. So-oku SEN is the 15th tea master of the Mushakoji-Senke school.
So-oku SEN designed his own Ryu-re style (Western seating) table since his approach to tea ceremony is more relaxed. It doesn’t have to be rigid and formal. He sees the future of the tea ceremony in embracing the art of tea in everyday life.
Japanese tea utensils
Attending the Japanese tea ceremony inspired me to acquire my own Japanese tea utensils when visiting Kyoto. Top left is a bamboo tea whisk called chosen, next to it towers a fine sieve to refine the matcha tea powder, on the right wrapped in green tissue are cleaning tissues for a matcha tea bowl. The ceramic bowls for matcha are on the left hiding behind the tea cups for regular leaf tea, and on the right with the leaf print facing you (the guest) as it should during the tea ceremony. In the forefront rests the bamboo ladle to transfer warm water into the tea bowl. On the tray are the handmade ceramic sweets container for the Wagashi (sweets) served after the matcha is drunk and a precious cherry wood box to keep special tea unaffected from dust, humidity and environmental aromas.
Tea master Sen in Monaco
The Zen way of thinking permeates all traditional Japanese arts, crafts and the original way of thinking. Modernisation of the country undermined significantly these generations-influencing values, but luckily there remains not only hope but also dedication and fascination with Japanese culture of some of its caring citizens. Chanoyu remains one of the iron-fisted guardians of the Japanese zen lifestyle.

Japanese tea house in the heart of Monaco

Perhaps, one of the most unlikely locations for a tea house, with the exception of a desert, but Monaco indeed has its own “chashitsu” or tea house in English and “la maison de thè” in French. There is no tea served here, what a shame (as I would gladly take over with my tea utensils from Japan and my familiarity with the Japanese tea ceremony), yet it is a meditative nature revering area calming one’s overstimulated senses by bringing solitude. Harmony graces your soul when you fully emerge yourself into its neat space.
Japanese tea house
Water fountain
Treasured inside the Japanese garden, built as an homage to the late Princess Grace of Monaco, and baptised as “The Garden of Grace” after her, the Japanese tea house (“chashitsu“), it was built entirely from natural materials according to the voluntary precepts of Sen Rikyû, the inventor of the principles guiding the tea ceremony in Japan.
Entering through a low gate (“cha-mon“), that since you have to bow while passing through inside inspires humbleness, the Japanese tea house transfers you into a peaceful oasis in the midst of the busy, by construction besieged Monaco. It is so small, that you naturally walk with small steps, slowing your pace down. A decorative stone lantern by the entrance to the Japanese garden is called Tõrõ and was once used for candles offered to the gods. It is carved out of the local stone from the Var department in South of France.
Stone lantern by the entrance to the Japanese garden
The five water stones (“tsukubai“) with a fountain pouring fresh water to purify your mouths and hands before entering the tea house itself was also fathomed by Rikyû.
Sen Rikyû, was the first japanese tea master that institutionalised Japanese tea ceremony. Tea was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks from its cradle in China and especially the green tea remained popular since then. There are other strands of rules guiding the tea ceremony elsewhere including Japan, but Rikyû has always been the most respected one.
The ceremony and the space incites harmony between the guests, the host and the tea utensils, that ultimately spurs respect for each other. An attainment of physical and spiritual purity leads to peace.
Japanese tea house in Monaco
The Japanese tea house in the heart of Monaco invites its visitors (through its French and English panel descriptions) to slow down and enjoy the beauty of this alluring location on the shores of the azure sky brightness and glistening Mediterranean sea. It cannot be more glamorous!

Cafè de Paris in Monte Carlo

Cafè de Paris in Monte Carlo is the iconic cafè every visitor of Monaco must visit at least for a cup of a pick-up coffee or a drink.
Cafe de Paris in Monte Carlo
Cuisine: French brasserie style.
Price: Medium for Monaco and the portions are generous. Most of the starters, salads and pasta dishes are between €10 and €20. The meats and fish are above €20 (up to €59 for lobster) so here vegetarians have it far cheaper.
The stylish menu
Atmosphere: It is a vibrant, always alive place. There are seats inside in an elegant Art deco styled room as well as outside in cosy chairs with wonderful view of the Monaco’s Opera and the Casino. Many people come here just to enjoy the view and the fancy scenery as the Ferraris and Lamborghinis along with Rolls Royces leave the Casino or its neighboring Hotel de Paris. I never came there for that reason, it was rather my curiosity about the quality of the food there what draw me in. You can wear a dress, but also a more casual pair of pants there, it is not at all as fancy as one may think. It is actually a very comfortable and laid back place if you want it to be like that.
Outside seating
Food: High quality ingredients, fast service and simple preparation with personal touch.
As at any brasserie the salads are highly popular as well as anything served with the french fries. From the salads the traditional Salade Niçoise (lettuce, tuna, tomatoes, celery, green pepper, cucumber, anchovies, hard  boiled egg, olives) is excellent here and the seasonal Fresh goat cheese salad is the best friend to a glass of champagne. Served with olive tapenade, lettuce, thick and creamy balsamic vinegar and a slice of bread it is also a great starter. It is slightly smaller than the Niçoise, which could make a main course for a light lunch.
Fresh goat cheese salad
From the warm mains, both the seafood and the meat are widely represented. The Grilled lobster and devil sauce is the most expensive dish on the menu, yet it is excellent. Grilled just right so the meat keeps some juice and served with grilled and steamed vegetables and herb sauce it is another adept for white wine or champagne to pair it with it.
The carnivores will not be cheated at Cafe de Paris as well. From the Sirloin steak Maître d’Hôtel to Grilled fillet steak with herbs and béarnaise sauce, your taste buds will get what they desire. If you dare to try something very French and for some nationalities quite unusual then the Poached calf’s head, Gribiche sauce & steamed potatoes will satisfy your curiosity. I have not had this one, so I am sorry I cannot comment on it. If you have tried it, please let me know in the comment section below this review.
Grilled lobster
Drinks: Some people come here only for drinks – from a cup of coffee or tea to a bottle of champagne. They sit in the front part of the Cafè, where they can enjoy the view of the Casino square with all its glitz. The diners have a nice selection of wines by the bottle. Not many bargains though so I would go for some lesser known wine. We had a bottle of  a red Burgundy from Domaine Faivelay and were more than satisfied with its quality/price value.
Opening hours: Daily: 8am to 2am
Contact: T. (377) 98 06 76 23
Address: Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco

Quai des Artistes: seafood heaven in Monaco's port

Quai des Artistes restaurant in the Monaco's port
Price: high with some appetizers in the €20 range and main courses around €30 and more. High quality seafood is not cheap in Europe though today, so the price is justifiable.
Seafood platter with the view of the Monaco's port
Atmosphere: Buzzing, casual and very French. What I mean by the later is that the Art deco design of the interior with its long wooden bar and the staff conservatively dressed in white shirts with black pants are the signature feature of classical French brasserie. During the cold months the indoor premisses are filled with local customers and when it warms up they all together with Monaco’s tourists move outdoors to a larger terrace. It is lively there not just because of the diners sharing their daily stories within the tables, but also because of the location – right in the busy port surrounded by restaurants, bars and nightclubs open late towards the morning hours. The staff is friendly, speaks English and some of them even Italian. The final big plus is that you can wear almost anything you feel like – with the exception of the flip-flops.
The old classical bar inside
Food:  From the French traditional fish soup – Soupe de Poissons de roche de la pêche locale en croûte de feuilletage (Homemade fish soup with its puff pastry top), which is outstanding to a gourmet treat of Burgundy snails with mild garlic butter you can get practically anything what is a staple of the French cuisine.
On the other hand, with the Asian trend spanning even to these traditional brasseries, the Japanese duo: raw and yuzu marinated salmon, warm potato and avocado Makis, ginger, wasabi surely satisfies the Japanese cuisine fans.
The favorite warm dish of many regular guests is the Grand risotto crémeux aux fruits de mer, noix de St Jacques, gambas, crevettes et moules d’Espagne (Creamy seafood risotto: scallops, mussels, gambas, prawns). It does not come cheap (36 €), but the generous portion will sate most, even the big eaters. The seafood is so fresh and the creamy texture so delicate that this dish callas for some white wine with good acidity. Sauvignon Blanc from Loire or a rosè from Provance add a bit of freshness and zest to this rich risotto.
From the purely seafood courses, perhaps the most popular is a fresh seafood platter on ice – ranging from various oysters and shrimps to crab or lobster – the offer is wide.
If you feel like having a fish, then I highly recommend the Filet de Loup « plancha », fricassée de légumes verts Primeurs. The Grilled sea bass fillet with mixed green vegetables has a wonderful soft texture as a great sea bass should have, the crisp skin is edible (not like in most of fish dishes) and the crunchy vegetables in olive and herb sauce are perfectly accompanying the fish.
Grilled sea bass fillet at the Quai des Artistes
The meat offer is large as well, yet the seafood at the Quai des Artistes is so good that I would stick to it. You can peak at the menu.
Cuisine: French brasserie, seafood
Visit: June 2012
Drinks: You can start with an aperitif at the recently opened outdoor bar – open daily from 5h30pm – 2h00am. The wine list is focused on France (not a surprise at a French brasserie) and is build so many wines match the prevailing seafood dishes. We could not have chosen better – the mineral Chablis, 2010 from Grand Règnard was just perfect with our seafood platter as well as the fish later.
Opening hours: Mon-Sun: Lunch: 12h00-2h30pm(Sun: till 2h45pm); Dinner: 7h30pm – 11h00pm (Fri&Sat: till 11h15pm)
Contact: +(377) 97 97 97 77
Address: 4, Quai Antoine 1er, Monaco, 98000

Wine Cellar at Hotel de Paris in Monaco

I have been lucky enough to dine at Allain Ducasse’s three-Michelin stared restaurant at Hôtel de Paris in Monte-Carlo a number of times and have always enjoyed the tremendous food as well as wine served there. I have been always wondering how is the hotel’s wine cellar. There are two magnificent restaurants at the Hôtel de Paris, together holding five Michelin stars, so the cellar must be something out of ordinary, I had always thought.
Old wines & armagnacs at the wine cellar at Hotel du Paris
Now, I can confirm, it is something big size-wise as well as content-wise. Located deep underground its long old tunnels and dim lamps evoke slightly nostalgic and mysterious feelings. One really feels as if time had stopped a long time ago and never started passing again. The only think reminding you are not in the 19th century are surprisingly the liquid assets of the cellar – the wines.

There are, indeed, some very old wines in the cellar, but the sommelier taking us around was doubtful whether most of these reaching back into the 19th century were still drinkable. The oldest wine stored at a wine cellar known to me, that is accessible to the public, is at Palais Coburg in Vienna (I made a short video there) so in these terms Hôtel de Paris does not compete. Yet, as I mentioned in some very old cases the high age starts to be less desirable.

The tunnels of the wine cellar
There are some centenary bottles Château D’Yquem, which should be magnificent now as this sweet wine is one of the best aging on the world. But, what makes this cellar exceptional are the quantities of the same vintage of rare wines such as Petrus (Bordeaux) and Domaine de La Romanèe Conti (Burgundy). As the sommelier confessed: “I have been working at many high-end restaurants across France, but I have never seen so many bottles of one vintage of Petrus anywhere.” It is very hard to get hold of these rare wines itself and these in the wine business would confirm that getting 20 or 30 bottles of some wines is like looking for a precious diamond owned by a member of a royal family.
I wonder if there is any individual on the world having a cellar like this down under his house? If you know about someone, drop me an email, as I will offer a cleaning of it (a thorough) free of charge ;-).

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