Archive for octobre 2009

La Merenda, Nice

octobre 29, 2009

La Merenda has been known in Nice for a long time. Before Dominique Le Stanc took over with his wife, another couple served the classics of the cuisine nissarde in this little gem, tucked away in the vieux Nice. The setting is of the most basic. There are no real chairs, no telephone, and credit cards aren’t accepted neither. For those interested in going, you have to actually go there in the morning or a few days earlier to book (as there is not telephone, they take bookings only in person). One doesn’t bother with big wine lists neither here: You can choose between a white or red vin de pays (25euro per bottle) or a Bellet (45euro), which is the only vineyard in France, that is situated in a city. What matters here is the food, and the ambience. And those two points are quite peculiar here.

La Salle

La Salle

First of all, Le Stanc used to run the city’s most highly regarded restaurant, that of the Hotel Negresco. There, he received 2*, but decided to abandon the brigades of the palaces to take over this place. Here, he cooks alone, has a plongeur, and his wife (who is a Husserl, the family that runs Le Cerf in Marlenheim) does the service with a young man who helps out. Simple, effective and most profitable as a business model. Tables are turned once during the evening, and in some cases there are even three seatings, depending on the speed of the diners.

La Table

La Table

But, let’s turn to the food. We started with the obligatory Beignets de fleurs de courgettes. Lightly battered, deep-fried zucchini flowers come without any garnish, nor seasoning. The waiter supplies some fleur de sel and pepper, with which you are advised to season them at your convenience. Not a bad system and definitely not a bad dish. These beignets are among the best I have had. As good as those at the Louis XV, and better than at some less glorious places. They are delightfully crisp, light, tasty and fresh. Le Stanq takes a little ride around the Cours Saleya market every day with his bike to buy his products, whose freshness does transpire in the finished dishes. Outstanding.

Beignets

Beignets

Next up, was a classic, daube de boeuf a la nicoise. A beef stew/ragout, which is normally prepared with orange zest and/or olives came without all of these, and was thus a simple ragout, simmered with carrots and red wine. The only accompanying goodies were some panisses, chickpea fritters that come from the region too. The panisses were great, not quite as perfect as those from the Louis XV, but were very good. The daube itself was less impressive. The problem was a very thin sauce, and some rather dry meat. Now, when I braise meat, it is usually very moist, or juicy, but this was oddly dry at some parts. The sauce could have been reduced for a little while longer, as it was more like a broth than a hearty jus. Taste-wise, the dish was fine, but not remarkable. This was good, but it felt a little disappointing. It seems that Le Stanc took a few shortcuts (not reducing the sauce enough, not monitoring the meat’s cooking and final dryness,…). Good.

Daube

Daube

Dessert was another simple affair. A tarte aux blettes is another classic here, and rightfully so. This typically nicois dessert is made out of swiss chard, pine nuts, raisins, parmesan, sugar, eggs and is then enclosed in some pastry. On the plate it is very good, if unusual, but I greatly enjoy it, whenever I do have a chance to try it. This version was good, but not exceptional, as the dough wasn’t as beautifully crunchy as it could have been.

Tarte aux blettes

Tarte aux blettes

Overall, this meal was pretty good, considering the whole thing cost about 30euro (excluding drinks). The products were not bad, the skill was apparent, but the problem were the details. When I last came here, the food was much better, there were no such shortcomings. To see this is a little frustrating, as one has a great chef here, who does what he enjoys, in a most cosy environment. What was interesting too was the way the business was set up. A dish like the beignets costs him around 1,5euro and doesn’t demand any work. He sells it for 11 and thus makes a handsome profit on that, as he does with the others too. Now, not that I object, but if people complain about prices, they should rather look at simpler restaurants, and not pick on the top restaurants, who have huge costs (products, labour, crockery, china,…). This is definitely a nice place to go for a rather simple meal, if one is in the area. Perfect for dinner after a meal at the Louis XV…coming up next week.

Le Mirazur, Menton

octobre 23, 2009
La Salle

La Salle

My week on the Riviera was nearing its end, and I had made arrangements to return to Le Mirazur, a restaurant my family and I hugely enjoyed two years ago. Amongst the things that struck me back then was the fantastic bread, the very interesting cooking, great service and the stunning view over Menton and the sea. So, when I came back, I had some rather high expectations, which were further raised by Mauro Colagreco’s entrance into to 50 best list, and his nomination as chef of the year by the French Gault Millau guide.

La Table

La Table

The restaurant itself lies a few meters away from the Italian border and benefits of stunning views of the ocean. In addition to this, it does not only have huge windows that let you gaze at the sea, but those who don’t face the sea can still see it, thanks to some equally big mirrors. Crockery and glasses are rather simple, but the chairs have changed from simple beach restaurant-style chairs to something a little more elaborate. Despite a few more changes, the room will not figure among the most beautiful restaurant dining rooms I have seen so far. But, who cares really? We’re all here for the food, no?

La Salle II

La Salle II

Price-wise the menu is on the upper end of 1* restaurants (menus go from about 55 to 100 euro, with a lunch deal for 35 or so). To give you an idea: Tasting menus at a few 2* in Luxembourg and Belgium will not cost you more. But, let’s not complain about prices, in most cases they are a fairly accurate, and these places don’t make a lot of money. The wine list is not really that interesting, but will certainly grow over the years.

To accompany the obligatory glass of Champagne, one is offered a little selection of nibbles. From right to left, there was a cornet of carrots, celery and sesame, a tartelette mentonnaise (a Pissaladiere, with a little Parmesan basically), a spoonful of foie gras with lemon confit and a lemon cream. These were all very good and left me with a desire to find out more. The tarte had very well made pastry and was well seasoned, the foie of very good quality and the cream most interesting. The only rather dull and boring part was the cornet, which didn’t have an interest in the least. Very good.

Canapes

Canapes

The bread made its appearance, and I was eagerly awaiting the stunning almond and cinnamon bread and a very good fougasse, both of which I had still in my memory as being most amazing little creatures. However, the bread this time wasn’t quite as great as I had remembered: First of all, it was stone cold, the country style bread gave the impression to have been a little old and dull (no crust on this one), the fougasse tasted like some American style toast-bread drenched in olive oil and the almond/cinnamon roll was devoid of any buttery crispiness that I had so much anticipated. When I asked, if it was possible to have my bread warmed, I got no real answer and must thus say that this bread was a little disappointing.

Les pains

Les pains

Having seen a number of tables ordering a la carte, I had seen their amuse bouches, I knew what those would be and was rather surprised when they were sold to me as part of the menu carte blanche, the longest (and most expensive) tasting menu, the chef offered that night. I have no problem with paying for more dishes, but when one sells a good number of amuse bouches as regular dishes, I do not enjoy it at all. Anyways, restaurants, who cut short their pre-dinner greetings for tasting menu eaters should state that on the menu, it feels a little odd. In the end, three or four of the courses (out of eleven) would have come with the normal a la carte menu too…

The first course was a shot glass filled with green apple, celery, seaweed and a slightly acidic foam. This was an interesting combination that didn’t particularly impress, nor amaze. It was a palate cleanser and acceptable as such. Good.

Shot

Shot

Next up was a much more interesting combination. A parsnip veloute was served with pistachio oil, pistachios and a coffee flan. This was a most interesting combination, as the bitterness of the coffee complemented the natural sweetness of the parsnips and the richness of the pistachios. A little more of it would not have been pleasant though, as it was a rather singular taste mix. Good.

Panais/cafe

Panais/cafe

Colagreco prides himself with his own garden. In the menu, he explains the great amount of love his gardeners put in to it, in a very nice way (there is also an introduction, a preface of sorts, written by his sister). Like his mentor Alain Passard he employs someone who produces various types of vegetables. This can and often has some pretty positive effects on the product’s quality and the variety, but a rather negative effect on the restaurant’s pricing (after all, economies of scale aren’t really favourable in that context). The next course was based around heirloom beets and balsamic vinegar. Now, this is something one gets in many restaurants all over the world these days, and it seems a little overstretched by now. The beets were fine, but there wasn’t any particularly interesting seasoning, nor was there any other extraordinary feature in this collection of beautiful colours. The only sliver of raw beetroot was cut much too thickly, without seasoning and thus in stark contrast to the overcooked, slightly-mushy, under-seasoned other beets. This dish was beautiful, but didn’t quite deliver taste-wise.

Betteraves

Betteraves

Next up was a very good one, luckily. A simple combination of raw gamberoni di San Remo, finger lime and radishes proved to be most rewarding. The highly regarded gamberoni really are special in both taste and texture, and when presented in such a natural, untouched way, this quality is even more apparent. With the finger lime and slightly crunchy radish, the dish was not only very light, but also highly refreshing and summery. One could argue that it lacked punch, but then, the dish wasn’t going in that direction at all. It was one of the most simple dishes of the menu, and one of the best. Very good.

Gamberoni

Gamberoni

Following this came a dish that was more or less in the same idea as the beetroot one. A  few pieces of (cooked) courgettes were served with murex snails and a broth made out of grilled vegetables. The idea sure is good, but when seasoning isn’t spot on, the dish loses all credibility and attraction. In this case, salt seemed to have been used with great restriction and thus made the whole combination a little bland. In terms of product quality there wasn’t anything to discuss, it was very good food, but the rather dull broth didn’t quite lift the dish to new heights. Furthermore, the murex snails aren’t something that particularly fascinates me: tough, chewy, nearly devoid of any significant taste, they don’t really add anything (positive) to the dish. Another rather mediocre dish.

Courgettes

Courgettes

After having been served frog’s legs beignets a couple of times now, Colagreco served me some poached in butter. Paired with a few different tomato and nettle preparations, this dish took the classic French frog’s leg out of its comfort zone. The legs were great, creamy, tasty and well cooked, as they should be. The accompanying tomato marmelade was fine too, but a few confit cherry tomatoes were a little too acidic and the nettle puree had a overly dominant power, unpleasant flavour, that did overwhelm the subtle frog’s legs. Apart from this (rather big problem), it was a good dish.

Grenouilles

Grenouilles

Next up was a piece of duck foie gras, pan-fried and served with duck/verbena consommé, figs and fresh almonds. This was great dish, with the exception of a under-seasoned broth. The flavours were there, but needed a little strength or kick to live things up. Subtle flavours might have been involved here, but there must at least be enough punch to make these noticeable. The foie was cooked very well, although it was a little « sweaty » (usually a sign for not the freshest or lower quality livers). In combination with the fig and the two almonds it was a most pleasing dish. Very good.

Foie

Foie

Usually, Colagreco serves his fish with a smoked emulsion and a few leaves. This time, I was served a piece of blue-fin tuna with an haricot coco foam. The fillet of tuna was cooked throughout (horribly overcooked), and thus a little tough and less tasty. It was cut from a rather sinewy part of the fillet, which was from ordinary quality. Drowned in a massive pool of very good bean emulsion, the proportions seemed to have gotten out of hand a little on this one. If one had imagined a very nice piece of tuna belly (which was the day’s special) or at least a less cooked fillet with about a third of the foam, it would have made for a very successful dish, but like this it just seemed a little odd. Mediocre. Again, one felt a little ripped-off here, after all tuna didn’t figure on the menu at all, so to send those who let the chef decide what they eat the nastiest piece there is, is a rather bizarre thing.

Thon

Thon

Luckily enough, the next dish nearly saved the evening. A piece of Sisteron lamb, with a nice crunchy fat crust came with Miso-glased aubergines and a date condiment. If one takes away the fact that Pascal Barbot’s Miso-glased aubergine is being copied pretty much all over the place, this was a wonderful dish. The rack of lamb still had the panoufle attached to it and was beautifully crispy on top, with a creamy fatty centre and most tender meat. This really was a fine piece of lamb. In combination with the dates or the black sesame oil, it was a most happy pairing. Conceptually, it was very similar to a dish I had eaten two years earlier and remembered from then. If only a few more of this night’s dishes could have been like this… Excellent.

Agneau

Agneau

After a quick chat to Colagreco (who is about to open a steak house in Beirut, and who was implicated in a beach restaurant this summer!?) I was served my first dessert. A tube of frozen almond mousse was served in a fennel soup with orange sorbet, The combination isn’t unusual in cooking, but it was certainly the first time I stumbled across it in a dessert. I certainly do hope it won’t happen that often anymore, as it was not much more than good (if one is generous). The individual parts (with exception of the great sorbet) were only very lightly sweetened and didn’t really have pleasing tastes. If eaten together, the story looked very different and it seemed much better indeed. Still, it is interesting for a one time experience, but not really something I would travel for again. Good.

Orange sorbet

Orange sorbet

The second dessert was another strange one. A few popcorn pieces were mixed with chocolate truffles, some “chocolate snow” and mate ice cream. I hate writing anything too negative, but this really seemed like someone had thrown all there was left over from the week in a bowl: A bit of popcorn, some truffles, a little ice cream,… The individual parts were good, but this wasn’t a particularly interesting dessert. The “snow” was miles away from what I was served elsewhere (during my Amador internship, they made a fantastic version of this), as it was melting when the plate hit my table and was no more than a rather liquid cream by the time I was ready to start it. The textural combinations were rather odd too, to cut a long story short: Mediocre.

Chocolat

Chocolat

The mignardises were all very good (only the tapioca in the glass a little less so), but nothing worth spending much time with.

Mignardises

Mignardises

Looking back, this meal felt a little weird. I had had very good memories and would have hoped to at least get what I had two years ago both in terms of product quality and cooking. Rather, I got a mix of good and pretty uninspiring dishes, that left me with a puzzled mind. The lamb dish surely was great, but apart from that there was hardly one dish, which was more than good. In a total of about 11, that is not the best of ratios. Some of them seemed bizarre, odd and the products’ quality was not what it could have been, considering the area, and acclaim of the restaurant. The tuna was very poor, the beautiful frog’s legs killed by those overpowering flavours and bizarre tomatoes, the bread was really bad, and various other dishes grossly under-seasoned. Now, that is a list of errors, that is too long for a restaurant, that clearly strives for more than the 1* it holds. The fact that service was rather hectic, overwhelmed and much less charming than last time didn’t help neither. I was also quite astonished at the fact, that they serve three or four courses (out of 11) of the big tasting menu as extras for people on the carte. This is not a way to run a serious restaurant, and I hope for Colagreco that he stops that right away, as one feels a little ripped-off afterwards. He might have more luck with his beach restaurant or the steak house in Beirut?

Cuisine menagere

octobre 17, 2009

L’ete nous apporte des produits d’exception. Les cartes des restaurants regorgent d’homards bretons, ecrevisses, legumes, peches, figues, veau et d’autres belles choses. Voici quelques photos de plats faits lors des derniers mois.

des cepes en persillade...

des cepes en persillade...

Noix de boeuf, artichauts, courgettes et un us corse

Noix de boeuf, artichauts, courgettes et un us corse

Ravioli di coda di manzo ed olive nere

Ravioli di coda di manzo ed olive nere

Grosses ecrevisses pattes rouges, cebettes, girolles

Grosses ecrevisses pattes rouges, cebettes, girolles

veloute de cepes, des cepes rotis/crus, jambon de porc noir basque

veloute de cepes, des cepes rotis/crus, jambon de porc noir basque

Le Louis XV, Monte Carlo

octobre 13, 2009

I first came to Monte Carlo and the Louis XV two years ago. Back then, it was the first big 3* meal I paid for with my own pocket money. I saved up for half a year and was a little disappointed afterwards. I just wasn’t ready for this restaurant. The grand ambience proved to be the first problem. I bought my very first suit, just to go there. However, what really struck me, was the way, in which my appreciation of the food changed in the weeks following that dinner. From feeling a little disappointed to beginning to understand, what this was all about, it was quite a long way. However, when I was back in the region, last summer, I went back. This time for lunch, my meal cost me about a third of the dinner the year before and was mind-blowing. Never before had I eaten a sea bass of such quality, or a dessert this accomplished (although the desserts I tried on my first visit were on the same level). I had found what I had hoped for: Outstanding, regional products, relatively simple dishes, great service and of course, that slightly blasé room. During my week on the French Riviera in late September, I had planned a return to one of my 3 favourite restaurants in the world.

Mon compagnon

Mon compagnon

The restaurant was the first in which Alain Ducasse received 3*. This was a few years ago, and now he has not that much time for preparing stocks and sauces here anymore. That is why he delegates the work to his protégés, Franck Cerutti, who now runs all of the Hotel de Paris’ kitchens and Pascal Bardet, head chef of the Louis XV. Both of them are incredibly nice, passionate chefs, who seem to really love what they do. This kitchen is equally impressive as that of the Plaza Athenee in Paris, as it has roughly the same amount of cooks toiling in it. They are no less than 25 here, including 2 boulangers and 4 patissiers .

On the other side of the piano, one finds the same amount of people, in Georges Feghaly designed suits (which have a very stylish tab collar, a rare thing these days). This Monegasque designer is also the creator of the Parisian services’ « uniforms ». The cellar, one of the most impressive in the world, is in the very capable hands of Gerard Margeon (head sommelier of the Goupe Alain Ducasse and Noel Bajor, sommelier of the Louis XV), whilst the service brigade is directed by Michel Lang. This famous cellar has a whole history of its own, briefly portrayed in the wine list, which has some incredible prices (few bottles cost less than 60).

La salle

La salle

This time I found the brigade to be much more smiling, personal and approachable, the only flaw I had remarked during my previous visits. I wouldn’t go too far, if I would say that they really know how to pamper their diners. You are in most capable hands when dining here.

The room is one of the most impressive I have seen so far. The different (there were quite a few) maitresses of Louis XV look down on the guests, from their gold-framed portraits, the central flower bouquet is always huge and the amount of gold used in this one, gigantic room must amount to an obscene weight. Over the years, one has changed the chairs, and given the room a much friendlier, warmer, brighter lighting. Some hate such décor, but I must say that in this case it doesn’t bother me in the least.

La table

La table

My meal started with the first few nibbles: Barbajuans and bread crisps. Barbajuans are small, deep-fried ravioli from Monaco, which are filled (in summer at least) with ricotta, herbs and blettes. Biting in to one of these little treats is a pure delight. It is pure, because every single flavour is there, distinguishable, yet harmonious. But, don’t kid yourself, technique is close to perfection here too. Not a hint of greasiness is apparent on these parcels and the paper-thin pasta dough is as crisp as it gets. This is as perfect and refined as local, peasant cooking gets. The bread crisps bid your Champagne some very enjoyable company, that proves pleasant enough, whilst going through the menu. A most amusing, enjoyable start.

Barbaguan, croutes de pain

Barbaguan, croutes de pain

The classic, ever-present amuse bouche here is a mix of raw vegetables with a herb and parmesan sauce: Legumes de nos paysans a cru, sauce aux herbes pilees. It is no wonder that this amuse is often causing quite some irritation. Not only does it shock any first time diner with the disarming simplicity, but it also opposes the highly complex creations other chefs serve before meals. I must say that I am starting to like this more and more, for a few reasons. First, it is very regional. A bagna cauda is a classical Nicois dish, which is very similar and traditionally starts a meal in the area. Second, this plate is something you will always be able to come back to, even if the composition changes with the seasons. Furthermore, it features only vegetables, that come from the Riviera itself. Finally, it is a distillation of the philosophy behind the restaurant’s cooking. The predominance of the vegetables in haute cuisine has not begun in Alain Passard’s Arpege during the BSE-crisis, but here more or less 10 years earlier. Ducasse was the first to serve a fully vegetable-based tasting menu in a 3* restaurant, and the first chef to win 3* in a hotel restaurant. Very good.

Legumes

Legumes

Bread here is more impressive than anywhere else in this world (at least as far as I have seen pictures or experienced it myself so far). The two bakers produce at least 15 types of bread, twice a day. Even if there are only a couple of tables, the same amount of work is put into it. Obviously, there is not only a huge selection in terms of quantity, but it is also some of the finer bread this world has to offer these days. Among the best varieties were fig and nuts, tomato, fougasse aux lardons and a semolina flour « book ».

Les pains

Les pains

The actual meal started with a dish, which is contantly changing, but can be seen as a signature of the house: Salade tiede de cocos de l’arriere-pays, vongole, gamberoni et soupions, jus a l’encre de seiche. On a coco bean (small white beans that grow in the area and in Paimpol, where they even benefit from an AOC) puree and salad is mounted a mix of gamberoni from San Remo, vongole, small squid and poulpe. The whole is then served with a black sauce, made from the cooking juices of the different shellfish and squid ink. Looking at this dish, it is rather simple in preparation and not very inventive. The reasons for its success are mainly the fantastic quality of the produce, the precision of the cooking of every single element and the composition of the dish. The gamberoni, caught nearby and pristinely fresh, had amazingly clean, refined taste and a delightful texture. These are miles away from the stuff one is served in most restaurants anywhere in the world. The rest of the seafood does not fail to impress neither. The poulpe for instance, is caught by the last fisherman in Monaco, who supplies some of the restaurant’s fish and seafood and comes from the rocky coast off Monaco. The preparation is much more time-consuming than one is inclined to think: It is frozen, to tenderise it, cooked, and then marinated for 48h, the perfect length for the marinade, at least if one trusts Ducasse. The beans shall not be forgotten, as they are, just like everything else in this restaurant, of truly memorable quality. Along with the iodine flavours of the seafood, they make for a perfect match. Outstanding.

Haricots cocos

Haricots cocos

I have been making risotto from Ducasse’s recipe for years now, and it is the best I have encountered up to this day, so when I was approached with this dish, I was somehow interested to see what it would be like: Riso aux tomates de pays, pimenton et persil plat, jeunes oignons caramelises, Parmigiano Reggiano. You might have noticed that this is not a risotto, but a riso. Since Bardet took over, he changed the variety of rice to arroz bomba (which is used for paella) and changed the cooking method. The latter too, now resembles that of the paella, and thus gives it a completely different outcome. Apart from the perfect (al dente) cooking of the rice, I was most amazed by the incredibly strong, pungent tomato flavour. This was like eating a distillate of pure tomato, enriched by the gourmandise of the riso. The caramelised onions gave it a nice variation, both in terms of flavour and texture and the parmesan crisp provided a much welcome crunch. The difference from this cooking method to that of a classic risotto is the much lighter finishing. Whereas a risotto is traditionally finished with butter and/or parmesan and/or mascarpone and/or olive oil, this is simply bound with a little olive oil. It thus has a slightly more fine texture, that is really quite special. Another simple, but excellent dish.

Riso

Riso

Lapin de ferme mijote en cocotte aux amandes et truffe d’ete, des panisses. A rather generous serving of rabbit, glased in its jus was served with fresh almonds, summer truffles, a mesclun and panisses. Now this was another clin d’oeil to the area, as panisses are a local chickpea fry, that only consists of chickpea flour, water and a little olive oil. Here they were simply outstanding. Crisp on the outside, creamy, nearly like mashed potatoes on the inside, they would have sufficed by themselves. However, it would have been a pitty not to eat the rabbit, as it too, was a rather fine specimen. The various parts (rack, saddle, liver, kidney and leg) were all cooked and seasoned perfectly and were as tender as it could possibly get. The summer truffles were incredibly tasty for such a thing, I do despise, and added a nice earthy note. The trick here was the heating of them. By heating black or summer truffles in  some brown butter, or jus, one will maximise their flavour, and get a totally different effect from simply cold, sliced truffles.Again, this dish was disarmingly simple by appearance, but redefined completely what rabbit should taste like. Outstanding.

Lapin

Lapin

On to cheese, The various types here come from Bernard Antony, Alleosse and a regional goat’s cheese producer, who all supply their finest pieces.  I tried around six varieties and found all of them to be excellent. The comte, from 2005, is no less good than that of Arpege and is obviously quite impressive. A difference I believe to have remarked the moisture. Whilst Arpege’s and Les Ambassadeurs’ comte is much drier, with more clearly apparent salt crystals, this one was more moist, and slightly different. The local goat’s cheeses were of great quality too. Outstanding cheeses.

Les fromages

Les fromages

Desserts here are easily among the best in the world. Very few patissiers can match the work of Olivier Berger, who is probably one of the most important people in Ducasse’s empire.

My first dessert wer the Figues belones fourrees de crème au miel d’arbousier, d’autres poelees et refroidies, glace au lait. A seasonal, regional dessert, that I served the diners at the guesthouse the day before, made its appearance. The two preparations of belone figs, a variety that grows in the arriere-pays nicois and is particularly tasty and juicy, were accompanied by incredibly powerful milk ice cream and a puff pastry stick. One fig was simply  filled with a arbousier honey cream, whilst the other was roasted, then cooled. Both preparations bring out two completely different flavours in the figs, as the baked one has a highly complex, full and rich flavour, whilst the other is given a slightly bitter note from the honey and a much more natural, direct flavour. This really is a dessert anyone can make at home (although the ice cream might be a little more challenging, due to a very particular preparation) and never fails to impress. Excellent

Figues

Figues

One more highlight was to come: Monte-Carlo au Gianduja, glace aux noisettes du Piemont. An ice cream, made with the renowned nocciole delle Langhe is paired with a coco tuile and an entremets consisting of a crumble, gianduja mousse and crumchy base (praline feuillantine, dark chocolate, praline noisette). The delicate composition was mind-blowing. One didn’t feel this to be a heavy dessert or one that overpowers the diner. The incredibly strong, rich flavours were given a very light repackaging, that felt unreal. It was a pure delight, one that will not be forgotten. It was much more impressive than the (excellent) Louis XV, and should be tried by anyone who is seriously interested in cooking, or patisserie for that matter. One of the best desserts of the last few years for me. Divine.

Monte-Carlo

Monte-Carlo

The mignardises are easily as good as the desserts and were simply outstanding. The tarte tropezienne is much better than the original in St Tropez, and the other parts are far better than any versions I have had before.

Mignardises

Mignardises

This meal was a shock. Not only did it exceed my expectations (based on my previous visits), but it also made me realise how local a restaurant’s cooking can be. Not many were the products that came from further than a few kilometers away (the arroz bomba obviously though). Here was cooking that, isn’t inventive, but that doesn’t claim to be neither. It is an extremely pure, product-based, powerful style, which will not necessarily please someone, who doesn’t know a lot about cooking and products, but that will blow anyone with a serious interest away. Every product, be it a bean or a lobster comes from small producers, fishermen, …, who in some cases only supply only this restaurant. Despite it being a Ducasse restaurant, there is an incredibly personal, individual approach to the producers and guests here.  Furthermore, the purity of the flavours and cleanliness of them was most impressive. I have rarely had products of better quality that are given the chance to stand for themselves. This meal did, once more prove that it is often the less great chefs who tend to overcomplicate things and overload their plates with sauces, gels, jellies, airs, emulsions, foams, and whatever you want. In the end my most memorable meals were all in places that have a rather straightforward style (with the exception of Schloss Berg maybe): Louis XV, ADPA, In de Wulf, Schloss Berg, Sportsman.

DSCN1371

I enjoyed my meal that much, that I immediately booked a return, just a few days later. I have never done that anywhere else, so this is the greatest compliment I can possibly give a restaurant.

A week on the Riviera

octobre 2, 2009

I had the pleasure of  spending a week in late September in a most charming place. La Parare is a chambre d’hotes on the outskirts of Nice (about 25mins from the sea side), which has no more than four individually designed rooms and a magnificient location.  

 

Dinner on the terracce

Dinner on the terracce

Each and every one of them has a different theme, dominant colour, and thus very individual character. Sydney and Karin van Volen, who run this guesthouse since more or less six years now, constantly change this and that in every room. They managed to redecorate the old bergerie in a way that makes the best of the old stones, while introducing modern touches pretty much everywhere. The rooms are splendid and make you feel at home right away. For those who enjoy calm, relaxing places, this is not bad at all and comes at a very reasonable price.

 

Dining room

Dining room

The interesting part about the house’s location is that it is very close to Monaco, Nice, Eze, Menton, Cannes, without being anywhere near any touristy spots. Rather, it is nestled in a small hamlet in the arriere pays, and benefits of a most quiet region and a very pretty view.

 

Courgette soup (pre-pouring)

Courgette soup (pre-pouring)

Twice or three times a week Sydney and Karin organise a dinner at which those, who want, eat at the same table and spend around 40euro (drinks included). During the week I stayed there, I cooked three meals for the 8 guests with the outstanding products of the Riviera. I had found amazing loup, rouget and poulpe, which were among the finest fish I have eaten so far. The beauty of a fish, just caught that same morning, is unbelievable: Its firm and tasty flesh is miles away from the rather uninspiring fish most restaurants sell. 

 

Un loup quelques heures apres sa mort

Un loup quelques heures apres sa mort

 

 

Red mullets, about 2 hours after their death

Red mullets, about 2 hours after their death

 

Amongst other great stuff, I found a lovely lady who produces and sells a few different varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables in Nice, and who had some of the finest courgettes I have found up to now. This region really remains one of the most interesting and stimulating food areas in Europe, and dare I say, in the world. Cooking here is a joy, and even an amateur can produce some finer dishes, as not much has to be done to those jewels. 

 

Salade de poulpe, courgette, bouillon reduit

Salade de poulpe, courgette, bouillon reduit

Whilst being there I obviously used my time to (re-)discover some of the restaurants in the area.

In the following weeks, I will post my reviews of the restaurants I visited, so stay tuned.

Resize of U

After my week in this lovely bit of France, I was more than sad to leave. This region just has so much to offer: Outstanding products, restaurants, museums, landscape and many more things…