I have rarely eaten at the same restaurant more than once in no more than 4 days. At Le Louis XV, I did this for the first time in my life. After the stunning meal I had eaten a few days earlier, I returned to Monte Carlo for the second time for another lunch.
The room was fully booked, unlike on my visit a few days earlier, where only 3 tables were taken. Despite this, the service was as great, perfect and charming as ever, and even Michel Lang, the Maitre d’hotel came for the lunch service (he often spends only dinner services in the restaurant).
After a word with the chef in the kitchen I started with Lanson rose Champagne (they only have the tete de cuvee by the glass for dinner), which was surprisingly good. The amuse bouches were pretty much the same as a few days earlier and were equally tasty and enjoyable.
Butter here is quite entertainingly served from a little mountain. They both come from Normandy, and were of very good quality. Bread was also on top form, even though it is always on the slightly softer side, good for cleaning plates, less so for people who like a good crust.
The meal itself started with Foie gras de canard de Chalosse au naturel, pain de campagne toaste. A slice of foie gras was simply paired with three preparations of figs and fresh almonds. Never on earth would I have imagined myself to be eating foie gras on a late summer day on the Riviera. Least of all places in this restaurant. However, Pascal Bardet did chose the menu and I completely understand his choice. It was a stunning piece of foie. The quality of the liver was of the highest order. I would challenge anyone to get me better livers than this one. Technically, it must have been the most perfect cold foie gras I have come across (I thought that I had eaten my fair share of good foie during my short life). It had the most amazing texture, somewhere between creamy, slightly firm and meltingly tender. It’s hard to describe that kind of very unique texture that a fine foie gras terrine has, but this was really a mind-changing experience. Obviously, the seasoning was spot on too, as was the combination with the meaty, slightly sweet figs and the crunchy country bread. I doubt that I will ever eat a better piece of duck liver in my life, as it was absolutely divine.
Next up was a highly seasonal dish: Ravioli croustillants et moelleux aux champignons des bois, un veloute pour saucer. A cepe cream served as base for three glased mushroom ravioli, a few pan-fried girolles and shavings of raw cepes bouchon. The intensity of the farce (made up of cepe puree and duxelle) and cream was remarkable. Despite them not being crunchy, the ravioli were little parcels of distilled joy. The cream, which was lusciously spooned on the ravioli boosted the flavours even more, and made this an absolutely outstanding dish. The quality of the pasta was nearly as good as that of ADPA, where I have found the best pasta so far, but had a little less bite to it. I am not sure how many Italian restaurants can produce better pasta, but many they certainly are not. Not only is the pasta as thin as paper, but it also is cooked al dente (as far as it is possible with such a kind of pasta at least). Excellent.
On to the main course then: Canette mi-sauvage poudree d’epices a la broche, betteraves et figues marinees, sauce dolce forte. This is another one of the great dishes, that comes straight out of one of Ducasse’s books and is indeed most impressive. The canard colvert (half-wild duck) from the Bresse is rubbed with spices and then spit-roasted (in the old-fashioned style). Paired with two different servings of figs and small glased beetroots, the dish is a most simple, but powerful affair, which is unbelievably tasty. It is great to see a chef use whole birds and serve them in a traditional way, not only boiling them in a bag (sous-vide) and then reheating them. Not only is it most interesting to watch, but it also is a tradition that is both worth preserving, and benefits the diner. This meat stays much jucier, due to the fact that it is cooked on the bone and is wrapped with the protective skin. Also, it will reach your table warm, as it is only taken of the bone, seconds before one eats it. Crispy skin, intense taste and tender meat are all one can expect of a perfect duck breast. This one had it all, even though it wasn’t the most tender I have had. Taste-wise it was absolutely mind-blowing, as it the spice crust worked perfectly with the duck’s flavour. It was absolutely grandiose. The dolce forte sauce is basically a duck jus flavoured with miel d’arbousier, which is a little bitter and a little pepper. It is thus not only a slightly sweet duck jus, but rather a most complex concentrate of flavours. Together with the gamey, spiced duck it created a fantastic combination, that was unbelievably coherent, Excellent.
The second service of the little bird was a little less succesful. The thigh returned to the kitchen to be finished, but when it came back, it was very tough and nearly inedible. The pairing with the raw beets was great, but the tough meet (I believe that my particular bird must have had a « problem » of some sorts, as I can’t see them using anything that isn’t of the finest order) made it pretty forgettable. Mediocre.
The cheeses were equally good as those I tried on my previous visit, and featured a very good Munster, whom I greatly enjoyed. These are really some of the finest cheeses in France. The only drawback is the somewhat moist comte. Compared to other 4 year-old comtes, it doesn’t have as many crystalised salt crystals, which I so much adore. Apart from that, it is a pretty fantastic cheese board.
The first dessert was the Feuillet de fruits rouges et noirs en gelee d’ete, crème mousseline. On a rectangle of red berry puree sat a tower consisting of arlettes, crème mousseline and various summer fruits. This delicate structure was simply accompanied by a quenelle of strawberry sorbet. Arlettes are thin disks of puff pastry that are rolled out with icing sugar, and thus caramelise beautifully when being baked. This creates a very thin, crisp and rich biscuit that worked beautifully with the fresh berries and the crème mousseline (half crème patissiere, half whipped cream). The strawberry sorbet had the perfect temperature and texture and thus was a most welcome addition to this very fresh, only slightly sweet dessert. Excellent.
Up next was a relatively new dessert: Peches en vinaigrette huile d’olive/citron, sorbet, Tatin de brugnons. This is a dessert that featured in the latest edition of Ducasse’s Grand Livre de cuisine, but has evolved over the time. A salad of peeled, raw peaches is seasoned with a sweet vinaigrette, made from olive oil, sugar and lemon juice. This is then topped with a milk-mousse and peach sorbet. The left side of the plate sees a tarte tatin of peches brugnons, a particular variety of peaches, that I have only seen in different parts of France. What makes this dessert interesting is undoubtedly the vinaigrette, a sauce usually used to dress savoury salads, and not desserts. Here, the use of sugar instead of salt gives the dessert much more depth and a whole new dimension. In combination with the very fresh, slightly sweeter sorbet and the airy milk foam, it makes for a multi-textural mouthful, that is most harmonious. It certainly isn’t a novelty to eat olive oil in a dessert, after all one often eats it with ice cream in Italy, but in this dessert, it plays a totally different role. The tarte tatin on the side should be mentioned, as it was phenomenal. The pastry was crumbly, buttery, fragile and slightly salted, and the peaches beautifully caramelised and bursting with flavour. This was a delicate, much more refined tarte tatin than most others, due to the subtle peaches and the separate preparation of each element. This was, with the Monte Carlo and one other dessert my favourite of all I have tried here so far. Outstanding.
The mignardises were slightly different in that I had a tarte au sucre and a raspberry financier instead of a wild strawberry one and a tarte tropezienne. All of them were, again, of outstanding technical perfection, and disappeared fairly rapidly.
Looking back, this meal was as good as the one a few days earlier. Products were remarkable, cooking was incredibly precise, the dishes very much reduced to the essentials and the composition as successful as possible. The only slight problem was the duck’s tenderness. It could indeed have been a little more tender (the breast), and in the case of the thigh, it would have been better not to have served it in the first place. But, with such overwhelming flavour coming from it, I really did not mind at all, that it wasn’t the most tender piece of duck I have eaten so far, it was by far the most powerful one, which is more interesting than simple tenderness. In combination with the outstanding service, the most charming welcome and the absolutely crazy décor, a meal here is a memorable experience. In fact, it is one, that will not be forgotten any time soon. I for once, can’t wait for my return…although that won’t be before next year.
It is quite astonishing how my view on this restaurant has evolved. The first time I came, I wasn’t stunned at all. I even found it a little disappointing, but three meals later, it is pretty close to being my favourite restaurant in the world.