Sunday, February 18th 2018 – Le Mirazur, Menton
Back before Christmas we were sitting at home watching the latest series of Masterchef: The Professionals, and it was the penultimate programme. The remaining three competitors were shipped off to the south of France to cook at Le Mirazur. It looked amazing, and given that we knew we’d be in Monaco, Lynne said “Do you think we could go there? It could be a joint birthday present!”
I hopped onto the ViaMichelin website and had a look, and there were offers, one of which said we could have the Signature Menu that covered all the restaurant’s “greatest hits” for a slightly reduced price if we booked it in advance. Surely, given that it currently stands at No. 4 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking, and has two Michelin stars, and a score of 17.5 out of 20 with Gault Millau, we’d never get a table. Not a bit of it. A Sunday in February is obviously a good time to try and go there.
Thus it was that with high expectations we collected the car from the car park and headed east, battling our way past the centre of Menton where clean up from one of the Corsos of the 2018 Fete du Citron was still underway, and was causing havoc with the traffic. We made it to the restaurant with five minutes to spare after a fight with the SatNav that ended with me deciding to ignore it and follow my instincts. This worked because if I’d done as the SatNav wanted I’d probably have gone round in circles for a while before disappearing up my own exhaust pipe! Bless the staff, the first thing they did when we’d been seated by a massive picture window looking out over the bay was offer Champagne.
It was much needed. As we had the previous night at the Blue Bay, we again opted to go with the matching wine flight so that we didn’t need to wade through pages of a wine list trying to decide what would go best with what we were eating. My thinking is, these are people who want to make sure you have the best possible experience so they’ll make sure the choices are the best possible choices to match the food. First up along with the Champagne were some brilliant little amuse bouches, but I missed the explanation of what they were. They were good, creamy, savoury and light.
They were followed by some salsify roots, presumably from the restaurant’s extensive kitchen garden, strewn with bacon crumbs, very sweet and salty at the same time, along with some Parmesan and rosemary flower crackers, which were light and cheesy, delivering a floral hit that was mild and worked well with the cheese. The crunch from the crackers was a superb counter to the creamy puree.
Next up was a sweet and tender carrot, and a truffle ravioli with mackerel. Both of these tiny mouthfuls were enough to make us both sigh with pleasure and decide that we really had made the right choice.
Just as we were starting to wonder if we were in for a prelude on similar lines to Victor’s Fine Dining last year where we wondered if we’d be able to eat the actual menu, the amuses stopped and a loaf of bread was delivered, along with a Pablo Neruda poem, all about bread (at least superficially anyway but I really wasn’t too bothered about literary criticism by then).
We took a chunk each and decided that not only could they cook, but someone knew how to bake as well. The crust was everything you could want, crisp, not too hard that it cuts into your gums when you bite into it, with a spongy, chewy, soft centre. And with olive oil laced with lemon juice from the garden. Thereafter the first course duly arrived, a Gillardeau oyster with a shallot cream, light as a feather, and what the menu described as a declination of Williams pear (several gels, chunks of fruit and something in between that added a very light kick of sweetness to the intense saltiness of the oyster). I don’t like oysters, but I liked this one.
Wine: Clos de l’Ours Blanc Milia 2016
The oyster was good. What came next struck me as sheer genius. It was billed as flaked ‘Torteau’ crab, beef consomme and marigolds. It was so much more than that suggests. The dish (or rather bowl) put in front of us contained a base layer of the white meat of a brown crab, soft and sweet and beautifully free of anything except crab meat, a layer of consomme cooked until it had turned to a clear, light brown jelly with salty undertones, and a scattering of spicy marigold petals. Even if we’d eaten nothing else all night it would have been worth the trip for that one dish alone.
Wine: Sake Nouveau Maison Asahi Shuzo Dassai 48
Next, to our massive amusement, the waiting staff brought out a couple of the ugliest looking beetroot I have ever seen. We were invited to examine them, thump them and generally get a feel for them, before the were whisked away. What came back was a finely sliced pile of salt-crust-baked beetroot, cooked to complete tenderness and shot through with cream and caviar. Again, it was fabulous, the beetroot holding its form beautifully, but as soft and tender as can be, and again a stunning balance of sweet (the beetroot) and salty (the caviar). Also, it arrived on one of favourite plates, which we’ve seen a lot of recently. They’re brilliantly tactile, and I really, really want some of them.
We stayed with vegetables for the next dish, an onion, cut open, stuffed with Grana Padano and on a truffle coulis. If I’d had crockery envy before, I’d got it even worse now. And the onion was tender and went so well with the accompanying cheese, as well as the dense, earthy truffle coulis. It was clear to us why this restaurant is so highly regarded. The onion petals had retained their crunch, and the cheese oozed out as you cut into them, the softness a contrast to the resistance when you bit into the onion.
And now we moved on to things from the sea, with the playful brilliance of the squid with a bagna cauda sauce. The waiter told us that it was created in response to a diner who said she didn’t like squid. It was cooked in such a way that it could be presented as a “pasta” dish and the diner loved it. It was one of the dishes we’d seen in Masterchef and it was every bit as fabulous as we’d hoped. You pull strands of the squid away, roll them round your fork, and swirl them through the bagna cauda. I fail to see how anyone who is not vegan or vegetarian could fail to enjoy this. Oh, and to enhance the bagna cauda there are chunks of artichoke to have with it too (as there should be).
Next up we had more fish, a lovely, firm piece of sole, caught somewhere in the Mediterranean, garnished with a variety of tiny citrus fruits from the restaurant’s garden, some of which I’d never encountered before. They varied from intensely sweet to sharply acidic and went brilliantly with the smoked sauce with shellfish. It looked lovely and tasted as good as it looked.
We were now on the home straight with a lovely dish of pigeon, the breast cooked rare, the leg a crisp-skinned confit, with deep green cabbage leaves and a red wine sauce. The iron bite from the cabbage and the rare breast meat were great together, delivering a great big hit of meaty flavour. Fabulous. And the crunchy, al dente grains of spelt scattered over the vegetables made a great textural contrast to the softness of the cabbage leaves and the tender meat.
Additionally, it was accompanied by a tiny cup of broth, with a sphere of gossamer thin ravioli, stuffed with more pigeon meat. This is very clever, very assured cooking, with a brigade firing on all cylinders from what I could tell.
In a fit of madness, once they showed us the cheese selection, we decided we’d share a portion because we really couldn’t resist, but we really didn’t want a whole portion each. An excellent selection was forthcoming, served with a lovely fruit jelly. Perfectly kept cheese! What more could we have wanted?
After all that lovely gooey cheese, the mandarin granite, with pumpkin puree and honey-flavoured Chantilly cream, shot through with vanilla, was both refreshing and sweet and cleansed the palate while also pleasing it immensely. It was served in the same sort of bowl that they used for the crab, and I think they’re fabulous; you can look at what’s in them from all angles, and that’s just great.
The last dessert was described as chocolate, burnt rosemary and olive oil, It was a tiny package a little like a ravioli in shape, with a richly creamy centre, and dusted in the said rosemary, giving a slight crunch. It was intriguing, different and very, very tasty.
And then, because they knew we were there as a joint birthday treat, they brought us this! The glorious shine on the chocolate was a thing of beauty in and of itself, and the “cake” was soft, full of flavour, and too big for us to finish. So they boxed it up for us and we took it back to the hotel to enjoy the following morning over coffee.
All that was left now was to have some coffee, so I could drive back to the hotel, and that of course led to petit fours, including pumpkin macarons, a couple of small orange flavoured squares of jelly, and a small dome of white chocolate.
The cutest touch, and to be fair petit fours often get very cute, wasn’t actually the petit fours, but the sugar, on small sticks hanging from a tiny holder.
We had come to the end of a very substantial – and very, very good – meal. As we paid the bill and got ready to leave we were handed a tiny cake box each to take home. These turned out to each contain a pair of almond biscuits, which went down very well later in the week once we were back in the UK.