It was potatoes that first cemented my friendship with Franck Cerutti, chef for ten years at Alain Ducasse's Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. Not sweet new potatoes or mysterious blue potatoes, but earthy potatoes the size of fists from the mountains behind Nice. This is the kind of humble ingredient that Franck, better than anyone else, knows how to transform into something breathtakingly elegant: in his hands they become gnocchi as light as clouds, suitable for serving under this ceiling.
So you can imagine my alarm when Franck announced that he would be leaving his kitchen in the hands of young chef Pascal Bardet to oversee all the restaurants of the Hotel de Paris. Would the new chef have the same relationships with small farmers, who sorted their best produce into neatly aligned rows for Franck? Would he resist the urge to add foamy sauces and frivolous garnishes to Franck's pared-down dishes?
It turns out I needn't have worried. Originally from southwest France, Bardet has the same sensibility and respect for seasonal produce as Franck, even if he chooses to shop at the market in nearby Ventimiglia (across the Italian border) rather than in Nice. When I met him early this week, he was excited about asparagus and morels, peas and local lemons, which have grown juicy again thanks to recent rainstorms that have delayed other crops. When I mentioned the "f" word (foam), he laughed and shook his head. "No, no, no."
In case you're wondering who I chose to share this lunch, I took my friend Maniko, who after taking several cooking classes with me (and becoming my occasional helper) has signed up to study French cuisine at the Ecole Ferrandi in Paris this September. If you're really nice to me (and I mean really, really nice), I might take you next time.
Those of you who are prone to food envy, please stop reading here.
Ah, I could have written an entire post on the bread alone. It arrives on a trolley and is presented with due ceremony (picture a mother introducing each of her eight children). I chose the accordion-like feuillantine, because I still remembered it vividly from my last meal at the Louis XV two and a half years ago, and a dark green bread roll flavored with borage leaves.
Last time I ate at the Louis XV it was January - not the best season for vegetables, but the selection was still spectacular. In May the chef had more colorful vegetables to choose from and I savored every bite of this appetizer, which is served to everyone in the dining room. The dip is made of olives and egg, emulsified with oil like a mayonnaise, and it's perfectly acceptable to eat with your fingers even if a small fork is provided. Picture the three kitchen staff toiling each day over this vegetable tableau and you will appreciate it even more.
A large prawn, a few clams, a handful of white beans, delicate tubes of squid - and a tiny bowl of bitter herb sauce to cut through their natural sweetness. Brilliant.
The asparagus and morels
It's hard to see them in the picture, but asparagus and morels - arguably the world's finest mushroom - lie between two sheets of herbed pasta. The silky pasta added another dimension to what would have otherwise been a very classic dish.
Designed to seal in all the cooking juices, this is the latest creation of the ever-inventive Alain Ducasse. Here, it was "lutée" - lined with dough around the edge to make it even more airtight. A couple of slices of Spanish ham lent a surprising meatiness to a stew of spring onions, peas, broad beans and lettuce. This is the kind of dish I would be very happy to eat at home every day - if only someone would peel the peas and broad beans for me.
The Mediterranean sea bass
And speaking of peeling peas, here were even more of them, matched with baby zucchini and turnips in a sauce that tasted deeply of lemon without any tanginess. The secret, Bardet later told me, was whole Menton lemons cooked sous-vide. Oh, and the fish was very nice too.
I didn't choose Maniko as my guest for nothing: like me, there is no limit to what she can eat. When the waiter suggested cheese, we didn't hesitate for a second. I stuck to Georges' goat cheeses and aged comté, while she tried stinkier (but also wonderful) Pont l'Evêque and Roquefort.
We both marvelled at the tiny diced fruit under Maniko's passion fruit ravioli - sweet pasta dough with bursts of my favorite tropical fruit. Being the rum fanatic that I am, the baba was a must with its tray of vintage rums to choose from. It wasn't until I had polished off the bowl of whipped cream that it suddenly occurred to me I may have eaten a little too much. That didn't stop me from nibbling on the mignardises: mini cannelés, chocolates, violet marshmallows. As Piaf would say, "Je ne regrette rien."
12 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
Lovely, Rosa! I will say the food you ate definitely looks more involved than ours was when we had the good fortune to dine there in October. I know...helps you have a connection:) But the room and the service were indeed a picture of the best. So so lovely. You didn't mention the butter though, which pretty much stopped my heart when I saw it on its own cart under a blue cloche. I mean come on...its that and the bread that make dining in these amazing places such a joy. And the baba au rhum. OMG! Thanks so much for sharing. I almost had food envy:) Glad its still living up to its reputation.
Yay! Blogging again! And this looks wonderful. How does it compare to our lunch at Michel Bras all that time ago?
Rosa, thank you for the once-in-a-lifetime experience!!! I must say, everything was so good, I cannot pick my favourite dish... Next time, hopefully Eddie gets to come with us as our "chauffeur"!
I have appreciated Franck Cerruti since he was at Le Don Camillo. To me there is a disconnect at the Louis XV between the grande luxe ambience and prices on the one hand and the perfect simplicity of the cuisine on the other.
Loved your descriptions Rosa and very similar menu to the one Theo and I had a month ago: for me too the morel and asparagus dish with that ethereal sheet of pasta and the sea bass were absolute highlights too besides the exquisite care taken with the crudites. I think the very point about Louis XV is elegant simplicity, (which is the very wording of Identita London happening early June) and, there's far far more technique, even in the cutting of vegetables than meets the eye but there's not the sense of dishes being over-worked which can sometimes seem the case at 3*.
Tami, how did I forget to mention the butter? I huge oversight I agree, especially given the amount of it that I ate!
Hi Roisin! Michel Bras has a similar respect for vegetables and taste for simplicity, but I came out of his restaurant feeling much more full - I think it was that aligot...
Maniko, it was a pleasure to share that meal with someone who eats as much as I do!
Michael, I suppose I should have made some reference to the prices, which are quite terrifying. Then again, this is Monaco and the food is some of the finest in the world, in my opinion.
Sudi, I agree completely!
Such a great article and a charming site. I shall stop by more often- mainly in hope for caramelised pineapple flognarde recipe you had in a cookbook somewhere... I am in Australia and am almost buried alive by magnificent local pineapples... Adam;-)
Thanks Rosa for this excellent review. I need to go back to Louis XV, after almost 10 years. Hopefully, this will take place on a future visit to Europe. What type of changes should I expect ?What would be, from your perspective, the main differences between then and now?