Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mirazur in Menton: the latest culinary jewel of the French Riviera



This question has been lingering in my mind since we came back from France: where to start my account of all the delicacies we gorged on? Should I follow some kind of chronological order or adopt a different approach? But, after all, the answer is simple: I should tell you first about the most revelatory food moment of this trip. Before dealing with anything else, I should talk about our lunch at Mirazur.

But first, a few words about the chef and the place. After honing his skills with Bernard Loiseau at La Cote d'Or, Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athenee, Alain Passard at L'Arpege and Guy Martin at Grand Vefour, Argentinean-born chef Mauro Colagreco was initially looking for a restaurant in Spain. He stumbled, by chance (for him...and us), upon Mirazur, a 1950's yet very modern building that was previously home of a "tabac" and later a bistrot operated by Jacques Chibois. We struggled a little bit at first to find the place since, for whatever reason, I had come to imagine it was located close to the beach while it is in fact perched on a hill. But thanks to Guillaume Mantis' clear directions on the phone, we finally found the place fairly quickly.

We were greeted by Daniela Colagreco, Mauro's charming wife, who shook our hands, which is unfortunately highly unusual in restaurants but makes a big difference as it tells the customers: "we are happy to have you with us.". We were then led to the first floor where we had lunch on the terrace. Dominating the bay of Menton, it offers stunning views of the Mediterranean. In my opinion, only Le Relais de la Chevre d'Or in Eze rivals Mirazur as far as this is concerned. Although it was a rainy day, the skies cleared once we were seated and we were lucky enough to have some sun during our meal and enjoy the sight of the deep blue sea.

And then a real show started. A show because Guillaume Mantis' performance as head of front of the house is outstanding. Professional, energetic, enthusiastic, sharp in its understanding and description of Mauro Colagreco's dishes, he also knows how to make you feel comfortable using the appropriate touch of humor when he has to. Once you know that the guy worked for Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White in London as well as for the Raffles group in Asia and Beverly Hills, no need to look for further explanations to his talent and skills. Last time I was that impressed by service was at Guy Savoy almost three years ago.

And obviously, in addition to the attentive service, there's the food. The real star of the show. After a flight of simple yet fresh and delicious amuses, we went for a la carte as I definitely wanted to have a taste of the Langoustine in Dashi Broth further to reading so much about it. And I must say we (as my mum made the same choice) were not disappointed. This dish was beautiful with its pristine broth and colorful flowers on top of a translucent langoustine. But, above all, it tasted great and the contrast of textures and flavors between the sweet raw langoustine and the salty hot broth was amazing. The peppery, sweet and sour notes of the 5 varieties of seasonal and local flowers (among them bourrache and pimprenelle) also added a surprising and welcome vegetal touch. This dish says a lot about Mauro Colagreco's pure, almost zen-like, cuisine that manages to capture the truth of each ingredient.

The next dish, "Wild Fish" (that day it was Galinette) served with an emulsion of cockles, a zucchini ragout, bok choy leaf and cauliflower mousseline was equally impressive. The fish was perfectly cooked and seasoned while all the elements went together extremely well. Again, the combination between the sea and the land, the Asian and Mediterranean influences worked wonders. This dish, and everything we tasted, showed a genuine respect for the fabulous ingredients that are sourced locally (which is an understatement as many of the herbs are grown in the restaurant's garden).

My wife and I then shared a lemon chibouste (how can't you eat lemon in Menton, right?) that was a treasure of lightness. Once again, the dish struck a perfect balance between sweetness (of the caramelized crust and lemon mousse), bitterness (of the lemon marmelade) and freshness (brought by the verbena sorbet).

I was also quite impressed by the quality of the mignardises (in particular the Ananas-Malibu "espuma"), the bread as well as a rich and satisfying hot porcini mushroom veloute with a cold foie-gras ice-cream amuse that could have a place of its own on the menu. My father and my wife were also delighted by their perdreau and pholiote dishes, respectively. In addition, at approximately 80 EUR per person (including a delicious Le Difese, Sassicaia's third wine) for a la carte lunch, the price was also a steal.

Last but not least, further to my father engaging her in an after-lunch conversation, Daniela Colagreco insisted on presenting us Mauro who took the time to come out of his kitchen to talk to us. We talked quickly about his trajectory, the first Michelin star, Pim's article in the NY Times and the one in Restaurant Magazine as well as an upcoming trip to the US in April. What a pleasure it was to meet such a dedicated, talented, yet nice and almost shy, individual who also had the guts to take on a huge financial and culinary gamble with Mirazur.

In a nutshell, I can only recommend that you visit Mirazur NOW to enjoy a phenomenal cuisine and great service in a unique setting. In any event, do it before Mauro Colagreco gets three Michelin stars, which will happen sooner than later and cause reservations to become hard to get and prices to skyrocket. If you dine there, you will also understand why Mauro Colagreco was awarded the "revelation of the year" prize by Gault & Millau and acclaimed as "one of the most beautiful surprises of the year 2006" by Omnivore's Carnet de Route.

Mirazur
Frontiere du Pont Saint-Louis
30, avenue Aristide Briand
06500 Menton
Tel: (33) 4 92 41 86 86
Fax: (33) 4 92 41 86 87

5 comments:

Michael said...

I have just discovered your blog and have subscribed to its reader. To see my posts on Mirazur go to:

http://countryepicure.wordpress.com/2007/10/09/mirazur-menton-3/

and to

http://countryepicure.wordpress.com/2007/09/08/mirazur-menton-2/

Good luck on your blogging,
Michael

Laurent said...

Hey Michael,

Thanks for stopping by. Just left a comment on your blog too.

Maybe we could have lunch at the same table at Mirazur next time we are there the same day :-)

Michael said...

Laurent,
My wife Linda, who was seated facing your way during our lovely lunch, remembers your family group very well. Small world.
Michael

Laurent said...

Michael,

I knew it ! Next time we come across each other may be in New York actually ! Meanwhile, enjoy the Riviera's sights, smells and tastes.

Steve Plotnicki said...

Laurent,

I would like to send you a copy of the Opinionated About Fine Dining Survey, 100 Best Restaurants in North America & Europe. You can read a bit more about it on the homepage. Send me your address by email to stevep@opinionatedabout.com
It would also be great if you particpated in the new survey. Thanks!

ps - By the way I am going to Mirazur the first week of May.