A visit to Europe became more exciting when I decided to add a visit to France, dining at one Michelin star JAN restaurant in Nice, and continuing my World’s 50 Best Restaurants journey, eating at Mirazur in Menton (6th best), and at L’Arpège (19th best) and Septime (50th best) in Paris. Mirazur is the most highly ranked French restaurant, and has two Michelin stars. Mirazur means ‘look at the blue sea’. Last year I ate at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in New York, and in London.
I had invited my son Alex to join me for the two meals on the French Riviera, flying in from the U.K. for his two days off. Traveling to Menton, just before the Italian border, is an easy 45 minute train trip with a superb view, passing through Villefranche-sur-Mer, Eze-sur-Mer, and Monaco. What we didn’t known is how difficult it is to find a taxi in Menton, and how much more difficult it is to speak English in the town. I was impressed with my son’s ability to speak some French, and he quickly Googled taxi companies, and one came to pick us up after half an hour. A shock was the cost, more than €20 for a shortish trip, the fare being charged from the taxi station to where we were waiting and then to our destination.
We arrived at the restaurant, which has no branding on the outside. Only a Relais & Chateaux sign can be seen on the outside pillar, informing that Chef Mauro Colagreco is the Grand Chef, a special title bestowed upon the chef by the elite international hotel and restaurant association. Chef Mauro was not present in the restaurant on the day. We knew little about him, only that he is Argentinian, of Italian descent. He opened Mirazur ten years ago, having previously been the Chef at the Grand Véfour – Guy Martin in Paris, and at L’Arpége in Paris. He trained at the Lycée Hôtelier de La Rochelle.
The Maitre d’ is Laurent. We were served by Sara, who spoke English well, and told us that she has only worked at the restaurant for six months. She had previously studied languages, which stood her in good stead as a waitress. Staff wear black pants, white shirts, and grey waistcoats with a blue trim.
The restaurant is on the upstairs level of what feels like a semi-circular building, facing the Mediterranean from a distance. Downstairs is a lounge area, the kitchen, a small reception behind which the World’s 50 Best Restaurant accolades are framed, and the cloakrooms. Wood dominates in both levels, and reflects the focus on nature in the menus. It explains why there are no tablecloths, showing off the table wood tops. On the table we had a vase of ranunculus, untidily placed in a white vase. Over our table hung a rose copper lamp, the only table with a lamp, and it was so low that I bumped my head against it a few times when I got up to take photographs.
The larger tables had a centerpiece reflecting the Nature-inspiration of the restaurant, with ferns, stones and pebbles, and pine cones. It would have been nice to have it on all restaurant tables. The table had Cloud white side plates by Sera, which we had seen the previous day at JAN restaurant too. Napkins are nice and big. Knives are by Nepra from Italy, but the forks and spoons are unbranded. Our table was wobbly, but this was quickly fixed when we alerted the staff to it. Floors have Stone tiles, with slate tiles where the base of the table is. A handbag stool is offered for each table, with a wooden top and Perspex legs, a trendy European restaurant accessory it appears. Glassware is by Riedel and Zalto, both Austrian brands. Sixty patrons can be seated in the restaurant.
As an introduction we were informed that the chefs forage ingredients for their dishes daily from the mountain (herbs), the ocean (seaweed, seafood), and fresh flowers and vegetables from their own garden on the property. A glass of Billecart-Salmon was the welcome drink. Before we even saw the menus, the first three of a number of ‘tapas/canapés‘ arrived at the table:
# Confit Brussels sprout topped with red mustard grain and goat cheese cream; and a fermented carrot in the shape of a tree stump.
# Textures of sweet potato crisps, topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke) purée, and nasturtium leaves, presented on a Stone
# Fresh baby carrots from the garden (I had taken out one of the four in the bowl to photograph)
Laurent came to our table, to explain the various menu options:
# A 3-course Decouverte surprise menu with an Amuse Bouche, surprise starter and dessert, and a choice of a meat or fish dish, at a charge of €65.
# Menu Fête du Citron, based on lemons which Menton is well-known for, and its annual festival, running until the beginning of March. This is a six-course menu costing €110, with an extra €60 for the wine pairing.
# Carte Blanche menu with eleven courses, but only available on weekend lunches and for dinners, at €160, with an extra €80 for wine pairing.
# Menu Signature of eight courses, being Chef Mauro’s ‘long-standing’ dishes (mentioned as including wax beans with Ossetra caviar, Gillardeau oyster, and pear; and blue lobster, French cacao beans, and chamomile broth, both of which dishes we were only served a part of). It cost €210 for a food and wine pairing, and was a surprise menu too, taking into account our dietary requirements. It was described on the website as ‘a meeting of exceptional products and unusual combinations’. We chose this menu option. I counted that we were served a total of sixteen courses in total, including six Amuse Bouches.
Having been through the lengthy discussions of the menu options, three further Amuse Bouches arrived:
# Cauliflower and herbs inside a spiral cone, beautifully plated on a platter with a mini version of a forest scene, with pebbles, wood bark, moss, and pine cones.
# Grissini sticks made from salsify (an unheard of vegetable to me until I experienced it at JAN the evening before, looking similar to a parsnip). With this came a (most beautiful blue) bowl of crème fraîche
# Crisps of skin of chicken, presented on a wooden bowl with straw, and even a hen feather!
A ‘sharing bread’ was served in a wooden bowl, consisting of six sections, with a poem printed on wax paper in the bowl, dedicated to the bread. It is not the first time that I have seen a bread poem in a restaurant, the exact same one having been part of the bread course at a lunch at Pierneef à La Motte in December, clearly copied from Mirazur, not ethical in my opinion! We received no further information about the bread, other than that it is an ‘old recipe’. We were offered a special dressing which is also sold in the restaurant, consisting of olive oil, ginger, and lemon. I asked for butter, which was brought to our table on a marble black and white plate with a bone knife, and the butter was topped with Maldon salt.
The bread poem is by Pablo Neruda, and is as follows:
‘Bread, you rise from flour, water and fire.
Dense or light, flattened or round,
you duplicate the mother’s rounded womb.
How simple you are, bread, and how profound!
You are mankind’s energy,
a miracle often admired, the will to live itself.
The earth, beauty and love, all tastes like bread.
Everything exists to be shared, to be freely given, to multiply..,
Then, life itself, will have the shape of bread, deep and simple, immeasurable and pure’.
Our seventh course was similar to one of the two long-standing dishes described, without the beans and caviar. It was a Gilleau oyster with a carpaccio of pear as well as fresh pear, tapioca, pear juice, and beautifully rounded off with borage flowers. My son does not eat fish, and his replacement dish was crab with almond foam in a grapefruit meringue. Both the bowls in which the oyster and crab were served were beautiful. My son’s wine pairing was a blend of organic Château Margüi Ugni Blanc and Rolle 2015, from Provence.
Course number eight was more bread, a board with ‘cereal bread’, more like wholewheat; black charcoal bread with aniseed, grapes, and fennel, the black colour making it attractive, with an understated aniseed taste, baked in a wood oven; Country bread; and Sardinian bread.
The ninth course was Eggs Florentine served inside a chicken egg, with spinach cream, Bernaise sauce, and topped with caviar. It was served in a wooden bowl of straw, with some feathers too. This course was paired with a 2015 Patrick Piuze Chablis, a fresh wooded Chardonnay with minerality.
Course number ten was squid from Bordighera, a seaside village in Italy, served with artichoke purée, rice crisps, and black sesame sauce. My son’s substitute dish was a flowering of artichoke, with artichoke purée as well as artichoke, served with a kumbawa (kafir lime) vinaigrette.
Our eleventh course was paired with Stephane Montez Saint-Joseph 2015, a blend of 58% Marian and 42% Rousanne. I was served a langoustine salad in an orange agate bowl, with ‘white vegetables’ from the garden, which the waitress could not define, and garden flowers. It was served with a hot chamomile broth. The bowl originates from Argentina, we were told. My son’s course substitute was foie gras, much to my delight, served with a shallot tart, pomelo citrus purée, and rape flower carpaccio.
At this stage of the meal the internet stopped working!
Course twelve was paired with Greco Di Renabianca Grechette 2015 from the Terre Margaritelli winery in Italy. I was served a John Dory fish dish, with celery cream, and an emulsion of shellfish. It was a very salty dish. The menu which we received as we left the restaurant called the fish ‘turbot’, frustrating when the staff and menu do not provide the same information. My son’s replacement dish was brisket served with a yoghurt sauce, onions, and cedra citrus.’
Our 13th course was veal fillet, for which a wood handle Forge de Laguilo knife was offered. The veal was prepared very rare, with parsnip, a chocolate jus, and crisps made from the skin of the parsnip. The wine pairing was Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Vins de Vienne 2013, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre.
Course fourteen was a pre-dessert, being a granita of mandarin, served in a double glass bowl, with a hidden pumpkin purée, a most unusual combination, with cream of vanilla, and honey.
Course fifteen was a millefeuille served with fresh mushrooms from Paris, also an unusual combination, served with 100% cocoa dark chocolate from Peru, a shard of dry milk, and sprinkled with cocoa. The last pairing was a Lafage Maury Grenat Grenache 2014 sweet wine. I enjoyed a strong dry cappuccino with it.
Our sixteenth course was a surprise, as we had eaten more than enough. It was a selection of friandise:
# Sweet potato with Gorgonzola in a tuile
# Grapefruit and thyme fruit paste
# Macha tea macarons with milk chocolate, and yoghurt powder.
A last treat was a gift packet of madeleines, which we received with the menus, personalized with the dishes my son was served, and those which I was served. Incorrectly the menu referred to ‘pink pepper macaroons’, and a ‘meat tile with its date purée’, both not served, and a lost in translation error in the latter. The Amuse Bouche dishes listed were also not reflecting all the dishes we were served, and listed a white miso pannacotta, snail of kohlrabi, sardine, as well as black pudding macarons which we were not served, a disappointing error.
There was little to criticize about Mirazur, other than the menu errors, and its foraging focus is to be lauded. It is evident that Chef Mauro’s experience at L’Arpége has influenced his focus on freshness at Mirazur. We asked to photograph the most senior chef in the kitchen preparing our lunch, and two chefs posed for the photograph, one is Davide, but the receptionist did not know the name of the other nor of the Sommelier! We did find that the level of English amongst the waiters bringing the food to the table and explaining the ingredients varies, making it difficult to understand them all! The staff proudly wear the Relais & Chateaux pin, and the branding is on the menu, with that of Les Grandes Tables du Monde. The World’s 50 Best Restaurants logo is not listed! Mirazur is a restaurant to watch, with its steady climb up the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and its focus on foraging and seasonality.
Mirazur, 30 Avenue Aristide Briand, Menton, France. Tel +33 04 92 41 86 86 www.mirazur.fr Twitter:@maurocolagreco Instagram: @restaurantmirazur