Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fifteen Merits

Le Louis XV
Hotel de Paris
Place Du Casino
MC 98000 Monaco

Touted as one of the finest French Provencal cuisine restaurant in the world, Le Louis XV resides in Hotel Du Paris like the crown of all restaurants in Monte Carlo Monaco. Ironically during the five and half years as Chef onboard the Lady Moura which constantly docks in the marina every late spring through summer to fall, I never really had the chance or time to experience this grand dame of all restaurants in Monaco till this trip with my wife N to the south of France. The majestic restaurant seems like the first place you want to pop into for a great meal after making a killing at the Grand Casino on the opposite side of the road. It takes months ahead to get a reservation for this restaurant which was turned from an inspiration by world renowned chef, Alain Ducasse into reality. We were lucky as with the help of Chef Christophe Megel, CEO at Sunrice, The Culinary Academy, whom help us secured a booking right on the first opening day of the restaurant for the new year. Chef Megel has worked in their kitchen during the formative years of his career.

Sitting in one of the hottest spots of the French Riveria by the Cote D Azur, Le Louis XV and its stable of three Michelin Stars belongs to Groupe Alain Ducasse together with their family of restaurants like Spoon and Plaza Athenee Restaurant in Paris serving the culinary visions of the legendary Chef. It features the cuisine of the Riveria and showcases the best of its regional produce from the mountains in Alps Maritime to the ocean catches of the Mediterranean. With Chef Alain Ducasse as group commander in chief, the kitchen of Le Louis XV is helmed by his very able lieutenant, Head Chef Franck Cerruti whom I was introduced to as I visited their kitchen. Chef Franck is a native from Nice, the French Riveria’s biggest city who is a strong advocate and supporter of regional produce, utilizing ingredients like Nicoise Olives, finest first pressed extra virgin olive oils, poultry and mountain game meats, fresh seafood from the Mediterranean, seasonal ingredients at its prime for his menus. With guidance from Chef Ducasse, Chef Franck delivered the ultimate dinning experience for me, N and the other 48 guests for the night with his kitchen brigade of 20 other chefs and cooks in the ambience of an all glitzy classical French restaurant. It was like dinning at the Royal Palace.

Dinning in this grand old dame was an eye opening experience for me and N. Not only we were overwhelmed by the delicious prix fixed menu and extra specials complimentary from Chef Franck, we were also completely seduced by its impeccable first class service amounting to a point that both of us felt we were being treated like royalties and pampered in everyway possible. This applied to all guests and not just at our table. Here are the fifteen merits that made us felt so special on January winter evening:

The Room
We were greeted by Monsieur Michel Lung at the entrance and ushered into the main dinning hall. As we walk in, we were in total awe of its grandeur which reminded me of the residences belonging to my wealthy Arabic ex boss whom had a penchant for such Napoleon themed decors. The dinning room was done up with sparkling crystal chandeliers, vintage artifacts and portraits making us felt like stepping back into a part of history. Unlike most restaurants where kitchens were connected to the dinning hall, this dinning room was independently located away from the kitchen across the hallway. A huge centre piece that looks like a gigantic piece of sugar work was positioned in the center of the dinning room for both decoration and operation reasons. Our table was beautifully laid out and had a great view of the entire dinning hall allowing us to witness all the happenings of the restaurant as we sit though the night. Service was with gold plated cutlery and crockery was gold plated fine bone china signifying a no expense spared form of luxury and pampering of their customers. We were in for indulgence!

The kitchen
As we were early, Michel invited us to meet up with Chef Franck as his team for a view of the kitchens. After exchanging introductions, we had a quick glance of the kitchens and in that precious five minutes, I saw a spanking clean facility with a team of chefs and their commis cooks in crisp white starched uniforms, all suited up and ready to do battle for the night’s full house. Some were putting finishing touches to amuse bouches while others were prepping up with final touches to their respective battle stations before the slam comes in.

Men in Black:
After the kitchen tour, we sat down to have a preview of the menu that would form the guide to our gastronomic journey for the night ahead. With our limited French language, we took the prix fixed menu as recommend before by Chef Christophe and left it to the good hands of Chef Franck and team. The Maitre D’d patiently translated to us the tasting menus, highlighting the source of signature ingredients in sync with Chef’s Franck cooking philosophy. Interestingly, the menus were divided into two books with one each for ladies and gentlemen, both with same dishes. The difference was the ladies menu had no indication of prices for the dishes and tasting menus. So should it be that when the bill comes by later, the ladies should discreetly excuse themselves to the powder room leaving the gentlemen to take on the settlement?
The waiters in their posh uniforms served us each a complimentary glass of Champagne as a welcome with crisp lavosh wafers. As we looked around the dinning room, we realized that besides the hostess at the door, the rest of the dinning room was staffed by guys, and not just guys, gentlemen who are well coiffed, groomed and as N puts it, with boyish charms to mature suaveness. How interesting is that to see such standards of practice here when labour shortage is the number one dearth of the F&B industry.

The Bread Trolley
The first trolley for the night arrived with a dozen selections of mini bread rolls sitting in their individual baskets. After we chose our rolls, another waiter came up with another trolley offering us butter. “May I offer you two kinds of butter sir, Madame?” he asked. With our nod of approval, he first placed an entire table block of commercial salted butter resting on a piece of Italian marble in front of us.

Then he took another marble slab and placed with a large scoop of pale yellow butter scraped down from a huge cone shape pat sitting on the trolley. “This is our homemade artisan butter Sir, please try.” said the waiter. So there we were, in front of us two big scrapings of butter enough to grease our toasts for the next six months. N was in awe and this was just the beginning of the surprises and thrills for the night ahead. Naturally the artisan butter came out better with the warm rolls, delivering a very wonderful buttery fragrance that complimented well with the rustic flavors of our rolls. It had a very smooth texture on our palate and made each morsels of bread slide down our throats so easily without a greasy aftertaste.

Amuse Bouche:
After the buttery episode, the menu began with an amuse bouche featuring a crudités of raw vegetables with dip. This was an extraordinary set of crudités with finesse that had eight varieties of very finely sliced vegetables sitting in a whisky glass served with a freshly made Tapanede dip using Nicoise olives. The eight vegetables slices from carrots to fennel, celery, radishes, cucumbers and others not only had their own individual flavours, their characteristic sweetness, bitterness and pungency complimented well with the tangy tapenade dip, playing a different set of sensations on our tongues with each bite.

Quick bites
In between the crunchies, the first surprise came in the form of a little basket of deep fried raviolis that had been stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. These little buttons of sheer delight had a thin layer of pasta dough filled with a mild goat cheese and fresh spinach. Beyond a lovely taste combination, they also had a fun factor of popping in these dainty buttons of pasta between sips of Champagne.

The Essence
The brew for the night was Pigeon Consommé with Ravioli and shaved Alba White Truffles. The soup came with the rich clear broth on the side with the ravioli sitting on top of the fine brunoise of diced mirepoix vegetables (carrots, onion, celery and leeks). The flavourful broth was poured over the ravioli and Michel came over with a piece of white truffle as big as a Russet potato. With a truffle shaver in one hand, he gave us a generous shaving of paper thin truffles releasing their distinctive delicate aromas into the hot clear broth, perfuming it to a new level of elegance. On the palate, the soup was a cleanser to the lingering taste of the earlier courses. The meaty essence reflected the slow tedious process of doing such a delicate soup that has to be cooked with care and patience through gentle simmering for hours in order to extract the maximum flavour from the meat and vegetables. Though they were being overshadowed by the shower of white truffle shavings, the stuffed ravioli and slow roasted boned chicken wing were still delicious accompaniments by their own merits to the lovely soup.

The Cod
While expecting the seafood course to come by soon, the busboy brought out a chef’s special for us instead. It was a lightly cured cod (Cabillaud) confit in olive oil served on stewed tomatoes and Nicoise olives. While the tomatoes were great, we were curious about the soft gelatinous fatty like pieces of tissues the tasted so wonderfully great. Upon explanation, we discover that it was pieces of cod belly that gave us the melt in the mouth sensation. A small side salad of innovatively cut Romaine lettuce spears provided a contrast to the gelatinous mellow stew with the fragrance of braised olives.
As we ate along, we realized by now that the service in the dinning room moves in one anti clockwise direction only. The center pieces serve like a roundabout and the bus boys enters the dinning room and walks in an anti clockwise direction only stopping by at your table if the food ordered is yours. Even after it has been served, the busboys walk out in the same direct to exit the room even if it means to walk a bigger round. Keeping the flow in one direction prevents the situation of a sudden u-turn that risks into crashing into colleagues behind you.
Au Jardins
Vegetables can be boring to many as an individual. Assemble them together as a composition; it becomes a symphonic culinary orchestra with its combined flavours. Harvesting from organic farms in partnership with Chef Alain Ducasse, Chef Franck presented to us a Composition of Vegetables with Black Truffles that illustrates a vegetarian dish can be deliciously created with knowledge on the right combination of textures and balance of taste. Sweet baby fennel and carrots were paired with whole mini courgettes and radishes, fine haricot verts provided crunch textures and the black truffles added a touch of elegance to the whole dish.

Fruits De Mer
Literally meaning seafood from the Mediterranean Sea, this dish reflected one of the most classic seafood dishes in the Provence region, Bouillabaisse. A whole stuffed baby squid was paired with a delicious chunk of pan roasted Loup De Mer (Mediterranean Sea Bass) served on a rich bouillabaisse stock. The sea bass was perfectly cooked with its lovely moist flesh enlivened by the saffron scented seafood stock. The stuffed squid was nicely done with a tasty stuffing that also paired very well to the sauce.

The Bird
The Roasted Pigeon Breast with Late Autumn Pears and Grapes came beautifully executed with the right doneness to the bird and the sweet fruits pairing up the game meat with natural chemistry. Pigeons tend to get overcooked easily but when it is cooked to the right degree of doneness, it can be a very flavourful tender meat when matched with an equally great sauce. The creamy polenta balanced out the gamey flavours of the duck liver (Foie Gras du Canard) sauce with a touch of warmth and comfort.

The Cheese Trolley
Being country with more than 300 varieties of cheese, French cheese was the main selections on a double deck cheese trolley. With more than 15 varieties to choose from, the range from soft creamy varieties to mature hard cheese made it a difficult choice for us. There were goat cheeses produces in the Alps Mountains, Aged Comte, Mature Gouda with its sharpness, Pecorino made with ewes milk, Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola blue cheese as well as the usual Camembert and Brie. A small amount of Cherry Confiture accompanied the stronger tasting cheeses. This was a nice balance to counter the sharp flavours and saltiness dimensions which were smoothen by the sweetness of the confiture. What really impressed us was all the cheese came in whole pieces or big wedges, only to be cut when ordered. It was a stunning display of artisan workmanship by the regional cheese makers. By this time, the bread trolley was making its rounds again.

Chocolate and Strawberries
We had chosen two different items for two different reasons. The signature Le Louis XV is a must if u were to make a pilgrimage to this restaurant unless for some reason you are allergic to chocolate. The other item is to experience a taste of Wild Strawberries or Fraises Du Bois with Mascarpone Sorbet. Wild strawberries are different from the commercial ones that we find easily everywhere. Beyond France, you hardly ever get it anywhere else due to its highly perishable nature. So therefore this is a must try when you are in the country. Wild strawberries are much smaller than the commercial ones. They have more flavour intensity and are very much sweeter by nature. French Chefs love them for their powerful flavour contributing properties. Poaching them in their own juice, the berries were like sugar bombs exploding in our mouths as we popped them in, unleashing a burst of strawberry flavours against our palates. The smooth creamy mascarpone sorbet was sheer delight with its lightness and neutrality. It provided a platform for the wild strawberries to exhibit a strong significant presence in the dessert. N was completely bowed over by this phenomenal experience with strawberries.

The other dessert Le Louis XV is the house signature item on the menu. It tasted like a cool piece of Guanaja chocolate flavoured mousse atop on crispy praline. Covered with dark chocolate fudge and elegantly decorated with a piece of gold leaf tainted chocolate fan, this dessert was every inch smooth sleek and posh reflecting the image of the restaurant itself. On the palate, the rich bittersweet Guanaja Chocolate was pure heaven and mind blowing in taste alternated between the crispiness of the praline below. Between me and N, it was gone in 30 seconds.

The Bush Trolley
“Would you like to have coffee or tea with your dessert sir?” asked our waiter. “Tea. Please.” We replied. “And would you like regular tea or infusion?” We asked for infusion and with that, they started to set up another trolley by the table as a stage for demonstrating the art of brewing infusion tea. When all the gold plated teapots and utensils were ready, to our biggest amusement, another trolley of different fresh herbs came by for our selection. Not packaged herbs, but entire bushes of rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, sage, thyme and other Provence varieties sitting in individual pots alive and growing. We were so amused by the sight of the waiter cutting the herbs from the bush and after a quick rinse, straight into the pot of hot water. We never had tea so freshly brewed before. You could literally say it was done from the earth to the pot and to the table. This was really an experience!

The Confectionery Trolley
As we recovered from the amusement earlier, enjoying our tea and petit fours, the candy man arrived with his trolley and by now, N has burst out laughing again. We have never been so pampered in a meal before and now before us was a waiter with house made marshmallows, nougats, fudges and sweets, all done by their Pastry Chef Olivier Berger. The only thing missing was some French accordion music on the background. Cutting the long strips of marshmallows for us, we also tasted a little each of the other confectionary and they even gave us extra to enjoy then when “on the road”. By now we were really stuffed and it was past midnight when the meal finally came to an end. By now, most of the guests at other tables have left and the service staffs were a little more relaxed to make some small conversation with us.

The final merit to this whole eye opening dinning experience of haute cuisine with first class professional waiting service was when we got ready to leave. As we got our coats, we said goodbyes to Michel and his wonderful team of staffs that had taken care so well of us for the evening. The hostess came up to N with a little back of hazelnut Magdaleines as a lovely souvenir making that the final merit for a restaurant that has so deservingly achieved its three Michelin Stars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i almost burst with emotion overdrive after reading this entry... i will die to spend an evening dinning there.. Thanks for bringing me on an imaginary journey with your writings