July 8, 2018

Europe 2018 day 9: Franco-Italian-Argentinian garden

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Ever since I first met Chef Ricardo Chaneton, I've always been curious about Mirazur.  And as the restaurant continued its meteoric rise up The World's 50 Best Restaurants, that curiosity got stronger.  Of course nobody I know believes that Restaurant ABC is actually the #8 restaurant in the world... but the fact that a restaurant is popular enough to get the votes required to be among the top means that they are probably doing something right.

So when it came time to plan the French leg of our trip, I asked Ricardo to help book me a table at Mirazur.  I was going to visit my friends who live in the south of France, and I would take them out to a nice dinner.  They picked Hello Kitty and I up in Nice - with our big suitcases in tow - and drove us to the restaurant situated just over 100m from the border with Italy.

The four of us arrived very early before the restaurant even opened, and we were invited inside to wait while they finished prepping.  However, I experienced a few minutes of panic when I was informed that they couldn't find our reservation...  It seemed just a little embarrasing to have told your friends that you're taking them to dinner, come all this way, and then be told by the restaurant they have no idea who you are...

Fortunately it was all a misunderstanding, and they did have a table reserved for us.  Meanwhile we were offered a glass of Champagne while we waited for Chef Mauro Colagreco to come greet us.  I chose to start with Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé as it always goes down very well.

Mauro came to give us a tour of the restaurant's gardens, which are split into two parts.  First we got a look at the citrus trees and herbs that are grown right next to and below the restaurant, including a very tall avocado tree which made my friends very jealous.  There are, of course, the lemons that Menton is famous for...

We were then led to the larger part of the gardens, with most of the vegetables along with the chickens as well as the beehives.  Mauro spoke to us about creating biodiversity through permaculture, and it's taken them 4 years to get to the stage they're at.

I loved seeing everything that they were working on, and was happy to meet Mauro's young son.  My sole regret was not asking Mauro for permission to fly my drone over the gardens...

It was finally time to taste Mauro's cuisine for ourselves, and we were seated at a window-side table, where I had a great view of the border police building along with the service station while the ladies enjoyed the ocean view.

The appetizers came in quick succession:

Parmesan crust, double cream, and garlic flowers - very cheesy and definitely tasted of Parmesan.

Salsify, guanciale, pollen - the guanciale was sooo good, especially with pollen on top to add the floral fragrance and a little sweetness.

Smoked Mozzarella ball - the smoked mozzarella was inside the black salt ball.

Barbajuan - herb ravioli filled with Taggiasca olive, with anchovy and Menton lemon on top.  The olive filling was very savory.

Radish with salmon roe - I love salmon roe. 'Nuff said.

Bread - presented together with a poem by Pablo Neruda.  Unfortunately I was still recovering from being overheated on our walk, and a little overwhelmed by the plethora of appetizers coming my way, that I never properly appreciated the poem.

Oyster Gillardeau, shallot cream, declination of William's pear, watercress, bourage flowers - Mauro believes that the oyster is a little salty and wants to balance it with some sweetness and acidity, hence pear is added to the mix.  The Gillardeau oyster was beautiful, with good minerality, a hint of brine, but overall still on the sweet side.  Crunchy texture.  So pure and clean.  The tapioca pearls were a little powdery inside, which was a shame.  The shallot and onion cream was savory as well as acidic.  A very good start.

Green bean salad, cherries, pistachios - with zucchini ribbons, wild arugula, red onion, olives, cherries, pistachio, and pistachio oil.  All the flavors get more intense and pure when the produce comes from the garden within walking distance.

Curcubit - actually the dish is called cucurbitaceae, named after the family of plants.  There's melon, watermelon, cucumber, hemispheres of agar agar, along with herbs and melon juice.  I loved this dish.  I love all these fruits as they're pure joy in the summer, and so refreshing. 

Sea "tourteau", apricot rosette, osmanthus cream - we were first told that the rosette was made of peach, but they turned out to be slices of apricots.  In the middle was a pile of shredded King crab meat, with some green lemon gelée and lemon confit which were so acidic that made me wince...

Hello Kitty had requested not to have beetroot, so she was presented with a basket of different eggs from the chickens we saw earlier, and chose the egg from a Russian breed.  Stuffed with caviar, meadowsweet, and amaranth. 

Salt crusted beetroot from our garden, osciètre caviar cream - as for me... I wanted to see whether the beetroot from the garden would taste good, so I chose not to have a substitute dish.  The white beetroot was covered in salt crust before being oven-baked for 2-3 hours.  This wasn't bad at all... and I guess reminded me of kohlrabi.  Worked very well with the salty caviar and the rich cream by providing some balance.

Caesar's mushroom tarte, Grana Padano aged 36 months - the ovoli were harvested around the border between France and Italy, and were certainly more tasty than the ones I've had in Hong Kong.

Shellfish, Provencal pesto - squid, mussels, clams with haricots verts, basil, pesto, cucumber (I thought it was zucchini?).  So delicious... especially the very tender squid.  And the basil!  The fragrance and flavors were just so intense!

Turbot, celeriac mousseline and smoked shellfish sauce - with sorrel for acidity and dandelion from the garden.  The turbot was very tender, and the foamy sauce was certainly smoky.  My English friend - who jokingly asked for some frites to go with his fish - was suitably impressed.

Bordighera squid, bagna cauda sauce - the squid came as thick "spaghetti" but they were very tender.  Very nice acidity from the bagna cauda.  Garnished with some artichoke chips and black rice crackers.

2006 Rayas Blanc - drinking beautifully, with a little acetone, very ripe on the palate, and sweet nose.

Pigeon from Marie Le Guen, wild strawberries, spelt, yarrow - what a beautiful pigeon!  Just look at the doneness and the color!  Exactly what I wanted.  The fraises des bois brought some acidity, and the rice (I thought the menu says spelt?) fried with Grana Padana was interesting.

2003 La Nerthe Cuvée des Cadettes - nose was beautifully floral, with sweet fruit, mint, eucalyptus, jammy, exotic spices, cedar, and almost anise.  Wow!

Raspberry crystals, peach with roasted vervain - raspberries, poached peach, with a broth made of peach skin and verbena, topped with a disc of frozen raspberry juice and garnished with verbena.  The verbena fused with the raspberries so beautifully.  So refreshing.

Goat milk ice cream, raspberry, vervain - this worked very nicely together, too.

Naranjo en flor, Sospel's St Joseph saffron, almond foam and orange sorbet - named after an Argentinian tango.  Chunks of orange along with orange sorbet, which was a good mix of fruitiness and acidity with the creaminess of the saffron cream and almond foam.

Basil tart

Raspberry pâté de fruit


This was a fantastic dinner. One could really taste how fresh the produce was - especially the ones coming from the gardens. While I could not say it was my favorite meal on our trip, the cooking was nevertheless at a very high level.  And as Hello Kitty rightly pointed out, at this level you're really trying to distinguish "between 98, 96, or 94 points".  This is certainly one of the top restaurants in the world, and I'm very, very glad I made the trip here.  I am, of course, also grateful for the warm hospitality from Mauro and the team.  And many thanks to Ricardo for the introduction.

P.S.  I was very surprised to see that the restaurant offers a menu for children, priced at EUR 25.  Something for visiting parents to consider.

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