Dinner at the Rock

There’s a new face on the Rock, Portuguese-Australian restaurateur John Contente. With his French chef in the kitchen, this pair is delivering the ultimate French comfort food in a family-style restaurant, far from the hustle and bustle of Monte Carlo.

In an interview with Monaco Life, John talks about why, in just three short months, Le Petit Bar has become such a hit with the locals.

Monaco Life: Can you tell us how you came to be a restaurant owner at the Rock?

John Contente: I was born in Portugal and raised in Australia. I went travelling in my 20s and met a girl in London who was from the south of France. We both moved there in 2005, and my first position involved opening a Four Seasons in Provence, now known as Terre Blanche. As you can imagine, it was a rude awakening coming from London to Provence, so I left that position and started working as a waiter at The Pacific and, once I learned French, I got picked up by Sass Café where I stayed for a few years. Then, The Pacific called me back to take over as manager, so I remained there for about three years, before heading over to the Fairmont and eventually the Italian restaurant Pulcinella for five years. An opportunity to take over Le Petit Bar came along, and after waiting three months for authorisation, we opened in early September 2019.

Why did you feel the need to open your own restaurant?

It has always been a dream of mine since I started working in this industry – to either have my own bar or restaurant. Here, I have both!

Why the Rock?

To be perfectly honest with you, I had only been to the Rock twice for weddings and that was it. But the price was right and the opportunity was there. I was convinced by friends and family to go ahead with it, and when I thought about it – that everything down in Monaco was way out of my price range – I thought why not start up here and see where it takes me?

What was your idea when you took over this restaurant?

My chef Jean-Marc Troussard and I have worked together before, and he wanted to come on this journey with me. His specialty is French food, so we are offering the sort of dishes that people grew up eating, but that you don’t necessarily see in restaurants anymore, like

Blanquette de Veau and sausages with lentils. It is comfort food in a very relaxed environment. We don’t want to work in ties and be too serious, we want people to come up here and feel like they are going home – to their parent’s house for a roast chicken on a Sunday. Obviously, the chef puts his little spin on the dishes but he is also staying true to the classics.

How have you found the response from customers?

Very good. For example, our plate of the day today – roast beef with caramelised shallots and roast potatoes – sold out within the hour. Our prices are also very good, probably too good to be honest. But it is the beginning. We want to get through the winter and see how it goes, and see what our market is for the coming season. We want people to come and try it, like it and enjoy their experience.

At this time of year, you must rely a lot on the day trade and the locals?

Yes, people who work in the Mairie and the Palace come in for lunch, while residents of the Rock come in mainly at night. The previous owner only opened for breakfast and lunch, so the locals were all very surprised and happy to have another option to dine in the evening.

Can you tell us about the produce you use at Le Petit Bar?

Everything is seasonal. What you see here is what you get. We can’t store anything for long periods because we don’t have the facilities, so customers are basically eating everything that is delivered in the morning. Our produce is locally sourced, fresh, and mostly organic. There are only two of us working, so everything here is made by hand. The chef even prepares his own brioche to make the dessert.

It’s an open kitchen so there’s nothing to hide here. It really is like going to your family’s house for dinner…

You can sit here and have a chat with the chef while he is cooking. Some people ask him what they should eat that day, and he will explain what came in that morning and how he is preparing it. The guests love it. That’s what makes the charm of this place, because even if you eat by yourself, there is a show going on behind you in the kitchen.

Can you tell us about the wines you have here?

I change the menu regularly because I want people to try as many different things as possible from Europe and Australia. I have a white and red from Margaret River, Australia, and I also have a white and red from Portugal. All the rest are French wines because it is a French kitchen, but I do want to put my own influence in the menu. We have a gin that’s made in Valbonne, so we also try to have local alcohol too.

How many people can you fit in here?

12 outside and 21 inside, so it’s very cosy and manageable for the two us.

What is your vision for Le Petit Bar?

To be one of the go-to places on the Rock. If you want to eat good, fresh, homemade food, then this should be your number one place to go. Apart from the gastronomic restaurant 50 metres away, the rest of the eateries here are tourist traps – pizza, pasta, sandwiches. We do real food in a laid back, family-friendly atmosphere.

Why should people come to the Rock at night?

For the experience. The Rock at night is completely different to Monte Carlo, which is so busy. There are no cars here and no scooters after 10pm. It is perfect for a romantic night out or a quiet dinner with family and friends. You feel very calm and relaxed up here.


Top photo: John Contente. Photos by Pixl Studio