The first of April arrives this weekend with its Poisson d’avril
when children try to stick a paper fish upon their friend’s back. This French tradition dates back to the introduction of the modern-day Gregorian calendar in 1564 by Charles XIV, when fishy pranks were played on foolish peasants who clung to their old custom of celebrating New Year in late March.
What better time to celebrate fish? These nutritional powerhouses, especially fatty fish, are packed full of bone growth boosting Vitamin D and Omega 3s that seem to shield us miraculously from heart disease, depression, dementia and macular degeneration.
With fish in mind, my partner and I head to the Roquebrune-Cap-Martin beach hotel designed by the 1920s society queen Elsa Maxwell: the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. We’re dining at the eponymously named restaurant Elsa. Restaurant tables border the crescent-shaped outdoor terrace, but Le Mistral
is blustering around the headland so we take shelter inside.
SIGN IN TO YOUR PREMIUM ACCOUNT TO READ MORE
(click Sign In at the top of the page)
[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type="show" ihc_mb_who="reg" ihc_mb_template="" ]
The hotel entrance feels more like a private club than a hotel. We step through the narrow gap into the restaurant designed by India Mahdavi whose airy white-and-blue interiors make me feel as if I’ve stepped into a beach house in the middle of the Hamptons. We’re seated in an alcove where a floor-to-ceiling window sets the stage for the sea vista. As I take a look around the viewless seats further back into the restaurant, I make a mental note to remember to ask for one of the window alcoves again next time.
Elsa is the first certified 100% organic restaurant in the world to be offered a Michelin star. Italian-born Paolo Sari honed his culinary skills over years of globetrotting from Malaysia to Korea, where he was inspired by the healthy self-sufficiency of the Jeju Island monks. Now back at home in the Mediterranean, he lives by the motto of local produce. His food doesn’t fly. Instead Sari produces 150,000 kilos of fruit and vegetables for his five Monte-Carlo Beach restaurants from 15 gardens and farms that he has created within a 60-mile radius of Monaco. The closest farm is just a couple of miles into the hills above Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. He even makes his own fruit juices, sherbets, marmalades, olive oils and sauces.
The waiter arrives with a menu that reads like a pescatarian Utopia. Menus always make me hungry so I browse-and-munch on bread dipped in single varietal olive oils plotting a culinary line through the Mediterranean. My eyes glaze over at the myriad options: blue fish, red mullet, dried mullet eggs, sea urchin, sole, red shrimps and wild sea bass. I can’t decide what to eat so I order the Inspiration Menu where the chef can decide for me. I go for the food and wine match with a glass for each course chosen by the sommelier. Over a glass of Bruno Michel Cuvée Rosée
organic brut champagne, my partner and I drink in the view like tourists sojourning on the French Riviera. Past the pristine white terrace and hotel jetty where golden-heeled guests arrive by boat, the darkened bay stretches towards the brightly lit Monte-Carlo backdrop.
My starter is a vegetable bouquet. No jelly, no pastry, no sauce. There are just finely sliced sprigs of raw vegetables and herbs with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil. It’s a risky strategy. Without the cover of a rich sauce, the ingredients must be spot-on or the dish will be a disaster. Somehow Chef Sari carries the dish off like some health-obsessed magician. My Inspiration Menu continues with highlights including melt-in-your-mouth raw red shrimps from San Remo and spaghetti pasta with dried mullet eggs and sea urchins. With this overdose of fish, a roasted loin of lamb then satisfies my inner carnivore.
After a soufflé dessert dressed with Sicilian almonds, I end the meal with chocolates and coffee that’s Fair Trade, of course. I leave feeling virtuous, yet full: a winning combination. My wallet is rather less happy. Michelin-starred perfection in Monaco doesn’t come cheap. Bargain hunters should book for a midweek lunch. You’d be a fool not to try the three-course Farmers’ Market Menu with coffee at just €48.
Monte-Carlo Beach, ave Princesse Grace (+377 98 06 50 05). Open daily from March 17 to October 16, 2017 inclusive; breakfast 7:30 am to 10:30 am; lunch 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm; dinner 7:30 pm to 10 pm; valet parking.
Article first published March 30, 2017.