This ‘royal hare' is a dish that has
fascinated gourmands for centuries. As the name
suggests, its origins probably date back to the time of the French monarchy.
However, one of the most common versions of the dish served nowadays is named
after a Senator of the 19th century: Aristide Couteaux. He loved
hare and the slow-cooked compote of hare meat that is bound with a jus, made with blood, foie gras, truffles and spirit now carries his
name. However, Ducasse, luckily enough dare I say, serves the much rarer and
more labour-intensive version. It is the more classical one and now carries the
name Ali-Bab, from the cookbook it features in. What it implies is that the
hare is de-boned, stuffed with a farce,
truffles, foie gras and its own meat. Then it is poached, ideally in the stock
of a second hare, for a long time. This created a dish of incredibly
concentrated flavour and richness. A dish that the faint of heart will despise,
and that all of us love. It is perhaps one of the most challenging dishes of
French cooking, but the results warrant the effort that has to be put into it!
Rarely do you get a version that really blows your socks off. Even very solid and classical restaurants such as the Gavroche in London do not always manage to create a perfect specimen. Pierre Gagnaire's brilliant interpretation of it is very much based in the original, but takes it a step further towards the 21st century. Thus, few restaurants can still serve you the original. One of them is perhaps the grandest on the entire planet: Le Louis XV in Monte-Carlo. An army of around 25 chefs toils here everyday to create the most perfect dishes you can hope to encounter during your time on earth. One of them has to be the Beauce hare.
What Ducasse and his local chef, Pascal
Bardet, manage is to create a version of this dish that is not only incredibly
powerful and rich. Their version is so perfect that it leaves you wanting more,
even if this might be the most filling dish on the menu. Ideally, you'd be sitting in this
glorious room with a bottle of one of Guigal's Lala's or a terrific
Chateauneuf, such as Rayas or one of Henri Bonneau's (in a mature vintage).
Then, what you have to imagine is seeing a plate appear. It looks simple, a brown
cylinder lies on the right, some tortellini and ceps are on the left. That's
it. Looks simple, but so do all of the dishes here. The secret lies within.
What this dish does to you is incredible. It blows your socks off. The sauce
alone would be worth serving, simply with some of the bread on offer here. It
has a degree of complexity and concentration that only wines such as the
aforementioned ones have. In combination with the stuffed hare saddle, it
creates a union of flavours that is quite simply divine. You will find earthy,
bloody, smoky and tertiary flavours in this (among many others!). But, these
flavours appear with rare precision. The chestnut tortellini and ceps are
nearly irrevelant (were they not so delicious), as they merely add something to
the plate that brings colour and a different flavour. Yet, this is a dish that
does not need a single side. For it is a dish that is so perfect that the mere
thought of it will make you go nuts.
A masterpiece of cooking, one that really warrants French cooking's inscription to the UNESCO world heritage. A dish every gourmet or gourmand has to try before they leave us on planet earth. At least once. Otherwise, you will keep looking for it in paradise. And perhaps, you might not even find it there....