Ducasse is arguably the most iconoclastic chef of our time, who has risen to be
one of the world's most successful restaurateurs. As a 33-year-old head-chef of
Le Louis XV in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, Ducasse revolutionised
cooking. He was the first chef in a hotel restaurant to be awarded three stars by
Michelin, and one of the youngest ever to achieve this consecration, as the French call it. What's more, he was the first
to introduce an all-vegetable menu in a restaurant that used to serve the most
conservative luxury hotel food possible. From caviar, truffles and foie gras en
masse, to simple risotti and tasting menus composed solely of vegetables, one
can only imagine the reaction of the distinguished guests when he took over.
However, he must have done something right, as he fulfilled the goal of his contract
by achieving three stars within three years. At the same time, alongside a few
other chefs, he launched the trend in Mediterranean food, which still
influences chefs all over. The rest is history, as they say. Today Ducasse is
one of the most-highly decorated chefs in the world.
Kept busy enough supervising his restaurants, he lets Franck Cerrutti (executive chef of the hotel's restaurants) and Pascal Bardet (chef of Le Louis XV) take care of daily business, and both do so with admirable dedication. They manage to serve the most refined rustic food one can imagine. In fact the food here seems so simple that it shocks many first-time diners.
instance, one of the classics: A cocotte of seasonal vegetables turned into a
jewel, by the careful cooking of the individual vegetables, and the perfectly
balanced sauce made with black truffles, old Balsamic and Terre Bormane olive
oil. The flavour profile on display here is so different from any of the now
rather common vegetable assortments that it is an unforgettable experience. The
balance between the sweet acidity of the balsamic vinegar, the truffle's
earthiness and the rich, warmth of the olive oil make this dish comes scarily close
to perfection. Another example is the risotto blackened by squid ink, with the squid
stuffed with lemon and a slightly acidified fish fumet. Here again one has coherent
and harmonious collection of flavours, which are complemented by a number of
contrasting textures. First, the main component, the rice. Cooked al dente, it
still has a bit of a bite, yet feels incredibly light compared to other
preparations of this often rather stodgy dish. The tiny squid are packed full
of flavour, some stuffed, others just pan-fried. The textures here range from
slightly crunchy meat, compact yet yielding, contrasted with the creamy
risotto. In terms of taste, the squid is dominant, but an unsurpassed well-dosed
tang of citrus from the Menton lemons gives the dish great freshness and keeps
the diner's interest with every bite.
These dishes are all stunning, even so, the kitchen shows its best in the game season when mushrooms, white truffles, hare, wild duck and other fine gifts of nature make their way on to the menu. Lievre à la royale for instance is amongst the most complex and difficult dishes one can make. Bardet serves a version that is not only incredibly well made, but has all one could expect from such a gloriously decadent dish: The meat of the hare melts in your mouth, as do the foie gras and all other parts of the stuffing. The sauce is probably as powerful as it gets and the garnishes (in this case chestnut tortellini and ceps) complement it beautifully. This is certainly not a dish for anyone wanting to eat ‘lite', but for those who want to be moved by what they eat, it is just right. It is magical, rarely found on restaurant menus these days, due to the immense complexity of its preparation. What dominates here are the incredibly intense gamey flavours that are neatly distilled in the truly divine sauce. It's an out-of-this-world experience, beyond description in mere words, that is how special this dish is. Admittedly, this cuisine works well only because all these precise and technically perfect dishes are composed from the products of the Riviera. The region is full of fabulous vegetables, fruit, great lamb, pigeon and outstanding seafood. Take, for instance, the fishermen supplying Le Louis XV, the Rinaldis. They are the last professional fishermen in Monaco and supply only this and two other restaurants. Each morning they deliver the catch of the day to the kitchen, some of the finest fresh fish to be found in European top restaurants. The milk, citrus fruit, wild strawberries, beans, and all other produce come from small farmers who have been supplying this one kitchen for years, sometimes exclusively. Finding other restaurants in Europe who can claim similar resources would be hard; there can't be more than a handful.
One last point that makes Ducasse's restaurants truly outstanding are the desserts. From the simplest to his most refined restaurants, Ducasse serves desserts that beat anything else hands down. In Monaco, the sweet portion of the meal is always a delight. From the milk and salt ice cream with caramel and fresh goat's cheese to the classic baba, one is spoilt for choice. Every dessert here is such perfection, one simply can't imagine a restaurant serving anything better. Again, the desserts may seem simple, but every element is made with more care and attention than what one finds anywhere else. It is this singular attention to detail, and the matchless maturity in the composition of the dishes here that make Le Louis XV so very special. A restaurant to remember, forever.