The legendary American social chronicler, actress and society hostess Elsa Maxwell, who put the palmy Monte Carlo Beach hotel on the map with a series of extravagant soirées in the 1930s, exhorted “Serve the dinner backward, do anything, but for goodness sake, do something weird”. Though perhaps not in a model she’d immediately recognise, the same willingness to embrace the new and try something different is still the hallmark of this charmingly bohemian beach-club hotel on the edge of Monaco.
The intimate waterfront hotel was recently given a smart makeover by beau monde interior designer India Mahdavi, and now its Elsa restaurant is basking in the limelight of being the first 100 percent organic restaurant in France to receive a Michelin star. Due to the dreary fare historically served by health-food restaurants around the world, gastronomy and healthy eating may chime as odd bedfellows, but Venetian-born chef Paolo Sari, aged 45, is looking to change all that.
“Many people have had sad experiences of healthy eating, but my cooking is very different,” says Sari, who created a network of organic farmers within a 60-mile radius of Monaco, to supply his kitchen with organic vegetables, fruit and herbs. All of his fi sh is caught wild by small-boat fishermen working nearby Mediterranean waters and his meat is organically produced. Sari’s commitment to organic dining is so exacting that Elsa has received a level-three Ecocert rating, the highest awarded by the respected, French-based organic certification agency.
Before arriving at the Monte Carlo Beach two years ago, Sari had a Marco Polo-like career which included stints at the Four Seasons London at Park Lane, Bice New York, the Mondrian Los Angeles and several hotels in Sardinia. However, it was while working as the head chef on the South Korean island of Jejuthat his ideas about good food changed.
“I lived in a Buddhist monastery on this beautiful island for a while,” Sari explains, “and I was amazed by what the monks ate – only the produce of their gardens and what they caught in the sea. Their food was delicious and when I returned to Europe, I wanted to invent a kitchen as simple, healthy and delicious as the one I discovered on Jeju.”
A recent lunch on the Monte Carlo Beach’s sunny terrace began with a superb salad of first-of-season baby artichokes from Albegna in nearby Italy. Vernal, casually elegant and deeply satisfying, the artichokes were cut into fine slices – some served raw, others crispy fried in olive oil– and garnished with three-year-old organic Parmesan.
Made with new potatoes, fluffy gnocci were strewn with baby vegetables, herbs and flowers, and napped with Parmesan cream and mint butter, to create one of the most satisfying dishes I’ve had in a long time.
Plump just-caught langoustines from San Remo were flash-fried in olive oil and accompanied by a creamy squid ink-tinted risotto, a masterful maritime sleight of hand.
The dessert not to miss is the delicately perfumed Sicilian almond soufflé, and all of the wines served at Elsa are organic, too. “So, now you know,” teased the Italian waiter when he brought our coffee at the end of the meal. “What’s good for you can also be very good eating, no?”
Monte Carlo Beach, avenue Princesse-Grace, 06190 Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Tel: +33 4 93 28 66 66. Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner until October 26. Lunch menu €43. Tasting menu €98. Average à la carte €100.
Based in Paris, restaurant columnist Alexander Lobrano has published a new book,Hungry for France, along with a new edition of his popular Hungry for Paris. Find these books and more in our bookstore.
From France Today magazine