“Since it’s a social prism for our ideas of pleasure, the idiom of luxury evolves constantly,” says chef Alain Ducasse, explaining his decision to overhaul his flagship restaurant at Monaco’s storied Hôtel de Paris with a new décor, menu and name. “It’s a very beautiful room,” Ducasse says, of the landmarked 1864-vintage Belle Époque dining room at the venerable Monégasque hotel. “But one day I walked through the door and it struck me as looking a bit elderly.”
Ducasse commissioned his favoured interior-design dream team, Paris-based Frenchman Patrick Jouin and Canadian Sanjit Manku to undertake the delicate job of giving the room a new look, while respecting the fact that no structural changes could be made to the existing space.
“The essence of the existing dining room was 19th-century opulence and glamour, and because it’s a much loved place,” says Manku, “we wanted to respect that but create a sort of exhilarating but not jarring contrast between the past and the present. So we decided to lighten up the room by removing all of the oil paintings and marble busts at eye level, and we re-centred it around an open bud shaped service fixture in the middle of the room. Here, in this metal-and-mulberry wood fixture, olive oil is on display in glass canisters, bread is cut and other serving tasks are performed as a way of animating the space and communicating the idea that the level of service is deeply personal and in pursuit of your pleasure.”
To further rescale the room, which boasts a high ceiling with a circular fresco of a fleshy nymph and elaborate wedding-cake mouldings, the duo commissioned a suspended, circular chandelier composed of 800 pieces of hand-made Murano glass, designed by Aristide Najean and inspired by the ones in the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul. “Warm, flattering lighting is essential to the experience of luxury dining,” explains Manku.
The tasteful sensuality that’s the ballast of this new look is amplified by every detail in the room, from the exquisite taupe leather-lined pedestal tables to the quietly chic clothing which designer Marine Halna du Fretay created for the serving staff. Du Fretay, who worked for Hermès for many years, has crafted a wardrobe of beautifully cut and elegantly understated clothing which reflects the fact that Eros is always more a question of what’s hidden than revealed. Many of the stand-out pieces for female staff come from Chez Bettina, the Monaco-based firm that produces some of the world’s finest knitwear.
The new menu is a collective effort by Alain Ducasse; Franck Cerutti, the creative director of the Hôtel de Paris’s restaurants, and acting chef Dominique Lory. Here, too, the changes are subtle and suave, since Ducasse first began the work of redefining French haute cuisine when he arrived here almost 30 years ago and surprised everyone by putting simple dishes of vegetables and seafood in starring roles.
Among the stand outs on the new menu are a superb dish of lightly steamed Mediterranean shellfish on a bed of fresh chickpea purée with a refreshing condiment of local citrus and seaweed; steamed asparagus with fresh ewe’s milk cheese and grilled Menton lemon, and steamed sea bass with baby beets and local citrus fruits.
The menu continues to propose such classic Ducasse dishes as San Remo prawns with caviar and a fine aspic made from their shells; ragoût of stockfish tripe with Perugina sausage, and roasted baby pigeon with foie gras and grilled potatoes. However, local vegetables and seafood retain pride of place in an offer that’s intended to offer what Ducasse describes as a “consummate gastronomic experience of the Riviera”.
Restaurant Alain Ducasse à l’Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Place du Casino, 98000 Monaco. Tel: +377 98 06 88 64. Prix-fixe menus €230 & €310. Average à la carte €250.
From France Today magazine