14 June 2012
Mirazur is located in an impressive 1950's building, which has been beautifully remodelled by award-winning architects Rick Mather, giving it clean lines, open spaces and uninterrupted views. It nestles in the steep terraces, just below the restaurant's extensive organic vegetable garden, which is home to a huge variety of produce that flourishes in this climate, including almost 40 varieties of tomatoes. It is, in others words, located in a chef's paradise.
The man behind Mirazur is chef Mauro Colagreco and he brings with him an impressive pedigree. He moved to France from his native Argentina in 2001 to study its great gastronomic traditions. A year working under the late great Bernard Loiseau at his 3 Michelin-starred Côte d'Or in Seaulieu gave Mauro his first experience of haute cuisine. Following Loiseau's tragic death in 2003, Colagreco spent a couple of years with Alain Passard at his legendary Parisian restaurant L'Arpège. It's Passard's influence that most defines Mauro's cooking style today and he cites this time as being key in teaching him that the vegetable garden can play just as great a role on the plate as meat or fish. Following stints with Alain Ducasse and Guy Martin, Colagreco finally opened his own restaurant, Mirazur, in 2006.
Just 10 months after opening Mirazur, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star. In 2009 Colagreco was named "Chef of the Year" by the prestigious Gault Millau guide and he remains the only non-French chef to have achieved this accolade. A second Michelin star followed in 2012. Also in 2012 the restaurant re-entered the influential World's 50 Best Restaurants list at number 24 (in 2009 it was ranked 35th). This is clearly a chef and a restaurant in the ascendancy.
The menu at Mirazur is not one for control freaks. It depends entirely on what produce is fresh and available that day and hence the kitchen decides what to serve. Your choice is simply one of how much you want to eat – from a 3-course set menu priced at a very reasonable €29 to a 10-course "Carte Blanche" menu that costs €120. Needless to say, it was this latter option we chose. After advising the waiter of any allergies (none) and dislikes (none), we left the choice of dishes in chef Colagreco's capable hands.
We start the meal with glasses of cold, crisp Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. Is there anything better than commencing a long lazy lunch with a glass of Champagne? We're then served a series of three amuse bouches. A 'langoustine bonbon' was a crisp shell filled with warm langoustine broth. It's to be eaten in one go, unless you wanted it all down your shirt, and while it was tasty, it lacked that sweet shellfish intensity you usually associate with langoustine. Better was a polenta crisp filled with mascarpone and lemon, while fresh anchovies on toast was superb.
Next came a wooden board with a loaf of freshly baked sourdough pain du partage (bread that easily pulls apart). Into a plate was drizzled the most intensely perfumed ginger and lemon olive oil, a fruit that Menton is famous for. The bread broke away into thick segments, revealing a fluffy warm interior – perfect for dipping into that heady oil, which was fragrant and light with a nice peppery kick to it.
Our first course was a shockingly beautiful dish of oysters served with seaweed and cucumber. This was a dish bursting with the fresh clean iodine taste of the sea and was simply incredible.
This was followed by jelly-wrapped king crab served with grapefruit meringues and avocado mousse, the latter being quite appropriate given the restaurant sits next to one of France's oldest (allegedly) avocado trees. This was another light, clean and fresh tasting dish and the sweet meringues were an unusual but delicious addition.
We were offered bread next, and I opted for a cinnamon and almond roll, which was surprisingly sweet and not unlike the traditional Norwegian kanelbolle that I'm so fond of.
Next came another visually stunning dish (a theme that seems to be a key feature of Colagreco's cuisine). Spears of very lightly blanched asparagus were served at room temperature with slivers of green apple, raw asparagus, grapefruit segments, chickweed, mint and spring onion and was dressed with yoghurt and vanilla-infused honey. The sour fresh tang of apple and grapefruit along with the nutty asparagus, sweet honey and fresh yoghurt was such an exquisite combination of flavours that seemed to tingle the tongue with their vibrancy. This dish was the very epitome of cool, clean freshness and was utterly delicious.
A dish of clams served with rice stock and radishes had a warming heartiness to it and a deep fragrance of the ocean, of which we had a spectacular view.
A langoustine tail was served with its shell still attached and lifted at a jaunty angle. It was served with orange purée and a vegetable ragoût of peas, broad beans and carrots. The citrus roast langoustine tail was good, but to be honest I'm totally spoiled by the stunning quality of shellfish here in Norway so I didn't think it was anything that special. The addition of orange was unusual, but its sweet citrus taste worked really well with the shellfish.
The next course was genius in its inventiveness and flavours. In a nod to Colagreco's Latin American roots, a warm dish of quinoa risotto was served with morels, parsley brioche, different preparations of potatoes (roast, fried, crisp), parsley foam, peas, potato-parmesan cream and wild herbs. The flavours of this dish were incredible, it being earthy and intense and full of umami goodness. The mushrooms were almost meat-like in their richness. This was one of the real highlights of the meal and was as comforting as a great big hug.
For the fish course, we were served roast turbot with cucumber and peas. I love turbot – for me it's the Rolls Royce of fish with its pristine firm white flesh. However, the star of this dish was actually the onion-butter sauce, which was utterly intoxicating, leaving a wonderful sweet onion aftertaste in the mouth that left you craving for more.
The main course arrived next looking like a work of modern art. Duck breast had been roasted and was served with roast beetroot and summer vegetables, toasted sesame seeds, a carrot and orange purée and a reduction from the roast duck. This was quite possibly the best piece of roast duck I've had, being tender, yet with a crisp skin and bursting with flavour. The vegetables gave it an earthy kick while the purée added some sweetness and acidity. The sauce was the stuff of dreams too, I've no idea how you can get that much flavour into a sauce.
We also chose to have an optional cheese course (€15 supplement), and as well as local specialities I was delighted to see two English cheeses present, a cheddar and a blue cheese whose names escape me. The cheeses were served simply with a little honey and a few cumin seeds.
A little pre-dessert/palate cleanser was next and this was coriander 'frost', yoghurt ice cream, green apple slices, a thin caramelised tuile filled with coriander mousse, and a green apple sauce. This was a great little dish and was very refreshing. I love the use of coriander in this dessert, its crisp metallic grassiness working really well with sugar.
To finish, a dessert of saffron cream, almond foam, fresh almonds, orange flower brioche and orange sorbet. This was a brilliant end to the meal – sweet nutty pungency of almonds, honey-like bitterness of saffron and refreshing cold citrus sorbet. The best bit was eating the brioche after letting it soak up all that orange and almond goodness. Fantastic.
We finished our lunch with strong coffee and petit fours of lemon macarons, citrus jellies, and chocolates.
Chef Mauro Colagreco's cooking style is truly unique and is difficult to describe – this isn't French, Italian or Argentine cuisine, in fact it's virtually devoid of any national links. Key tenets are almost a complete absence of sauces. Colagreco prefers to use herbs and flowers to add flavour and extra dimension to a dish. Citrus also plays a key part, a fruit synonymous with the Menton area, and it's often combined to great effect with the slight bitterness of garden plants. The food is accessible, without the intellectual abstractions that often appear at modern fine dining restaurants.
However, there is an overriding philosophy of staying true to the complex simplicity of the wild nature of the surrounding area. Colagreco's dishes are light, clean, fresh and bursting with flavour. The inventive food seems to mirror the vibrancy of the surrounding landscape; the earth and sea being beautifully represented.
Another thing that stands out is Colagreco's sheer passion for cooking. During the meal I passed by the open kitchen on the lower floor and was promptly ushered in by Mauro. With a beaming grin, intense dark eyes and huge amount of enthusiasm he showed me round, introducing me to members of his brigade while at the same time controlling orders and dispatching dishes from the pass. You cannot help but be moved by someone taking such pride and joy in their work.
Just over four hours after we sat down to eat, our lunch came to end. Four wonderful hours of sublime food, genuinely warm service, and much laughter with friends had passed seemingly in an instant. I really didn't want to leave; Mirazur is the sort of place you'd like to hang around until dinner service starts and then do it all over again. And then, of course, there's that view!
For me, lunch at Mirazur was a moving experience, allowing me to see the sheer beauty and complexity of the nature that surrounds us. It's such a magical place and one that I can't wait to come back to.
Food: 9 / 10
Service: 10 / 10
Ambiance: 10 / 10
30 Avenue Aristide Briand
06500 Menton, France
Tel: +33 4 92 41 86 86