A three Michelin-starred dining trio on the French Riviera

ByDerrick V. Stutts

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If 2022 is the year you decide you need to travel — quarantine be damned — then we’ve got the recommendations you need on how to make the most of it. First up: a trio of three Michelin-starred restaurants on the French Riviera, where the shimmering azure waters of the Mediterranean, stunning cuisine and elegant surroundings make for a head-spinning combination.

It’s already seriously blessed as one of the world’s most famously picturesque stretches of coastline, but France’s Côte d’Azur also allows gastronomes to indulge in other ways, notably with multiple three Michelin-starred restaurants to live out their food fantasies.

As you look out over multi-million dollar super-yachts, doubtless housing supermodels and superstars, you quickly appreciate why this is somewhere that has always been a place to see and be seen. The vistas are extraordinary, from vertiginous cactus-covered cliffs to rolling hills, perfect bays to quaint villages perched on rocks.

With travel from Asia, especially Hong Kong, representing such an investment of time and money, it pays to make the most of such a legendary destination. Staying two nights in each spot — three tasting menus three nights running may be a bit much — you also get to appreciate the different landscapes, terroir and views which make these culinary temples so unique.

Three-Michelin-Starred Dining on the French Riviera

La Vague d’Or, Cheval Blanc, St. Tropez (Re-opening 12 May)

Courtesy: Cheval Blanc St. Tropez

Famously it was French actress Brigitte Bardot who put St. Tropez on the map in the 1960s, turning the difficult-to-reach hideaway into a definitive home for the international jet-set. From Mick Jagger in the 1970s through to Clooney, Beyoncé and di Caprio more recently, this Bohemian enclave continues to captivate first time visitors and regulars alike.

There’s no better place from which to experience this lifestyle than at Cheval Blanc St. Tropez. You may know the LVMH-owned brand from their Maldives private island, escapes in St. Barth in the Caribbean, Courchevel in the Alps or their brand new hotel in Paris. In St. Tropez, their property sits right on the water in an ancient pine grove. With the sky and the water, the vistas are truly 50 Shades of Blue, a colour motif continued through the uber-elegant but relaxed property with gorgeous suites, views and impeccable, warm service.

Courtesy: Cheval Blanc St. Tropez

Dining-wise, guests can count themselves seriously lucky, thanks to Arnaud Donckele. Trained under legends Michel Guérard and Alain Ducasse, Donckele is a chef’s chef, someone hugely respected for his art and craft. At La Vague d’Or — ‘The Wave of Gold’ — he translates the diversity of Provence into extraordinary creations, championing rare ingredients with infinite creativity.

The dining room looks out towards the water, under the natural canopy of a cluster of huge pine trees. After Champagne and impeccable amuses-bouches including a stunning tart of cep mushrooms, we meet Thierry Di Tullio. On paper he’s the restaurant manager, in reality he’s an extraordinary storyteller (in multiple languages), setting the stage for dinner with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Donckele’s cuisine. 

They have worked together for years and it shows in his brilliant enthusiasm and passion for dining, always with a cheeky twinkle in the eye. I’ve never come across a maitre’d of such warmth and talent. Indeed, he didn’t even show us a menu, but walked us through what we would be served, asking questions and explaining in a hospitality tour-de-force.

Courtesy: Cheval Blanc St. Tropez

From the first plate to the last, this was dinner touched with genius. Scarlet prawns with Corsican grapefruit sounds a distinctly strange combination, but worked beautifully on the plate. Alongside it, broccoletti were lightly charred, there was the freshness of citrus basil and the bite of Aloe Vera, all crowned in a stunning sauce made from the prawn heads.

Seafood again starred in the lobster cooked in its shell, served with chestnuts from Collobrières, courgettes and sauteed girolle mushrooms. Again, such an unexpected combination, but beautifully balanced.

For the main event, the simply but eloquently named “Veal as we love it here in Provence”. There were tenderloin and sweetbreads, braised cheek and local Mona Lisa potatoes, the glorious ensemble then draped in a luxurious, velvety jus with capers and sage. Simply stunning cooking.

Every element of every dish, no matter how unfamiliar or unexpected, is explained and put into context, so you leave dinner at La Vague d’Or truly enlightened about cutting-edge cuisine by a master at the top of his game — with a maitre’d to match him. 

The seven-course menu (they call them ‘acts’) runs 360 euros, with optional wine pairing at 175 euros 

Cheval Blanc St. Tropez (re-opening 12 May), Plage de la Bouillabaisse, 83990 Saint-Tropez, France, +33 4 94 55 91 00

Le Louis XV Alain Ducasse à L’Hotel de Paris

Courtesy: L’Hotel de Paris

Travelling along the coast past Cannes and Nice you’ll come to Monaco, a city-state which defines the Cote d’Azur in the eyes of many and is home to our second three-starred restaurant, Le Louis XV, from the legend Alain Ducasse.

Monaco has a reputation as the playground of the super wealthy and there’s certainly no shortage of supercars and beautiful people, jaw-dropping yachts and retail therapy for the 0.01%. But there’s also a rich cultural and artistic landscape, world-leading sustainability initiatives and hidden backstreets to discover in Monaco-Ville, the old town perched on a rock since the 13th century. 

Amidst a dazzling selection of places to stay within the Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer group, it’s the ultra-refined Hotel de Paris Monte Carlo which sits opposite the world-famous Casino and looks out over the Mediterranean. It’s also home to Le Louis XV.

To put the restaurant and Monsieur Ducasse’s achievements in context, we need to head back to 1987 when His Serene Highness Prince Rainier of Monaco entrusted Louis XV to a then 31-year-old Alain Ducasse. It was the ultimate of vote of confidence in one of France’s greatest rising stars. 

Just three years later, the Louis XV becomes the first ever hotel restaurant to be awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide. It has held them ever since, three decades and counting.

Courtesy: L’Hotel de Paris

This poetic tribute becomes clear in dinner at Le Louis XV, somewhere which must rank amongst the world’s most glamorous and elegant dining rooms. A seven metre chandelier overlooks diners, where 700 unique pieces of blown glass surround more than 2,000 bulbs to mimic the glow of fireflies. I didn’t count them, you’ll be relieved to hear.

A cool glass of champagne from their trolley set things off, before we were reminded that the restaurant’s cellars have a cool 400,000 bottles of wine to choose from. Dinner from Ducasse’s chef de cuisine Dominique Lory then started in striking fashion with a translucent and ultra-thin crispbread featuring the silhouette of local vegetables and olives that had been embedded. Culinary theatre and Instagram gold from the off.

Courtesy: L’Hotel de Paris

Delicate amuses including Barbajuans, a Monaco delicacy of Swiss chard and ricotta encased in a delicate fritter, before tiny cuts of mackerel, tuna and red mullet, all scented with lemon, capers and other local flavours were steamed on hot stones in front of us. Then vegetables from Menton, all of six miles away, served with a truffle bouillon. Such a classic, it has remained on the menu since 1987.

Next came an absolute show-stopper of a dish, Gamberonired prawns from San Remo, from about ten miles away this time, served in a rockfish jelly with caviar. More caviar, in fact, than I’ve ever seen in one dish. Fabulously decadent, the Cote d’Azur on a plate. 

The main event bought milk-fed lamb from the Pyrenees, cooked to perfection, served with courgettes and a curried yoghurt. Ducasse has always embraced the world of flavours and ingredients and this was another brilliant global marriage.

After an epic cheese trolley, sublime desserts featured figs from Solliés with marmalade and a honey sorbet, then Java chocolate from Ducasse’s own property with wild pepper and granita.

Courtesy: L’Hotel de Paris

To finish an unforgettable dinner, it had to be his signature dessert of rum baba, which comes with your choice of rum, naturally, so golden Angostura Premium rum from Trinidad was poured into the delicate, light sponge, then cream spooned on top.

It’s crystal clear how and why Le Louis XV is such a bastion of French cuisine and a temple to gastronomy. Long may it reign, like its beloved regal namesake.

The Gourmet Menu of three dishes selected by chef, with cheese and desserts, costs 350 euros 

L’Hotel de Paris, Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Pl. du Casino, 98000, Monte Carlo, Monaco, +377 98 06 30 00

Mirazur, Menton (Re-opening 6 April)

Courtesy: Mirazur / Nicolas Lobbestael

Finally from Monaco, it’s just a short hop along the coast to Menton, a picturesque seaside town which sits next to the Italian border. 

Carrying the title of the world’s best restaurant, from World’s 50 Best — at least until the ‘new look’ Noma took the crown — meant huge acclaim for Mirazur, but also intense pressure. Not to mention the additional weight of three Michelin stars.

But a truly exceptional dinner showed that the Argentinian magician Mauro Colagreco and his team are very much still firing on all cylinders.

Courtesy: Mirazur / Matteo Carassale

Mirazur is perfectly named — it means ‘view of the blue’, thanks to its enviable location perched above the Med. The 1930’s Modernist building is surrounded by their extensive gardens and orchards, providing so much of the produce that star in their plates.

Our menu was based on roots — “racines” — and is one of four, alongside “flowers”, “fruits” and “leaves” which run depending on the day you book. Not only that, but the dishes change in every single iteration of the menu. Dine, return two days later, then all the dishes will be completely different. It’s a remarkable commitment.

Courtesy: Mirazur

To start dinner and cleanse the palate, a simple but effective glass of ginger infused water. Then came amuses-bouches which set the stall out in terms of creativity and execution.

First was a small tube of celeriac filled with the softest and sweetest celeriac mousse, a crazy-good dome of onion with vermouth and aged Comté cheese, a smoked mayonnaise tartlet with black bread, a crab tartare with dill and horseradish, then finally a sandwich with turmeric, carrot and lardo di colonnata. 

On their own, each were fantastic — particularly that “sandwich”. But together they perfectly foreshadowed what was to come, a dazzling display of ingenuity, taking hyper-local produce from their five gardens and neighbour suppliers, before turning it into a gastronomic symphony. 

Courtesy: Mirazur

One early course was an unspeakably delicious lobster with acacia honey and hibiscus powder. These are not three ingredients you’d think would gel. But my, did they.

A tartare of sea bream with beetroot vinaigrette and radish from their garden was similarly epic, before a dish which will live forever in the food memory bank: a creamy pureé of new potatoes with garlic cream, all covering a mound of French caviar. On top, a dehydrated potato had been shaped into a root, to echo the ‘roots’ theme of the menu.

This was stratospherically accomplished cuisine, so thoughtful, so dizzyingly delicious — but perhaps most of all, so grounded. 

Grounded in their entirely sustainable terroir — they won a rare Michelin green star and are already wholly plastic free — but also grounded in a sense of place, in this gastronomic paradise of the Côte d’Azur.

The nine-course Gourmet menu costs 320 euros 

Mirazur (re-opening 6 April), 30 Av. Aristide Briand, 06500 Menton, France, +33 4 92 41 86 86