Louis XV opened in May 1987 in The Hotel de Paris, the grand hotel that looks out over the central square of Monaco. Alain Ducasse, at that time a two Michelin star chef at La Terrasse in Antibes, had been recruited and given a daunting challenge by Prince Rainier III: to build a three Michelin star restaurant in Monaco within four years. This was all the more difficult given at that time there were no three star restaurants in hotels, but the feat was nonetheless achieved in just three years. Key to this success was the talent of head chef Frank Cerruti, who continued at Louis XV while Alain Ducasse went on to build a global restaurant empire.
No expense was spared on the dining room of Louis XV, a magnificent and opulent creation of marble, gold leaf and chandeliers. There is also a small terrace looking out over the Place du Casino. The dining room had a minor refurbishment in 2007, improving the lighting and changing the chairs to a style that was popular in the reign of Louis XV. A sense of the scale of investment can be seen in the wine cellar, which has over 400,000 bottles and offers 4,000 separate wines.
The chef de cuisine here is now Dominique Lory, who returned to Louis XV after his role as sous chef at Plaza Athenee. In 2007 Frank Cerruti was elevated to the position of executive chef of all the Hotel de Paris restaurants, with Mr Lory reporting to him. At service today 21 chefs were working on the food for less than 30 diners.
A full tasting menu is available at €310, but at this visit we went for the cheaper lunch offer. €145 per person buys you nibbles, three courses, cheese, mignardise, mineral water, coffee and a bottle of wine to share. Given that a beef main course from the a la carte was at €110, it can be seen that this is a relative bargain. Of course for the cheap lunch you are not going to see the costliest products, but in many ways it is interesting to see what a kitchen makes of humbler ingredients.
Vegetable crudités here are not the kind of thing that you see in a UK hotel buffet. The quality of the vegetables in the Mediterranean markets is superb, and Louis XV has its pick of these: the celery in particular was remarkable, but the fennel, carrot, courgettes and radishes were all superb. There is a vast bread chariot, and the ones that we tried, black olive loaf and walnut and fig bread, were absolutely top of the range (20/20).
A starter of pumpkin risotto with a bouillon does not sound like much, but the rice had perfect texture, and the intensity of the stock used for the risotto was remarkable, the pumpkin itself having tremendous flavour (20/20). My starter of Iberico Jabugo ham and figs was about as simple as you can get. The figs were simply the best I have ever eaten, the Iberico ham superb; I am not comfortable giving the very highest marks to food where the kitchen has barely intervened, but they certainly selected their produce with tremendous care (18/20).
Sole with celeriac and lemon confit was magnificent, the fish beautifully cooked, the flavour of the celeriac remarkable, and the lemon confit an interesting accompaniment (20/20). My guinea fowl was by some margin the best I have ever eaten, perfectly cooked of course but with a depth of flavour that I had no idea guinea fowl could have. This was served with polenta and girolles, and anyone who can make polenta not merely edible but enjoyable has my eternal respect (20/20).
The vast cheese board features such delights as aged Comte from Bernard Antony, sublime Camembert, terrific Beaufort and excellent Fourme d’Ambert. Mignardise were extraordinarily good: pistachio with raspberry, lemon tart, hazelnut pastry and rich chocolate.
The formal desserts were a chocolate pot with frosted cocoa beans, not as pretty as the famous croustillant but still having dazzlingly rich chocolate flavour (19/20). Wild strawberries with Marscapone sorbet and a juice of the strawberries had strawberries of stunning quality, the sorbet perfectly made and balancing the acidity of the fruit (19/20).
An entire menu of coffee is offered, including Blue Mountain as part of the set lunch offer. This is served with further chocolates, green apple sorbet, marshmallow and a selection of perfect lemon Madeleines. The bill would have been exactly €145 (£122) a head, but we had pre-dinner drinks that bumped it up to €160 (£134). For the quality of the food that we ate this was very fair indeed. Obviously if you went for the full blown tasting menu and ordered a decent bottle of wine it would be considerably more than this. If you went for the full menu you would see far more luxurious ingredients, but I was impressed that the same care had been put into the cheap lunch dishes. Service ran like a fine Swiss watch, every detail perfect. If you ever want to try a 3 Michelin star restaurant and get the full effect: the grand room, the flawless service, the superb food, then surely there is no better choice than Louis XV.