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Joel Robuchon Monte Carlo

4 Avenue de la Madone, Monte Carlo, 98000, Monaco

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This restaurant opened in July 2004 in the Metropole hotel, near the main casino square of Monaco. The head chef is Christophe Cussa, who worked for six years as executive chef of Reserve de Beaulieu along the coast before taking up the culinary reins here, and has been in place since the opening. The dining room is on the ground floor, with a little counter by the chefs in addition to the tables. There was also a terrace with seating in warm weather, which in this part of the world is quite often. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2010 and a second in 2011, which it has retained ever since.

The menu has several options. There was a tasting menu at €190, and a vegetarian version at half that. There was a lengthy a la carte menu, and as a nice touch all the dishes were available as half portions, so if you wanted to try a few different things you could make up your own customised tasting menu. Finally, there was a three course set lunch at €59. The wine list was quite lengthy and mostly French, with perilously few offerings under €100. Example labels were Pacolet Beaujolais 2015 at €80 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €31, Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 2014 at an excessive €125 compared to its retail price of €28, and Chartron Puligny Montrachet 2013 at a hefty €195 for a wine that will set you back €48 in a shop. Prices were no kinder higher up the list, with Bonneau de Martray Corton Charlemagne 1995 at €590 compared to its retail price of €192, and Etienne Sauzet Bienvenue Batard Montrachet 2013 at €1,390 for a bottle whose current market value is €345.

The dining room is quite smartly decorated but the atmosphere is reasonably informal, and tables were well spaced. An impressive bread chariot is wheeled to your table, the various offerings including black olive bread, focaccia, country bread and baguette. These were of a very good standard (18/20). We went for the half portions in order to try a few dishes. If you do this I would suggest that two half starters and one half main course is ample in terms of quantity. I naively ordered two of the notionally half sized mains and was completely unable to finish them. An amuse-bouche started the meal off in fine style. A little bowl of foie gras mousse was topped with Parmesan foam. It had superb depth of taste, the flavours combining very well: a seriously good albeit rich nibble (19/20).

You do not often see herring on the menu of a high-end restaurant but the version here was impressive, smoked and marinated and served with potatoes, finely chopped onions and frisee salad. The herring had excellent flavour and the dish was prettily presented (17/20). Red mullet tasted very fresh and came with a lovely green crab soup with rouille and saffron. This was a glorious dish, the mullet terrific and the sauce intensely flavoured and working really well with the fish (19/20). Langoustine came with truffled ravioli and stewed cabbage, the shellfish tender and sweet, the earthiness of the cabbage balancing the richness of the truffled ravioli (18/20).

Crab was carefully wrapped in citrus-flavoured avocado and came with blobs of red pepper sauce, crunchy pistachios and tiny rocket leaves, along with ultra delicate squid ink crisps. This was a prettily presented and. very enjoyable dish, the crab fresh and shell-free, the avocado ripe and a classic complement for the crab. The dressing brought freshness and cut through the richness of the avocado beautifully, the pistachios giving a textural contrast (19/20).

A pair of miniature burgers came with foie gras and a tomato and ginger sauce, along with matchstick chips. The beef came with verjus peppers, and the beef and the foie gras in themselves were certainly very good. The sauce was excellent, with plenty of ginger flavour, but the chips could have been crisper and overall this was a pretty rich dish, so perhaps could have done with some extra element for better balance (15/20). Quail came stuffed with foie gras, with a quail sausage and the trademark Robuchon mash flavoured with black truffle. Although the quail sausage in particular had lovely flavour, the butter-rich mash needed more than a tiny pile of salad to balance the dish (16/20). John Dory was the best of the mini main courses, served with shiso leaf tempura and a bed of bomba rice. The tempura was very delicate and the rice good, but the fish itself was stunning, beautifully cooked and with terrific flavour. I can hardly recall eating better John Dory. Overall 19/20, but the fish was perfect.

For dessert, hazelnut soufflé contained grilled hazelnuts and came with lime sorbet. The soufflé was superb: light, fluffy and evenly cooked through, the hazelnuts inside providing a welcome textural contrast and themselves having excellent flavour, and the lime sorbet lovely in itself and giving a pleasing freshness to the overall dish (19/20).

I was curious to try the dessert trolley option. It is easy to be cynical about dessert trolleys, which smack of provincial restaurants in the 1970s serving tired trifle and gateau. However at Jamin, Joel Robuchon's original Paris restaurant and one that has arguably never been bettered, there used to be two dessert chariots wheeled in at the end of the meal, and no-one ever sneered at that. Of course the issue is not whether the desserts come on a trolley or are pre-plated, but how good they are, and the pastry section of the kitchen here is impressive. We tried small tastes of apple tart tatin, lemon tart, pear clafoutis and rum baba. The tart tatin had some of the most perfectly caramelised apples I have eaten, the pastry base of this and the lemon tart being very delicate, and the clafoutis was superb. Only the rum baba was merely excellent. It is remarkable how few restaurants in the U.K. can produce pastry remotely of this quality (overall 19/20). The dessert trolley was groaning with other terrific looking dishes too. To finish, coffee was from Sant'Eustacchio and was excellent, rich and not too bitter. It was expensive at €12 but came with some very fine chocolates.

Service was superb, the topping up of wine, water and bread uncannily good, the waiters friendly and helpful. The bill came to €233 (£199) with a bottle of Louis Roederer champagne between us. This is a lot, but we over-ordered, and remember that there is a €59 lunch option. If you went a la carte and managed to find an affordable wine (good luck with that) then a typical cost per head might be around £120. Overall I was genuinely surprised by just how good the food here was. I had expected something of the level of an Atelier Robuchon (which themselves vary somewhat in quality by location despite being of the same format and notionally a chain), but was this was clearly a notch or two up in quality. Certain dishes like the John Dory would grace the table of any three star restaurant. The clientele here is mostly local and they have clearly voted with their feet, as the place was completely full on a Tuesday lunch in late November.

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