I have eaten at Louis XV many times over a period of two decades. It is situated on the main casino square of Monaco inside the luxurious Hotel de Paris. For the history of the restaurant see my previous 2013 review. Dominique Lory has been the head chef since 2011, a long-standing Ducasse protege. He was previously sous chef at Plaza Athenee in Paris, and before that worked at various restaurants including Pierre Gagnaire, and in his early career at Louis XV itself. One recent change is that the Louis XV has dropped its lunch opening, which is a shame since this offered a relatively inexpensive way to try the food here. Another change has been a modern refresh of the decor. The beautiful decoration of the ceiling and walls remains, but there is now a central station for the bread and a large circular light fitting. One distinctly odd change was that the elegant little handbag-rest stools have been replaced by something that looks disturbingly like an upside down cardboard dispatch box. I am not sure what effect the designer was going for, but I fear that “upside down cardboard box” is not something that feels appropriate to this Belle Epoque dining room. I much prefer the original decor, though I suppose this is a matter of personal taste. What is undeniable is that the lighting has become murkier.
There was a tasting menu at €360 or a vegetarian version at €240, though the a la carte route is scarcely cheaper: starters ranged from €84 to €170, fish main courses €120 to €190, and meat main courses €96 to €120. Cheese was €30 and desserts €36. The wine list was extensive and expensive. One peculiarity is that there were virtually no wines offered under €100 - I saw one bottle at €60 and one at €90, but otherwise the list sprinted towards the €200 mark and above, the majority of the offerings seemingly pricier even than that. Page after page had nothing below €400. Examples were Bellet Baron G 2012 at €140 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €36, Quartz Sauvignon Cantina Terlano 2013 at €190 compared to its retail price of €68, and Jean-Michel Gerin Les Grands Places 2007 at a ridiculous €400 for a bottle that will set you back €101 in a shop. In oligarch territory there were examples such as Guigal La Landonne 1989 at €1,940 compared to its retail price of €617, and Leflaive Montrachet 2008 at a surprising bargain price of €3,500 for a wine whose current retail price is €4,936. To offer effectively nothing below €200 seems to me a pretty cynical strategy. Doubtless most of the diners here are distinctly well-heeled, but there will be some food enthusiasts keen to try Louis XV and who just want something modest to drink; it would hardly kill the restaurant to offer a selection of cheaper bottles, which the oligarchs will scorn anyway, but allow normal people to drink a glass of wine with their meal without considering taking out a mortgage. In general it seems to me to be a wine list designed to crush the spirits of all but the seriously wealthy.
To begin with there was an impressive technical offering: a flatbread in which olives (and another bread with assorted vegetables) were somehow embedded within the thin crisp bread. This certainly looked striking, though if I set that aside the actual flavour and texture of the bread was merely decent (perhaps 16/20). Fortunately the rest of the bread offerings that I tried were lovely, with fine bacon fougasse and lovely black olive bread with fine texture and flavour (19/20 for the regular bread).
The meal began with some raw vegetables on little sticks, with a black olive sauce. In the summer the vegetable crudités here have always been spectacular, but these (including beetroot and celeriac) were merely pleasant, though the sauce was intense and lovely (barely 16/20). A little piece of theatre followed as little pieces of fish were brought on a stone on a bed of hot coals in a bowl. Water was poured over the coals and the top of the bowl covered quickly, steaming the fish for a few seconds. The seafood involved was skipjack tuna scented with black olive, cuttlefish scented with capers, mackerel scented with lemon, gurnard scented with tomatoes and red mullet scented with basil. I admired the theatrical effect of this dish but the end result was less impressive, with for example the tuna becoming a little overcooked even in the brief steaming process (scarcely 15/20).
A starter of Provence garden vegetables with black truffles featured carrots, leeks, fennel, artichokes, fine beans, runner beans, radishes and a sauce of black truffle. This was certainly enjoyable, and the carrot in particular had lovely flavour with the sauce being excellent, but with the best will in the world this felt like a 17/20 dish.
Better was a simple dish of raw gamberoni (the local red prawns) with a rockfish jelly and a topping of caviar. This was superb, the jelly having lovely flavour, whilst the gamberoni were terrific (20/20). A stockpot of millet with assorted wild mushrooms (ceps, trompettes) and cabbage was very enjoyable, the ceps in particular having lovely flavour (18/20).
Langoustine tails were poached and smoked, served with seasonal vegetables (mushrooms, spinach and carrot) in a langoustine broth flavoured with juniper berries, and a few halved grapes. This was lovely, the shellfish perfectly tender and sweet, the sauce glorious and the grapes bringing a gentle acidic balance to the dish (20/20).
Scallops from Dieppe came with chestnuts, watercress soup and freshly grated white truffles from Alba. The scallops were very good (though not necessarily better than some I had in Scotland a couple of weeks previously) and were carefully cooked, the watercress soup was well made if not the most obvious accompaniment, and of course white truffles are always a bonus, though I can still score the dish 18/20 at best. Guinea fowl from Landes came with puntarella (a kind of chicory) and salsify. The bird was nicely cooked and had good flavour, and the bitterness of the punterella brought an interesting balance to the dish, though the guinea fowl itself did not compare well to the birds I have eaten at Michel Guerard's restaurant Les Pres Eugenie in the Landes region (17/20).
The cheese board had noticeably fewer selections than it used to have, though that is not necessarily a bad thing, and the Antony three year aged Comte was particularly lovely. There was a bizarre pre-dessert of granita and jelly of apple and rocket. I have never been a fan of shrubbery in desserts and this seemed a particularly unwelcome intrusion into the meal (13/20 seems kind). If you are going to offer modernist vegetable-based desserts in a classical French meal, which seems to me highly debatable, then for goodness sake do so as an optional dish on the menu, not as the only choice. At the very end of the meal a lovely yuzu sorbet with yuzu marmalade (19/20) was brought, and this would have been a perfect refreshing pre-dessert.
Fortunately the pastry section can still deliver its classic dishes, following recipes from, I am informed, former pastry chef Frederick Roberts. Grapefruit soufflé with grapefruit sorbet and granita was superb, the soufflé as light and fluffy as could be. Grapefruit marmalade was embedded within the soufflé, which was cooked evenly, with the sorbet having dazzling flavour and texture (20/20). The signature rum baba here was also still on form, the bread base superbly moist, offered with a selection of fine rums and very light Chantilly cream – one of the great classic desserts, flawlessly executed (20/20).
With the excellent coffee there was a small plate of petit fours, much reduced in scope as I recall compared to a few years ago, though supplemented by a selection of chocolates. Troublingly, the former were not particularly good: lemon skin with lime jelly was overly sharp, and a kumquat was so sour as to be eye-watering, though a lemon with limoncello was decent. Fortunately the chocolates were excellent.
Service was superb, with every little detail taken care of, and a seemingly endless supply of waiters in the room. The bill came to €351 (£299) each. If you went for a la carte and scoured the wine list for one of its very few cheaper bottles, then you could escape here for about €320 (£273), but if you indulged in anything but the cheapest wines the bill would skyrocket past that level. Overall, this was a bittersweet experience for me. I have eaten at Louis XV many times, especially back in the days when Franck Cerruti was head chef. His cooking was pretty much flawless, and with its glorious original room and perfect service this used to be one of my favourite restaurants in the world. This meal was decidedly mixed, still with great desserts and the odd lovely dish such as the langoustines, but also with a troubling number of dishes that were good but far from outstanding. At these prices this is hard to justify. I am genuinely sad to report this serious slip in standards of what was a personal favourite restaurant.