Palme d'Or

Hotel Martinez, 73 Boulevard de la Croisette, Cannes, 06400, France

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This is the premier restaurant in Cannes, opening in 1986 and gaining two Michelin stars in 1991 under chef Christian Willer, which it has retained ever since. In 2008 the kitchen reins were handed over to Christian Sinicropi. I first ate here in the early 1990s under the old regime, so it was interesting to come back and see what has changed. The restaurant is located in the luxury hotel Martinez, right on the Croisette in Cannes.

The chef actually studied art at the school “Les Beaux Arts” in Vallauris. Together with his wife, he designed the ceramic plates used in the restaurant. Born in Cannes, Mr Sinicropi worked for a few months as a commis chef at this restaurant under Christian Willer. In 1991, he joined Sylvain Duparc’s team at the Carlton Hotel’s “La Côte” restaurant (which had one star before it closed). In 1993 he moved to Hôtel du Palais in Biarritz, where he joined the team of Jean-Marie Gauthier as first commis chef. He then became chef de partie at "La Belle Otero" in Cannes (which had two stars – it closed in 1998). In 1997 he moved to Strasbourg as chef de partie under Antoine Westermann at the (3-star at the time) Le Buerehiesel, and a year later he became fish chef in the 3-star Louis XV restaurant in Monaco before moving to the Palme d'Or.

The restaurant has a dedicated entrance and lift to the first floor. The dining room looks out over the Croissette and the Mediterranean beyond. Tables were large and well spaced, and on this weekday lunch in April just five tables were taken. Clearly it is a different story during the Cannes Film Festival. There was a €78 (£67) five course lunch including a half bottle of wine (a choice of nine local bottles) but I didn't come all the way here for that. We went for the tasting menu at €210 (£180). There was a full a la carte choice as well as a menu option called "movements" which to an English ear sounds worryingly like the menu in a dodgy kebab shop, but in this case means that you choose an ingredient like lamb or langoustine, and then get three variations of that ingredient, rather in the style of Pierre Gagnaire.

The wine list was extensive and French. Sample references were Domaine Alain Chabanon Campredon 2012 at €60 for a bottle that you can pick up in the high street for €16, Antoine Sanzay Les Salles Martin 2013 at €95 compared to its retail price of €42, and Pierre Boisson Meursault 2013 at €160 for a wine whose current shop price is €60. There were plenty of prestige wines available, such as Henri Boillot Corton Charlemagne 2014 at €600 compared to its retail price of €175, and Etienne Sauzet Le Montrachet 2008 at €1,020 for a wine that will set you back €625 in a shop. 

A rack of cumin tuiles featured remarkably delicate, ultra-thin tuiles with a pleasing hint of cumin. These were impressive, gossamer light (19/20). Next was an array of nibbles presented in a two level ceramic tray. A fish ball flavoured with cheese was lovely, as was a little sphere of fried goat cheese. Shellfish and mandarin nibbles were also good, but the star was the barbajuan. This is a fritter of Swiss chard and ricotta that is popular in nearby Monaco. This was piping hot and had dazzling texture, made with the top class vegetables that characterise this area. It is a nibble that Louis XV made famous, but this version had the edge (average 18/20, but the barbajuan was perfect).

The next food presented was a pair of loaves of focaccia made from scratch, one plain and one with herbs. The focaccia was superbly fresh and came with magnificent olive oil from the local area. A tray of bread was also top notch, a choice of brioche, seed bread, and a couple of loaves, one flavoured with squid ink and the other with orange blossom. These were an impressive set of breads (19/20).

The final amuse bouche was a mousse of broccoli with mayonaisse and black olive powder with broccoli jus. Broccoli is not an easy ingredient to shine with, but the mousse was light as air, the olives providing just the right fragrant enhancement to the vegetables. I am always impressed when a chef can take a humble ingredient like this and make something really special out of it (20/20). Spider crab mousse with morel jus was also excellent, the mousse having gorgeous texture but the star being the morel jus, which had intense flavour and provided a pleasing earthy contrast to the crab (19/20).

The next dish was tuna and bonito. The tuna came with rice and an avocado sauce flavoured with bergamot. The bonito was flavoured with hazelnut. These were good but not in the league of the dishes that preceded them, though the fish certainly had nice flavour (just about 17/20). A seafood medley had gamberoni prawns, octopus and squid with a seafood sauce and local vegetables including courgettes. The shellfish were tender and had good flavour, and the octopus managed to avoid even a hint of chewiness. However for me the star were the green vegetables on the side, which had superb flavour. If you ever wander around the local market here you will quickly see just how magnificent the vegetables are in this part of the world, and the ones on this dish were carefully chosen and beautifully prepared (19/20).

The main course was pigeon on a bed of pastry and mushrooms, with blackberries and juniper sauce. The acidity of the blackberries was an excellent foil for the richness of the pigeon, which had very good flavour (18/20). The cheese board was all French and in impeccable condition, with lovely goat cheese and excellent St Nectaire amongst many others. Pre dessert was exotic fruits, frozen lemon with black tea fragrance, along with candied lemon and bergamot sorbet. This was not at the level of the savoury dishes, the tea and bergamot flavour dominant, and the candied lemon texture a little too chewy (16/20). I preferred poached pear with hibiscus perfume, split almonds, chestnut stracciatella and vanilla ice cream, the pear precisely cooked and having lovely texture and flavour, the hibiscus flavour mercifully restrained, the almonds providing a contrasting texture (18/20).

My final dessert of carpaccio of pear with marshmallow and spices and a praline puff pastry, gingerbread ice cream and chocolate disc was pleasant but less impressive, the texture of the chocolate a bit stiff (16/20). By contrast the lemon soufflé was superb, the soufflé laced with citrus zest and served with caramel ice cream. This was top of the range cooking, the soufflé light and evenly cooked, with just the right level of acidity from the lemon to balance the caramel (19/20).

The bill came to €295 (£252) with champagne to start and a bottle of Josmeyer Riesling. If you went for three courses and shared a modest bottle of Provençal wine then you cost per head might be around £195. but it would be easy to significantly exceed this, especially if you moved higher up the wine list. Service was very good, the maitre d' (Cedric Servain) particularly suave. I really enjoyed this meal, which featured a few striking dishes. For me the dessert section of the meal rather let things down, which is rare in France. The savoury elements of the meal were frequently in three star territory. Of course this is not cheap, but there is always the €78 (£67) menu including wine, which my friend who lives locally assures me is consistently excellent.

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