The Elsa Restaurant

Cooking up a storm

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Elsa, set in Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel, is a contemporary fine dining restaurant named after Elsa Maxwell, the Société des Bains de Mer’s first ever PR executive, who organised the inauguration of the Monte-Carlo Beach. This venue serves high quality contemporary cuisine inspired by the Riviera’s culinary history. Carefully thought-out and tested by their chef, Paolo Sari, and his team, the menu puts the spotlight on local produce through a seasonal approach including produce from their own gardens. Elsa is the first gastronomic restaurant in the PACA region to receive the Bio (organic) certification by Ecocert, something of which they are very proud. Offering biodynamic wines and home grown produce across the menu makes for not only
healthy organic pesticide and chemical free food but wonderfully tasty food too.

The restaurant’s vista of the beach and coastline is perfectly suited to a sunny day. On the day of my visit, I was not so lucky. Thunderstorms were on the menu for the day, so we chose to sit inside and watch the drama of the weather unfold from the comfort of the modern blue and white dining room. With our table in the window alcove, we had the perfect view of the water and the impending storm clouds. Pierre-Jean Ricardoni, Maître d’hôtel, greeted us and informed us the chef had created a special tasting menu to best highlight the culinary offerings of Elsa using the freshest ingredients from local producers. The Sommelier, Roberto, offered us an aperitif of Bruno Michel Champagne; this champagne has been organic since 1999, and five of their 37.5 acres of vineyards are farmed bio-dynamically. This champagne has great toast and spiced apple aromas and flavors and has a crisp dry finish.

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First up on the menu was caramelised eggplant with tomato and basil sorbet, a remarkable dish that was simple to behold but complex to taste. The eggplant was soft and sweet with the cold acidity of the sorbet cutting through the dish adding a sharp burst of condensed flavour on the palate. Under the eggplant was crispy flaky pastry adding another layer of texture to the dish. Following this course was the pasta course, for me the tagliatelle with tomato and basil topped with Parmesan and for my dining partner tagliatelle with girolles and white sauce. My dish was delicious, fresh, juicy and basic but pleasing, the tomatoes tasted as though they had just been picked off the vine. My partners dish was in contract earthy and creamy, the smell of the mushrooms echoed a freshly dug up smell of earth that, mixed with the Parmesan, made for an aromatic mixture. The wine accompaniment to this course was the La Lagune Haut Medoc 2007, a deep garnet-red coloured clean wine with fruity nose where morello cherry and black fruit mingled.

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For the main course, we had a beef fillet accompanied by potatoes and gravy that was seasoned with fresh mint. The beef was cooked to perfection, slightly salty which is my preference, with the knife gliding through the meat. The potatoes were soft and well seasoned and the gravy made for a very interesting sauce, being that mint is not traditionally used as a garnish to beef, all in all a wonderfully comprised dish that again highlighted Elsa’s use of fresh seasonal produce. Served with this course was a chilled St Emilion Beausejour Becot, a fruity deep cherry flavoured wine that was robust enough to stand up to the meatiness of the beef fillet.

It was at this point the heavens opened, lightning streaked across the imposing sky and thunder echoed around the cove. Waiters scattered outside to pull in the umbrellas and batten down the hatches, while from our table we watched the storm move in like phantom across the beach. In no rush to leave the safety of Elsa we sipped the last of our red wine and waited anxiously for the next course.

Now anyone that knows me knows how much I love cheese, sometimes even opting for a cheese course over a dessert, especially when French cheese is on offer. I was therefore very happy when the next course arrived and it involved just that. This however was a cheese course with a difference, two cow milk cheeses and one goat milk cheese presented on a toasted slice of nut and damson bread with what can only be described as a small black toothpaste tube. As we stared at the tube in bemusement, Pierre-Jean explained it was filled with organic balsamic vinegar for dipping the cheese to intensify the flavour – what fun! Sampling the cheeses one by one, it was clear that although this dish was so simple there was great thought behind its makeup in that the balance between the creaminess of the cheese, the fruitiness of the bread and the acidity of the vinegar formed a taste sensation. Roberto paired this course with a glass of Grahams Fine Tawnies Port, the perfect accompaniment to any cheese course; one could have forgotten we were in France for a moment as we watched the rain come down outside while enjoying a spot of Port and cheese.

Last up on the menu was another one of my favourites of French cuisine, the soufflé, in this case an almond soufflé. Light, fluffy, and creamy with a crispy sugar coating on the outside, it was a great end to a exquisite meal. While finishing our espressos and nibbling on the petit fours, the sky began to clear, the sun nervously peered from behind the clouds striking shards of light down through the gloom and on to the beach and buildings of Monaco. It seemed that the southern French sun could not be subdued any longer, however, the storm that was cooking in the kitchen will be raging for a while longer, what with Paolo Sari at the helm and fresh organic local produce in the dishes. The Elsa Restaurant is the eye of the storm and frankly with food like that who cares if you get wet?

The Elsa Restaurant
Monte-Carlo Beach
Avenue Princesse Grace
06190 Roquebrune-Cap Martin

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