Hotel Negresco, 37 Promenade des Anglais-BP 1379-06007, Nice Cedex 01
Alain has just hit thirty, and fondly remembers his days as a student at the Lycee Hotelier de Nice. In those days the young Turk chef Jacques Maximin ruled the roost at the Negresco, and it was he and Alain Ducasse in Monaco who truly inspired the young catering student. Llorca spent time working under both of them at the start of his career. Moving to the Negresco from the medieval atmosphere of the Restaurant des Peintres in Haut-de-Cagnes was a big move for Alain, but he has managed to create a brilliant fusion style of cooking with his eleven course Tapas round menu. He is not afraid to mix up the flavours on this gourmet's paradise of smaller portions, and I was indeed fortunate enough to try out a version of it. I rated it as one of the best two or three meals I have ever eaten.
The Negresco was voted one of the top ten hotels in the world by the American Association of Travel Editors in 1997, placing it in the same company as the Dorchester in London and the Hotel Crillon in Paris. The Chantecler must play a big part in that reckoning, and as you walk in you know immediately that you are about to experience something special. Elegant wood panelling dating back to 1751 surrounds the room which features an Aubusson carpet and a stunning portrait of Louis XV's daughter the Duchess of Orleans.
I was fortunate enough to sit in a corner table giving me a complete view of the restaurant which was about half full on a quiet Monday night in Nice. Taped cocktail piano music seemed a strange choice, rather louder than I would have expected, but fortunately I got used to it quickly. The sommelier Patrick Millereau handed me the wine list which was huge to say the least, all of it French. After much thought and discussion I went for a half bottle of a Valle du Rhone, Condrieu "Les Chaillets" 1996 from the Yves Guilleron winery. This highly rated wine comes from the Viognier grape and vines that are well over 50 years old. Yves took over the 40 acre vineyard from his uncle in 1986 and is limited by EU rules from expanding, thus ensuring its rarity. Condrieu is now one of the greatest white wines in the world today, and although they are essentially dry, there is a subtle sweet flavour of summer fruits. Extremely fresh with a finely balanced bouquet made this an excellent choice for what was to follow. My first course was an appetizer of four pieces of salmon on lightly toasted bread that set me up nicely for the Duck pie in a prune sorbet served in a glass bowl. A delicious pastry crust enveloped the duck pie which in fact was more of a terrine. Things got even better with the next creation, a Llorca speciality of a green bean salad with light cream topped with caviar. This was a texture so creamy and flavoursome that words fail to describe the magic of this dish. Service at the Chantecler is top notch with both the Maitre'D Frederick Muttel and head waiter Phillipe Bosc speaking fluent English.
The next creation was poached sea bass with Provence vegetables and deep fried squid in a bouillabaisse sauce. Looking back at my scribbled notes I had written "absolutely brilliant" - the squid from this part of the world is fresher than any you could probably find elsewhere and dipped in batter it tasted divine. Alain surpassed himelf with another of his signature dishes, Warm foie gras with a mango sorbet. This was a fine example of his innivative juxtaposition of ingredients, with the foie gras being lightly pan-fried, its richness complemented by the piquant freshness and dashing excitement of the sorbet.
The lamb chop which came stuffed with mozzarella cheese and with potatoes was the only partial let down for me. The lamb was tender but a bit tasteless, and the sauce was perhaps one tangy flavour too many. I found out later from chef that it was made just from lamb stock, bones, water and butter. The combination of lamb and cheese was too different for me, but others would no doubt love the combination. Next time up I will go for the delicious sounding Roast pigeon wing farci.
The cheese board appeared with consummate ease soon after, and I was starting to feel the pace a bit so I selected only three morsels, again after much deliberation; Colombière, Reblochon and La Pigouille. The Reblochon in particular stood out, a succulent farmhouse cheese from the Haute Savoie department. Creamy texture with a pale gold crust, this is a cheese of high quality.
Dessert after all this seemed almost like an afterthought but I struggled through a Tomato tatin with olive ice-cream, another first timer for me, but on a par with the rest of the meal. Patrick Rosa is the Chef Patissier and a valuable member of Alain Llorca's team.
The Tapas menu will cost you 590 Frs, or you can go for the Chantecler menu at 460 Frs or the Seafood menu at 550 Frs. The A la Carte menu is also quite varied, and the Chantecler lunch menu costs 245 Frs per person. Reservations are absolutely essential, especially in the high season. Right, one of the sumptuous apartments at the Negresco.
This article reprinted from Dine Online