Les Thermes Marins de Monte Carlo

After having gorged myself on all that rich gourmet food in Monte Carlo, when the opportunity came along to try diet or low calorie food, I jumped at the chance. Frankly I was not sure what to expect at L'Hirondelle which is the classy looking restaurant in Les Thermes Marins, the state of the art Health club of the Hermitage and Hotel de Paris. With a view directly over the harbour, L'Hirondelle which opened for business in 1995, is open every day from 12.00pm to 3pm. You can enter the spa complex directly from the hotel, so the sight of nubile young things in bathrobes strolling through the hotel's luxurious corridors soon becomes commonplace. If you are booked into the hotel you are given complimentary membership of the health club although specialised treatments, of which there are many, cost extra.

Jean Claude Van Damme is one of the many stars who frequent this place, and if he were to try the food I am sure he would not be disappointed. Chef Jacky Oberti has been in charge for just over a year and he comes from just over the border in Provence. He has a brigade of 10 working under him and the place is extremely popular with spa regulars and outside visitors. Michelin do not award stars for this style of restaurant, but if they were to then L'Hirondelle would probably be a serious contender. The lunch price is a fixed 285FF going up to 330FF for the Menu of the month. L'Hirondelle restaurant is so up to date that prices on the menu are even available in the Euro.

I started with the 150 calorie Vegetable Paté which was beautifully presented and very light, a perfect beginning. The other choice for starter, Smoked Norwegian Salmon clocked in with even fewer calories (120). On the main menu you have a pretty exotic choice to select from ranging from prawns in "brique" pastry to a shin of young veal cooked in a Genoese minestrone, a sort of Osso Buco Minor.

For the main plat du jour there was a choice between Stuffed Fennel (61 cal) or the Grilled Sea Dace(140). Not having a clue what kind of fish Dace was, I went for it and found yet another item to try and hunt down at Billinsgate. Extremely succulent and served with a tasty green sauce, it was a real winner. Imagine my surprise when I found a reference to the fish in a food dictionary which stated that Dace "is a small freshwater fish related to carp but not of good eating quality." I have to disagree most vehemently and I feel certain that the writer had never tried it at L'Hirondelle.

Meat lovers are not shortchanged here either with a selection including Lamb with crispy herbs, Veal chops in sage, Sautéed beef filet tournedos and Chicken supreme in truffle jam -(jam?!). Dessert was another surprise with an item called Omelette Norwegian (92 cal) which turned out to be a mouselline portion of ice-cream on a bed of pineapple that was so light and tasty that it defied even that low calorie count. The other option would have been the even lighter (66 cal) Exotic fruit soup.

The chef and his team deserve praise for the concept at L'Hirondelle which has worked well - the restaurant is as great a success with the locals as it is with visitors, especially in the summer months when many people prefer to dine outside. I understand that it is particularly popular during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix Tennis tournament when most of the top players visit L'Hirondelle to supplement their rigorous health and fitness program. Service is up to the high standard you would expect in this part of the world and a visit here followed by a walk around Monte Carlo and Monaco is a perfect way to spend a day.

Michael Hepworth, April 1999

Tel: 92 16 40 40
Dress code - Casual/Smart or Bathrobe.
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This article reprinted from Dine Online