High atop the cliffs of Menton, in the heart of the Cote d’Azur, Mauro Colagreco is in the kitchen of his two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Mirazur. The 1930s rotunda-design building sits on the Mediterranean coastline of southern France, but only just. Two steps back and you’re in Italy. One step forward and you’re splattered across rocks in the Ligurian Sea.
The identity of Mirazur is reflective of its clifftop placing. Moments from Ponte San Ludovico, straddling borders and theoretical lines, it is neither French nor Italian. Colagreco is Argentinian. His wife is Brazilian. The menu is international and evolutionary while promoting regional fare.
Then bread arrives. Outlandish and spectacular bread. In shapes and colours I don’t recognise
Inspiration is drawn from fish merchants and what in-season produce is peddled at the markets in Ventimiglia (Italy) and the Marche des Halles Menton (France). The fruit is fresh and exotic – giant orange tomatoes and splitting pomegranates – the vegetables big and colourful – copper-coloured onions – and fish is piled in troughs of spilling ice – bulging-eyed langoustines and whopping sea bass the size of a four year old.
My table for lunch is next to a bay window on the restaurant’s first floor, overlooking the ocean. It’s like staring into Monet’s The Sea at Antibes. The views bends around the bay so that you can see Menton and the bell tower of the Basilique Saint-Michel. The sun pours in and the sea twinkles. It’s a scenery of moving wallpaper.
Then bread arrives. Outlandish and spectacular bread. In shapes and colours I don’t recognise. There’s an accompanying poem printed on translucent paper: Neruda’s Ode to Bread; “Life itself will have the shape of bread, deep and simple, immeasurable and pure.” But there’s no butter. With an extensive bread offering it’s an interesting move to substitute butter for olive oil, but I suppose that’s all very fashionable and classic Riviera dining. As it turns out, this oil is rather a big deal; a tangy mix of ginger and yuzu produced by Colagreco and Karim Djekhar, a local olive producer and the owner of Huilerie St. Michel in Menton.
Then the characteristic series of amuse-bouches, inescapable and salient in such establishments, plated in a variety of highfalutin ways; a demonstration of all the pomposity associated with French dining. Some arrive on pebbles – sardine fillets on fried anchovy skeletons with lemon juice cubes look morbid and insensible but are, in fact, salty and delicious. Others are presented in more traditional ceramic bowls – airy lemon crème and caper macarons and a single beetroot jelly cube with goat’s cheese and a slice of chioggia beetroot (a candy-stripe beet native to Northern Italy) which tastes creamy and earthy.
There’s a substantial slice of grilled tomato steak, served with anchovies, capers and mozzarella milk. It’s a serious hunk from the Mirazur garden, their very own overgrown potager, and “the best tomato dish ever!” as proclaimed by another guest, who isn’t far wrong. I visited the restaurant garden the next day and discovered a bramble-choked wilderness on a cliff-top-edge; a higgledy-piggledy space where flowering courgettes and beefsteak tomatoes grow in the mugginess of the Mediterranean heat.
Colagreco’s signature dish of a single shell-less Gillardeau oyster served with tapioca and shallot cream, jewelled with tiny spherified Williams pear ovoids and edible purple flowers, is a clean and timely course. The meaty mollusc is thick and luscious and laced with salt and there’s a zingy sharpness from the pear which cools and cleans the palate. This is followed by a green tomato gazpacho with ice cream; a dried tomato crêpe; then a dish in which long strands of sliced squid ribbons are made to look like spaghetti, served with bagna càuda, the Piemontese sauce made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil and lashings of butter. I pull away and separate the squid to make spaghetti-like strands, twirling them in the sauce. It’s both creative and ambitious, using French and Italian ingredients but applied by an Agentine hand.
It’s a rich and earthy course, a tasty pink breast as luscious and erotic as any of the lotion-covered topless French girls sunning themselves on the beach below
Scorpion fish is tough, but then they grow up with a chip on their shoulder. As the ocean’s most grotesque fish – with Rod Stewart’s hair and Mick Jagger’s mouth (Google it) – it learns to be resilient and intractable. In life, as in death, it’s a rigid bugger to stomach, despite an accompanying black garlic and licorice “hollandaise” which goes a small way in masking the lacklustre texture. There’s beetroot in a salt crust with Ossetra Russian caviar, a gift from chef Vladimir Mukhin who is visiting from Moscow restaurant The White Rabbit to take part in a four-hand dinner the following evening; then a large peeled langoustine from the local market served with a peach and verbena infusion that’s refreshing with a piquant taste.
Pigeon of Marie Le Guen is outstanding and a timely dose of meat served with spelt, wild strawberries and a sesame sauce. It’s a rich and earthy course, a tasty pink breast as luscious and erotic as any of the lotion-covered topless French girls sunning themselves on the beach below. I devour it.
Each course has a single highlighted ingredient which is treated with respect and authentic flair; sourced, cooked and plated with all of the skill and dexterity one would expect from such an accomplished chef and a restaurant that placed fourth in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017.
At fifteen courses it’s a varied meal with some unrecognisable ingredients during which I’m introduced to a variety of Provençal herbs, wild flowers, fruit jellies and the famed Menton citron. There’s good wine, good company and an unspoiled, tear-jerkingly attractive view. I smiled all the way through. C
Mirazur, 30 Avenue Aristide Briand, F-06 500 Menton, France
+33 4 92 41 86 86; mirazur.fr