With the Monaco Grand Prix underway this weekend, we offer a Bank Holiday special of a trio of Monte Carlo’s finest for dining, relaxation and, on the starting grid, one of the finest hotels from which to base yourself for the action. Rebecca Lipkin is the lucky ticket holder bringing us the action. Start your engines…
Monte-Carlo has changed a great deal since Hollywood royalty Grace Kelly arrived by boat from America to become a real life princess when she married Prince Ranier III in 1956, for while it has always been a destination for the rich and famous, real estate prices continue to rise due to this city being severely short on space, with ever more inventive modes of construction aiming to cash-in on this precious principality.
The Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo has witnessed this evolution, whilst having to adapt and retain its traditional values and comfort; a complete renovation project in 2004 having combined both these elements to create a hotel for the 21st century that is old-school and on the forefront of gastronomy and fashion. Restaurant Joël Robuchon Monte-Carlo, which holds two Michelin stars, Robuchon’s first Japanese restaurant in the world, Yoshi, the recent Karl Lagerfeld design of the pool area known as ‘Odyssey’, and the brand new Spa Métropole by Givenchy make this hotel an unforgettable luxury destination for the elite traveller. No-one enters the fragrant lobby, a popular meeting place, without all eyes being upon them. As Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo say themselves, this is the place to be and to be seen.
While prices for our spacious Junior Suite with living area and large bathroom (stocked with Hermès toiletries) start from 1,150€ a night, The Prestige Suites on the top floor – such as the ultimate Carré d’Or at 10,000€ a night – have their own private sun terraces and spectacular views and are naturally the place to stay if money is no object, and it will need to be if you want to check in during the Monaco Grand Prix, the most important event in Monaco’s calendar. It was enough for me just to walk the circuit and see the barriers and grandstand to get a thrill of excitement.
Besides F1 there is the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the Monaco Yacht Show and the Monte-Carlo International Jumping, but quite frankly I went for the shopping, Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo being conveniently located opposite the Boulingrins Gardens where I found the Monte-Carlo Pavilions, 21 space-age designer shopping pods (Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Dior to name but a few), while visiting the chandelier-bedazzling Métropole Shopping Centre just below the hotel, I was able to purchase a small box of chocolates for 120€ and my favourite Pretty Ballerinas, double the price of my usual boutique in Mayfair. That said, Lina’s café is a fabulous place to people-watch and rub shoulders with Monégasques all for a 2.50€ cup of coffee.
After all that exhausting window shopping it was time to flop by the designer pool area, Odyssey, which was styled by fashion maestro Karl Lagerfeld, (a regular of the Monte-Carlo social circuit), and takes inspiration from the original Mediterranean jet-set, featuring a monochrome backdrop of figures posing as gods from Homer’s Odyssey, the designer’s favourite poem. Meanwhile, a heated seawater pool, plenty of lounger and sofa areas, and an alfresco restaurant, the third of Joël Robuchon’s dining experiences at the Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo, is perfect for a light lunch, from calorie-conscious salads to cheese sliders with shoestring fries. Odyssey is also open for breakfast during the warmer months – a glamorous way to enjoy lashings of strong coffee and exceptional French pastries whilst basking in the seemingly everlasting blue skies of Monaco. Come cocktail hour the atmosphere here is akin to a Beverley Hills pool-party, only with more movie stars.
A highlight of any evening has to be dining at Restaurant Joël Robuchon, inaugurated in 2004 as his first venture within the Principality and boasting an impressive 2 out of a staggering 32 Michelin stars worldwide, making Robuchon the most highly acclaimed chef in the industry. Expectations therefore run extremely high, especially in a city where most diners are familiar with only the best. Although the dining room designed by Jacques Garcia is incredibly sumptuous, serious foodies who like to be in on the action may prefer the “Table du Chef” which offers a ringside seat of this well-choreographed open kitchen, where the brigade working under Executive Chef Christophe Cussac, (formerly Executive Chef of Reserve de Beaulieu), never appear to be anything but fully in control. For more romance, however, a table for two overlooking the sea is almost as mesmerising as the food. Almost.
Let’s start with the bread trolley; an abundance of the most skilful loaves you’re likely to find South of Paris; from the wonderfully rustic country bread to the highly flavoured olive and pesto, but for me it had to be the intriguing black marbled squid rolls topped with gold leaf, a taste sensation only enhanced by the tower of French butter which the waiter proceeded to shape into a neat quenelle. Meanwhile, the appetiser was a caterpillar. I’m kidding. It may have looked like a caterpillar but it was in fact an impossibly finely sliced avocado tube filled with fresh crab. Mango and pistachios were natural bed fellows, but then there were the lobster eggs marinated in sake that took the dish to another level. Nor did I guess the mystery ingredient, I had to ask the waiter. Accompanied by a chilled glass of Verve Cliquot Vintage 2008, I was in seventh heaven.
The sommelier recommended a Margaux 2009 for my husband’s main of spit suckling pig, and a Saint Julien 2012 for my fresh, Nicoise-inspired John Dory dish. Exceptionally well prepared, the fish was presented resting on an intense onion ragout which enhanced its natural sweetness, topped with a fresh tomato concasse, and surrounded by both blanched spinach leaves and a spinach purée fashioned so as to emulate the leaves. Accompanied with sides of fresh vegetables and Robuchon’s famous pomme purée, made with equal quantities of potato to butter, this added a decadence to an otherwise light and virtuous dish – that is, if you overlook the quantities of butter I am assuming the fish was basted with during cooking.
Monte-Carlo may be all about designer labels, cosmetic surgery and watching your figure, but no matter how determined you are to decline dessert, you will find it impossible to resist when the two-tier trolley, crammed full of glorious French patisserie halts before your table and a waiter asks for your selection with a knowing smile and a raised eyebrow. When once you accept your weakness, the difficulty comes in trying to decide – tarte tatin, fruit tart, clafoutis? Both my husband and I succumbed to the boozy yet airy, baba au rhum doused with Barcardi, and although I was expecting a more imaginative selection of rum, there remains no better way to finish a meal. We enjoyed coffee and petit fours on the terrace, discussing our impressions of this remarkable city and hotel.
Hôtel Métropole Monte-Carlo, 4 Avenue de la Madone, 98000 Monaco. For more information and reservations please visit the website.