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Mirazur in Menton, France - 2 Michelin stars

Rating: 97.
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When Mauro Colagreco (b.1976) opened his own restaurant back in 2006, the world of gastronomy was a different place altogether. El Bulli had just taken over the number 1 spot from The Fat Duck in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list; legendary French chefs Michel Bras and Marc Veyrat were still very much behind the pots in their restaurants, and things such as social media, food bloggers and Tripadvisor, were only still emerging. 

Colagreco was born in La Plata (Buenos Aires), and after attending the 'Gato Dumas Colegio de Gastronomia" in Buenos Aires, he moved to France in 2001 to continue his training at the La Rochelle Catering and Hospitality College (Lycée Hôtelier) in La Rochelle, later on getting a job working for Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu where he stayed until Loiseau's tragic death in February 2003. His next stop was Paris, where he worked alongside Alain Passard at l'Arpège, Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée, and finally, in the year before opening his own restaurant, with Guy Martin at Le Grand Véfour.

When a chef with this pedigree breaks out on his own, you can bet that this doesn't get unnoticed. Within six months after opening Mirazur in Menton, situated just steps from the Italian border, the French guide Gault Millau bestowed on him the "Révélation de l'année" (Revelation of the Year) award, a brand-new, especially created award. In 2007 Michelin awarded the restaurant its first Michelin star; the second star followed in 2012.
In 2009 Mirazur also entered the World's 50 Best Restaurants list at number 35, then disappeared from the list for two years, but returned at number 24 in 2012. After occupying the number 28 spot in 2013, it rose to number 11 in 2014 and stayed there in 2015. In the 2016 edition of the (in)famous list, Mirazur continued its Olympian climb to number 6.

Mirazur has a magnificent seaside location, with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean, and is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Friday (and for Tuesday dinner in July and August). The restaurant is usually closed 6 weeks in the winter months, so do check the website for the latest opening times. There are two multi-course tasting menus on offer: there's the "Menu Premières Traces" for €85 and the "Menu Voyage des Sens" for €140. From Wednesday through Friday the restaurant also offers a 3-course lunch menu for €55, but this menu is not available in July and August. Finally, to commemorate Mirazur's 10th anniversary,  there's a special "Nos 10 ans de Partage" menu, a 10-course menu priced at €210, featuring Colagreco's favourite dishes of the past 10 years, each dish representing a different year. I had lunch with my husband at Mirazur on Sunday 1 May 2016 and we both had the special 10th anniversary menu.

First to arrive was a trio of canapés: crisp sardine garnished with capers and lemon confit (obviously made with Menton lemons) - green apple and black pudding macaron - beetroot jelly with goat's cheese and a slice of chioggia beetroot. Three terrific canapés with refined and balanced flavours.

The first course of the anniversary menu (from the year 2013) was a fleshy and fat Gillardeau oyster served with a nice and vinegary shallot crème, some tapioca pearls, fresh pear (Williams), pear jelly, pear juice, and garnished with cress and borage flowers. An excellent pairing, the fragrantly sweet pear complementing the briny-sweet oyster perfectly, and a nice kick coming from the shallot crème. 

Second course (from 2007) was a wonderfully light and vibrant dish of green asparagus (tops and ribbons), yoghurt crème, fresh grapefruit, grapefruit jelly, Acacia honey (from Piemonte), crisp green apple and some orange zest. A delightful interplay of bitter and sweet flavours, and the honey delivered some nice warmth. Well-judged use of grapefruit too and the yoghurt brought a lovely lightness to the dish. 

Next up was a dish from 2010: Egg Florentine. A deliciously soft egg yolk and a light and smooth spinach emulsion were covered with an airy Béarnaise sauce, and garnished with croutons and Oscietra caviar to add texture and contrast. A delicately balanced combination of flavours and textures.

This was followed by blue lobster (2009) successfully paired with a fragrant chamomile broth, (spring) vegetables such as mangetout, peas, shallot petals, and garnished with nasturtium leaves and calindula flowers. Exquisite lobster, bursting with its natural sweet juices, and beautifully kissed by the subtle chamomile broth, allowing the lobster to be the star. Clever use of calindula flowers, which added colour and some bitter notes.

Fifth course was a dish from 2011 called "Forest", an array of earthy flavours, served on a .... ahem .... slate. There was a deliciously creamy quinoa risotto, a Grana Padano emulsion, some mousseron and girolle mushrooms, mushroom puree, parsley sponge cake, and nice and soft new potatoes. Overall a busy "slate", but with great textures and distinct, layered flavours, that worked wonderfully well together. Fantastic quinoa risotto with a creamy mouthfeel and with a nice bite in the finish. The saltiness of the Grana Padano emulsion brought out the best in the earthy flavours of the other ingredients, and finally there was a lovely umami-kick from the mushroom puree. 

On to the sixth course (from 2014): a dish of beautifully tender grilled squid (from Bordighera, Italy), disguised as an asparagus spear, served with grilled artichokes, squid ink crisps, and a creamy Bagna Cauda sauce. A great take on the classic artichoke-bagna cauda combination, the sauce containing the mildest hit of garlic, and the squid was used here to marvellous effect, both to the eye and in flavour. 

Then there was "Roasted Turbot" (2006), a superb piece of juicy and meaty turbot served with sorrel, pickled seaweed, celeriac puree and a sublime creamy smoked sauce. A truly glorious dish with strong and seductive flavours from the smoked sauce, which were brilliantly balanced by the celeriac, and the pickled seaweed provided just the right touch of acidity. 

Eighth course (2008) was superbly cooked pigeon, tender and moist, not blue at all, just the way I like it, and cleverly paired with strawberry puree, fresh strawberries, einkorn risotto, asesame seed dressing, and a terrific dark and sticky pigeon jus. A stupendously good dish with a beautiful marriage of flavours, the strawberries delivering sweetness and a hint of tanginess - the perfect characteristics to balance the richness of the pigeon. Great textures too, particularly the risotto.

Lunch ended with two citrus-based desserts. First up was "Confit Pomelo" (2015), an elegantly sweet dessert of two wedges of confit pomelo, white chocolate espuma and a fresh and pure-tasting pomelo sorbet. Lovely sweet and zesty bitters from the confit pomelo and the chocolate delivered a nice warm contrast. 

This was followed by "Naranjo en Flor" (2012). An intensely flavoured orange sorbet was covered with a light and creamy saffron and almond foam, and garnished with a crisp sugar disc dusted with orange. A refined and satisfying dessert with a great balance between freshness and sweetness, and the saffron added warmth, depth and complexity.

In my latest review (of l'Ambrosie in Paris) I discussed the pros and cons of eating à la carte as opposed to having a tasting menu. Mauro Colagreco is a great example of a chef who excels at designing dishes for a tasting menu. Today's anniversary menu was an excellent opportunity for me to taste the best that Mirazur has to offer. The menu was carefully curated and had a brilliant build-up in clear and pronounced flavours. 

Despite having spent his formative years in the kitchens of heavyweight chefs such as Passard and Ducasse, Colagreco has created his own, personal style of cuisine, an attractive and forceful style, where ingredients are treated with finesse and creativity. I have to acknowledge that I don't know how this anniversary menu compares to the "normal" tasting menus. What I do know, however, is that if you visit Mirazur and deliver yourself into the capable hands of Mauro Colegreco and his team, you can be certain of a memorable and even unique experience.

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Posted 15-06-2016


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