My favorite room
Raymond Blanc

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 44, Autumn 2015

Page 53

My favorite room
Raymond Blanc

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 44, Autumn 2015

Page 53

When he first visited Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV, Raymond Blanc remembers being overwhelmed by the gilt – and then by the gastronomy

My favorite room could easily have been the theater of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon – where I went within days of arriving in England, 40 years ago, to see Romeo and Juliet – or somewhere closer to home in Oxford. But no, strangely for a good Republican like me, it is the impossibly grand dining room of Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV at the Hôtel de Paris in Monte-Carlo. I suppose it helps that I have had some of my greatest food experiences of my life in that opulent room, but there is more to it than that.

My first visit was nearly 30 years ago and I was welcomed by Ducasse himself, who surprised me by offering some amazingly simple Jabugo ham and sheep's milk that was barely fermented.

However, after we sat down and drank vintage champagne, my initial thought was, "My God, how much gilt there is everywhere!" At first, I felt a little unwell with the profusion of gold and the sculptures and the footstools for ladies' handbags with staff everywhere. Suddenly, this over-gilded Baroque style room seemed to be haughty and made for royalty, not for a simple soul like me.

This prejudice of mine vanished the moment the wonderful food started arriving: it was friendly, approachable and perfectly cooked. There were lovely slices of vegetables – carrots, turnips and fennel – which had been doused in ice water, so that they curled into beautiful sculptures, and served up in exquisite bowls, with a perfect tapenade of truffles and heavenly olive oil.

This was followed by a dish of Rascasses or Scorpion Fish, which most chefs would not dream of serving in a three-star Michelin restaurant, but here these were combined with extraordinary Provençal herbs. And then there was the profoundly simple slow cooked shoulder of lamb on the bone. That room has stayed with me and now holds no fears as I have experienced the magic Ducasse can perform. The setting is heavenly and triumphant, and has nothing to do with Ancien Régime stuffiness.

Typically, he never stands still and has just spent months remodeling the dining room, modernizing the furnishings and installing a giant circular chandellier with hundreds of pieces of glass and thousands of bulbs to mimic the light of fireflies. Beneath it, there is an even more radical addition – an 'office' that fulfills different functions during the evening – first for bread and dairy distribution, then for sommeliers to decant their wines, the preparation of certain dishes and serving of cheeses and ice cream.

Only someone with Ducasse's self-assurance would undertake such a radical rethink of such a classical room. He is a master and – along with my friend Gérald Passédat at Le Petit Nice in Marseilles – the greatest chef when dealing with Mediterranean and Provençal cuisine. I must have been at least ten times and it remains the best restaurant experience of my life.

Raymond Blanc, OBE, is one of the world's most respected chefs; raymondblanc.com

Le Louis XV, Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, Place du Casino, MC 9800, Principality of Monaco; alain-ducasse.com

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