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Image 1: Despite making annual visits to Louis XV in Monaco, we drove right past this time with a better plan in mind!
Image 2: We continued for a few more kilometres eastbound passing through the historic town centre of Menton.
Image 3: I was sure that what we were looking for is situated in France, but our GPS continued to lead us toward Italy, and with just 100m to the border, we finally heard what we wanted to hear: “Arrived at destination”! But wait, this is just an empty parking area without much around but a bunch of trees
Image 4: However, while double-checking the address in our GPS, I saw something that put all of us at ease: an international symbol, like the shape of a flower with six petals, but with a red background that makes it obvious — yes, a Michelin Star!
Image 5: We quickly parked our car, walked through the trees, crossed a little bridge, and this was it - Mirazur!
Image 6: It was in 2006 when the Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco fell in love with this town and decided to settle here. Prior to establishing his first restaurant, Mauro had training from various French chefs including Bernard Loiseau, the legendary Michelin 3-star chef who committed suicide in 2003.
Image 7: Wow. Mirazur a beautiful house on the French Riviera. A bar area and a few tables along a wall of windows allow a lot of sunlight into the dining room.
Image 8: We were way too early for lunch. Seeing us wondering around the restaurant, Mauro quickly came out and showed us around. The dining area led to the terrace...
Image 9: ... which led to his garden downstairs.
Image 10: Mauro is such an energetic chef. During the next 20min, we learnt a lot from Mauro about the history, the location, the restaurant, and a lesson on the types of flowers, herbs, and vegetables from his garden and how he incorporates them into his cuisine.
Image 11: Back from the garden, we followed Mauro upstairs to the main dining room. Maybe it was the setting and the layout of the restaurant or maybe it was Mauro's friendliness, we felt like we were visiting his home instead of a restaurant!
Image 12: Stunning! Look at this view!
Image 13: One question that I always ask chefs is why they pick this particular location to open a restaurant, but I didn’t bother asking Colagreco, as who wouldn’t want to stay in such a marvellous place? More important, the easy access to the markets and fresh ingredients on both the French and Italian sides of the border is ideal for a restaurant.
Image 14: There are a few more tables near the back but I would recommend you to request a window table in the front row. Alright, enough talking, let's get on with the food. Let's see if Mauro's cuisine is as impressive as the restaurant itself.
Image 15: Whoa, to kick off the menu, a creative and colourful selection of amuse bouche!
Image 16: With the magnificent view of the Mediterranean, nothing could be better than to start the journey than a taste of the sea. Clam served on half shell with a touch of aubergine cream.
Image 17: Followed by crunchy vegetable salsa on ink cracker served on a stone.
Image 18: A transformation of Jerusalem artichoke - fried its skin and mashed its flesh. Although it might sound weird, I found the after taste of the skin closely resembled Chinese dried oyster!
Image 19: The best item of the amusement was deep fried langoustine balls that exploded in our mouths, bursting with the warm flavour of intense crustaceans! This series of amuse bouche was one of the best – a wide range of flavours and textures!
Image 20: Fresh warm buns for us to share. Mauro's special olive oil infused with ginger and Menton lemon. Very nice indeed!
Image 21: Cool. One more little surprise before the meal.
Image 22: A tall glass of tomato jelly topped with a bit of rosemary, saffron, and a mix of herbs and flowers from Mauro's garden. It was smart to serve this in order to refresh our palate after the exciting set of amuse bouche.
Image 23: The menu began with a thin pear jelly blanketing...
Image 24: ... an Oyster Cannelloni, using pear carpaccio instead of pasta, accompanied by a poached pear ball. It was an experience popping the whole thing at once - the thin slice of crunchy, sweet, juicy pear followed by the silky moist oyster and a further lift by the shallot cream. I said to myself, "wow, it's food from heaven!"
Image 25: I found this oyster very special - it wasn't salty at all.. it's a pure clean delicate taste! Definitely one of the many highlights of the meal! I later learnt from Mauro that these oysters came from La Rochelle area, the best he could find in France.
Image 26: The bread before was just for us to taste the olive oil. This was the tray of bread to go with our tasting menu!
Image 27: Plating with precision!
Image 28: It was a rare type of mushroom, only in season for 3 weeks a year, called Caesar's Mushroom. It's easily mistaken as a poisonous mushroom from its unique bright orange cap.
Image 29: This plate of carefully assembled slices of mushroom was to be enjoyed simply with Iranian pistachio and a few drops of vinaigrette.
Image 30: Mauro's garden - a mixed salad from the garden composed of long beans, courgette, hazelnut, and...
Image 31: ... some flowers too. A very subtle course as Mauro wanted to let his ingredients shine.
Image 32: Mauro has all sorts of ways of presenting food!
Image 33: Another highlight of the meal. Lightly poached egg with cauliflower cream covered in a smoky foam with a touch of sea salt. The proportion of each element was treated with calculated difference!
Image 34: Resting in a Chamomile broth was poached lobster tail with haricot bean and a crisp garnish. This was another successful dish!
Image 35: Beautifully timed and a great texture! Mauro again made good use of his garden in this broth - light enough not to distract the freshness and strong enough to complement the flavour. A fabulous course!
Image 36: There were too many great courses in this meal but if I really have to pick one, this is it! Ragout of courgette, squash, sea snail - all these crunchy stuff cooked in a GRILLED vegetable stock.
Image 37: Not only did the vegetables and the shellfish provide a wonderful mouth-feel, but it was the broth that played the essential role. It was intense by itself but did an amazing job to match the strong texture of the dish, and the best part was the smoky-charcoal finish! A truly exceptional dish! Great dishes one after another, Mauro is certainly on top of his game!
Image 38: Then it came a big sharing course on a hot stone - a forest theme perhaps. I admire the variety of dishware here. They surely kept the diners entertained. Well, not that anyone would get bored with the beautiful sea view.
Image 39: It had all kinds of goodies: porcini, oyster mushroom, potato parmesan cream, artichoke crisp, herb brioche, and quinoa, a touch of Mauro's South American roots. And our server said Mauro made it more like a risotto to reflect his Italian roots too!
Image 40: Looked great, smelt great, tasted great, and it even reflected the chef's originality, what else do you need?!
Image 41: We enjoyed every second of this meal and in order to drag on a bit longer, we requested for a short break so that we could absorb the nice weather outside in another terrace area before getting into the main courses.
Image 42: We even went into the kitchen to disturb Mauro!
Image 43: Back to our table, the first main dish - red mullet on tapioca cooked in saffron bouillabaisse and cleverly garnished with fried scale of the fish. The menu was well thought out as I felt an escalation of intensity from the progression of the meal. After all these courses, I had a craving for something powerful...
Image 44: And what a perfect timing to bring out a confit of milk fed suckling pig served on a bed of polenta with a drizzle of reduction packed with flavours! Bones were removed and fat was trimmed. It was another excellent dish!
Image 45: We all enjoyed the crackling sound in our mouth from the crunchy skin! At this point, I started questioning myself - I pass by this area every year, so why did it take me so long to discover Mauro's cuisine?
Image 46: My stomach was completely filled with all these delicious food. Still, I had to sample their cheese trolley.
Image 47: I only had room to taste a few. The best one was definitely Argui, a sheep's milk cheese.
Image 48: The excitement was far from over as our server slowly poured a cold green soup onto my first plate of dessert.
Image 49: Although the green tomato looked very tangy, it turned out to be relatively sweet. Green tomato and green apple sorbet - sounds like an odd combo... I know their colours match, but I was surprised their flavours actually match too!
Image 50: The fruity green apple sorbet, the brittle sugar casing, the creamy yogurt, and finally the chilled refreshing soup did an outstanding job tying them all together. Brilliant! Even though I don't have a sweet tooth, it was an exceptional dessert, I have to say!
Image 51: As I was reeling from that green dessert, Mauro delivered a better dessert - orange! A combination of orange flower brioche, orange sorbet, and sweet orange saffron cream.
Image 52: I took the brioche and soaked it up with as much orange cream as I could, and WOW! These sweet-fruity creams together with the fragrant brioche was very addictive! And the almond worked well by bringing a textural contrast to the spongy brioche while leaving behind a lingering aftertaste.
Image 53: If I was at home by myself, I would have picked up the plate and licked up the last remaining bit of cream! It was that good! I said I was full before the dessert and at this point I was really full.
Image 54: If you don't like ordinary tea or infusion, they could prepare you a proper matcha using the traditional Japanese tea whisk!
Image 55: Sadly the meal was approaching to its end. Our petits-fours arrived - a crispy "blown" rice pudding.
Image 56: Then a long grass plaque to conclude our meal.
Image 57: Sugar coated wild strawberry.
Image 58: Candy with liquid centre of distilled plant juice!
Image 59: And the finale was macaron of an exotic flavour called maté, a South American green tea. We were very picky about macaron after our recent Macaron Tasting. This maté macaron, texture wise: eggshell-like crust followed by airy meringue, soft without being too sticky!
Image 60: Taste wise: a distinct herby or maybe grassy freshness with a nice balance of sugar without being too sweet! All of us were looking at each other while nodding our head! This macaron puts Pierre Hermé to shame! Yes, we were completely full but still had to ask for another round of macarons!
Image 61: It was a stunning meal! A refined cuisine where the chef was not only able to respect the uniqueness of each ingredient, but also able to create fascinating combinations to seduce our palates. And it's always great to see the chef incorporating flavours from his home which makes his food unique.
Image 62: It was an unforgettable journey! As I was departing from the dining room, I realised there were many restaurants in my life that I wanted to go back to. However, this was the first time that I actually didn't want to leave at all!
Image 63: Don't get me wrong, having one Michelin star is already a big achievement, but this dining experience is far beyond one star. Of course, it's Michelin in France, not easy for a non-French chef to get a star here, let alone 2 stars. Well, if Michelin can now give out 2 stars to a pub in England that serves average decent food, then this meal we had at Mirazur is about... 10 stars?! Update: It got promoted to 2-star shortly after our visit.