I first reviewed this restaurant a decade ago, and anyone who saw that original review will know that I instantly fell in love with the place. The spectacular view of Mediterranean against a backdrop of the historic city of Menton, the enthusiasm and energy of Chef Mauro as he walked me through his garden, and of course his unique French cuisine that so brilliantly blends native Italian ingredients with a hint of his South American roots, all convinced me that he was on a sure road to success. As a result, that meal was one of the main features in my book, Fine Dining Explorer.
I kept in touch with Julia and Mauro over the years, and we often dined together whenever they were in London. We even lunched together just before Mauro was crowned World’s #1 in Singapore earlier this year. Shamefully, though, I have to confess that, during these years, I’ve only revisited Mirazur once. So it didn’t come as a total surprise when Julia greeted me with a very friendly, but definitely ironic, “So, finally you finally found some time to come back, eh?”
But I was ready for her. Brandishing a copy of the book, I said: “Yes. I’ve come all this way to personally deliver this to you and Mauro.” And, as I’d hoped, Julia was delighted. She immediately called for Mauro, who after greeting me warmly busied himself in browsing some of his signature dishes from a decade ago, before leading me into the kitchen to meet their team.
So – what has changed?
Well, the entrance hadn’t changed, for a start. And the dining room was much the same, too, with its stunningly panoramic view. But one aspect was noticeably very different – the wall behind the reception area. When I first saw it, it had been tastefully but plainly decorated, it was now crammed with accolades and trophies, marking the progress and recognition achieved by Mirazur over the past ten years. Whereas the place had, a decade back, held a single Michelin star, it now boasted the ultimate 3-stars, and had risen from being merely listed in the World’s 50Best to being World #1. So it probably won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that that Mirazur is now pretty much fully booked for the whole of next year!
And now the food. . .
As much as I’d have enjoyed the same meal as on my original visit, I expected that the cuisine would have evolved considerably over a 10-year period. And I was right – the only remaining item from back then was Mauro’s signature Menton lemon and ginger olive oil, which came with fluffy bread. However, there were a few variations of the original signature dishes. The pear and oyster combination still existed, except that it was no longer in the form of Oyster Cannelloni, with the oyster wrapped inside a thin and juicy layer of pear. There were also some simplifications, such as the shellfish course, which – ten years back – had consisted of many ingredients cooked in a ragout of courgette, squash, and sea snail. Now, however, it was simply squid, though it was still very enjoyable as it was finely sliced into thin strands, giving an interesting texture. And the vegetable course, which had composed of many vegetables and nuts from the garden, was now just one single element, beetroot, though it remained delicious, as it was baked in a salt crust, resulting in a velvety texture. There’s definitely an influence of Nordic minimalism in Mauro’s cuisine, these days.
Another dish that’s no long on the menu is Mirazur’s forest theme. This, to me, was one of the most memorable courses of all time – a sharing plate of wild mushroom, potato parmesan cream and artichoke crisps with herb brioche. However, Mauro’s unique idea of adding a touch of coffee to the sauce for the main course still remains, and was this time served with a tender piece of guinea fowl. At one time, I recall, a factor that really distinguished Mauro from his peers was the touch of South America in his food – the quinoa in the forest dish, for example, or the maté (South American tea) macaron. This meal, though, had a distinctly Asian feel to it, with ingredients such as soy sauce with the shellfish consommé, and yuzu with the pear.
As for the desserts, they were fine, though perhaps the source of the merest sense of disappointment. Whereas I was hoping for something of the exquisite nature of the desserts of a decade ago, such as Mauro’s incomparable green tomato and green apple dessert, or the many complex textures of orange, what was actually served was a piece of prickly pear followed by orange sorbet! With such talented chefs in the kitchen, one would perhaps expect them to try some slightly more unusual combinations, and to aim for the standard of world-class sophistication of which they have proved themselves more than capable.
Still my favourite?
Well, service-wise, Mirazur has a much bigger team these days and the service was top-quality – smooth, professional and friendly. And the setting can’t be faulted – lunchtime is the perfect opportunity to make the most of the spectacular sea view from the dining room.
As to the food, there’s no doubt that this was far from my best meal. The quality was excellent. Equally, there’s no doubt that I enjoyed it even more on my first visit. The main reason for this, I think, is that the flair and creativity, the readiness to take risks, seems to have died, and with it the sense of culinary uniqueness, of giving the diner a feeling that they are experiencing something new and different. But I guess it’s understandable in some ways. It can take years for a good restaurant to get recognised, and recognition is likely to breed an unwillingness to change things. Personally, I think the best time to visit a restaurant is, more often than not, when they’re at the 2-star level and pitching for the 3rd, or when they’ve just made a debut in the World’s 50 Best and trying to climb the ladder. When a restaurant has achieved Michelin 3-star status, or top ranking in the World’s Best, it most likely means they have already passed their peak in terms of creativity and innovation.
In summary, then, I was just the tiniest bit disappointed with my meal on this occasion. But perhaps I should have expected this. After all, it was competing against my experience of a decade ago, which set an impossibly high standard as one of my all-time favourite meals.