We had a pit stop, so to speak, to another French Riviera city of Nice, France. Though Nice was about a half hour drive from the super glamorous Monte-Carlo, there is a distinctive relaxed feel when you walk on the main seaside promenade, Promenade des Anglais. Strolling through the Cours Saleya market near the old city inspired me to cook, seeing the beautiful, overflow of seasonal produce, locally made baked goods, cheeses and charcuterie. (I almost wished I didn’t have a dinner reservation and was staying at an apartment with a decent kitchen to cook.)
Toward sunset, we headed to Hotel Negresco to meet our lovely, genial hostess of the evening Helene.
If I had to describe Hotel Negresco in a couple of words, it’s an old-school luxury hotel that also is art gallery and museum. This hotel is elegant, eclectically decorated (and sometimes quirky) rooms replete with swagged drapes and fine antiques. Every room on this hotel is different from each other and every floor has a theme of its decoration like late Gothic, Chinoiserie, Napoleon III style to African modernism. The most interesting thing is, you’re permitted to touch these priceless objects even children can pedal around in the two small toy cars that are in front of the large Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture.
This hotel was built by Henri Negresco and opened in 1912 (the surviving family member, Jeanne Augier lives on the 6th floor of this hotel), the landmark still epitomizes La Belle Époque, thanks to its marble columns, gilded ceilings, and qualité du Louvre collection of old-master art. Its awe-inspiring glass ceiling with the stunning 16,309 Baccarat crystal chandelier has even been listed as a historic monument and the colorful, voluptuous Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture underneath. The hotel, however, has been reinventing itself following a massive multi-million euro renovation and in 2015, a third of the rooms were refreshed and about a year or so there will be a spa built.
Before dinner, we headed to Le Bar du Negresco for flutes of of wonderfully dry, red fruit forward rosé Champagne by Champagne Deutz and an expertly mixed Boulevardier. The bar felt like an English bar outfitted in handsome dark wood and a large model ship at the bar and a local jazz band is setting up for the evening.
Helene escorted us for a sneak peek of the pristine (and very hot temperature) kitchen of Le Chantecler and meet the friendly and modest Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Denis Rieubland and some of his team.
Since we’re on time for dinner, we were escorted back to the formal yet whimsically decorated blush pink dining room trimmed with wood paneling and colorful carpeting (a mosaic print of pinks, blues and greens) of Le Chantecler.
Le Chantecler and Chef Rieubland’s cuisine is inspired by Provence, with the respect of its products and French traditions.The tasting menu we had was excellently done. We’re pretty amazed by a few unexpected pairings of ingredients to a certain dish. We had wine pairings for this meal and they were smartly paired for the five courses excluding dessert. Service was incredibly professional, friendly and a few of the front of the house staff had moments of playfulness with Helene.
Our amuse bouche came out in wooden trays with a few metal rods precariously balancing the round balls of gougères, fried arancini and glasses of savory gelee topped with chopped vegetables. All were delicious. The separate bowl of salmon and cheese foam was delicious. The bread service was very good and the temperature of the N embossed sweet butter was a perfect spreadable goodness.
Tender lobster and leek ravioli are unique looking pasta. The semi folded circles of camouflage colored leek pasta peeking out with sweet lobster meat was perfectly cooked a tiny bit pasta al dente. The foamed lobster sauce with intense leek sauce were perfect classic flavors pairings.
The whole presentation for grilled John Dory fillet with fig leaves dish was almost a spectacle in itself. Our head waiter rolled out a cart with a small wooden board and a plates with roasted figs with colorful bell peppers covered in cloches. He presents to us a large oval copper pan of John Dory fillets covered in lightly wilted fig leaves and he carefully divides them between the three plates and spoons the balsamic vinegar sauce and places our small plate of a fist -sized eggplant fritter to accompany our fish. The fish was sublime, delicately flavored by the char and fig leaf and the inky, viscous, sweet-tart balsamic vinegar subtly sweetened up the dish. I admit, I sort of feared the balsamic would overpower the fish but it didn’t at all; just a perfect balance. The fig fritter was good and on the dense side but it made sense since it had to sop all of the delectable sauce.
The final course of guinea hen, hazelnut and porcini mushrooms was a taste of autumn. It felt comforting, hearty and soulful and the guinea hen was perfectly tender and moist.
On to the cheese course, our head waiter rolled out the cart of beautiful French cheeses covered in heavy glass cloches. My choice of cheeses were a lightly aged local goat cheese, comte, a special semi-firm cheese that had an unique grape leaves wrapped and aged with the cheese (unfortunate that I didn’t write down the name), and mild blue cheese. The housemade apricot jam was lovely. Sweet and delicately floral like honey and it worked perfectly with all of the cheeses.
Pre-dessert arrived and it’s a bright green dome of basil ice cream, quenelle of smooth, vanilla ice cream and crunchy mini meringues. It’s refreshing and just sweet enough to prime us for dessert.
Our main dessert was another nod to autumn – crescent shaped grape gelée topped with fresh grapes and cinnamon, soft orange cookie, and sangria flavored sorbet. The dessert was delicious and I really enjoyed the moderate sweetness of the dessert. The varying textures of smooth and creamy, crunchy and juicy made this a very good dessert.
Just in case we didn’t have enough food, the glorious petit four cart rolled up to our table. This particular cart is an original 18th century rolling dessert but restored and reworked to have the multi-layered drawers to store all of the many beautiful, colorful pastries and chocolates. My choice of coconut macaroon, raspberry pâte de fruit topped with edible silver leaf, chocolate infused with fresh mint, lemon macaron, and a very Provencal confection calisson but flavored with raspberry. All were very delightful but I really enjoyed the almond-y calisson blended with fruit.
This stopover to Nice was special and I can never thank our generous hostess Helene enough for this wonderful experience. I cannot wait to come back to Nice again and spend more time to explore this city.
For more photos of this visit, please CLICK HERE for the complete set or see below:[alpine-phototile-for-flickr src=”set” uid=”26389565@N00″ sid=”72157671598678964″ imgl=”flickr” shuffle=”1″ style=”gallery” row=”4″ grwidth=”1200″ grheight=”800″ size=”640″ num=”30″ shadow=”1″ border=”1″ align=”center” max=”100″]
37 Prom. des Anglais
06000 Nice, France
Phone: +33 4 93 16 64 00