On a sunny day, The Gannet’s favourite sport is to seek out a lofty perch above the ocean and eye up a fresh fish or two: when in Monaco, there is no better place than the lovely terrace of L’Hirondelle, the restaurant in the Principality’s Thermes Marins spa and fitness centre.
The terrace also offers superb views of Monaco’s Port Hercule, one of the world’s most opulent displays of floating real estate. Dragging my gaze from marina to plate, a brace of small pickled anchovies – what the Spanish call boquerones – swam into view, atop the prettiest pissaladière I have ever seen: garlanded with flowers, surrounded by dots of oil flavoured with piment d’espelette and boasting feather-light pastry, it nonetheless had the serious weight of long-stewed onions at its core.
Fillets of red mullet were so fresh they might have leapt straight from the ocean and into the pan: they came anointed with a jugful of splendid bisque, with fennel, courgette and yellow carrots for company. Hirondelle means “swallow”: as gourmets are wont to say, one swallow may not make a summer, but chef Jean-Laurent Basile’s light, flavoursome cooking is a good start.
The terrace at Blue Bay, the Michelin-starred restaurant in the nearby Hotel Monte-Carlo Bay, is equally serene. There is more than a soupçon of the Caribbean in chef Marcel Ravin’s imaginative cuisine: a native of Martinique, he handles tropical fruits and spices as adeptly as the Mediterranean produce on his doorstep, and he pilots his tasting menu expertly through both latitudes.
Perfect mackerel has the crackle of tobiko and a silky parsnip cream; “souskai” (a light, fruity Martinique salad) of langoustine and avocado is topped with a billowing lemon foam; gently cooked seabass is bathed in an emulsion of olive oil and onion, scented with cloves; a dramatic “puffball” of a whole celeriac baked in seaweed and bread dough is cracked at the table – reminiscent of a coconut – and served in the “husk” with shreds of sorrel and cubes of divinely sticky pig’s trotter.
Passion fruit makes a surprisingly congenial match with soft-cooked egg, cassava and a generous slathering of truffle; Bresse chicken is intricately prepared with Jerusalem artichokes cooked three ways, a deeply sonorous broth, and peppers from the chef’s own garden. It is all hugely impressive: both technically skilled and refreshingly original.
Blue Bay is a jewel of a restaurant, with notably friendly and enthusiastic staff, an open kitchen that offers as much viewing pleasure as the seascape from the terrace, captained by a talented, innovative chef at the top of his game. You don’t need a telescope to see a second star on the horizon.