Chantecler restaurant at the Negresco is the finest dining experience in Nice which I can now say is true through experience, not just reputation.
John and I decided to celebrate our fourth anniversary here. Yes, it’s been four years to the day since we met on the Promenade des Anglais. Today was warm and mild compared to the sunny but blustery day we met when the wind was whipping up the waves to spray a fine mist on our pebbly beach. Dozens of sunbathers speckled the beach at midday and the sea was reduced to gentle ripples as we headed in to lunch.
The Negresco’s domed lobby bathed us in sunlight that softened when we entered the Chantecler’s wood-panelled dining room. We were seated to have a view of the sea which, together with the pink and mauve decor, made the atmosphere less stuffy than I would have expected from such a toney place.
As we settled in, other diners drifted in or, in some cases, hobbled in. We were clearly the youngest of the bunch with well-coiffed and dressed older folks making up the bulk of the crowd.
Now for the food!
We opted for the fixed-price lunch menu with wine (a discretion) and coffee forEUR55. It’s called Le Menu Plaisir “Retour de Marche”.As an amuse-bouche the chef, Bruno Turbot, opted for the fashionable “food in a glass” starter. Served in a small, narrow glass, this was a frothy mixture involving foie gras and a mushroomy flavour. I first swallowed my moral objections and then slurped up the delicate substance with a spoon. Next to it was a flaky twist of pastry, hardly wider than a pipe cleaner and an extremely fine cracker smeared with a tapenade.
Attention must be paid to the bread experience. The rolls were divine and offered a choice of four. We got stuck on the olive rolls and the rosemary rolls which managed the feat of crustiness on the outside and soft chewiness inside. The multi-grain was ok but less inspired.
We chose the same starter as John wasn’t in the mood for the Oeuf mollet au veloute de petits pois et diablotins de figatelle. Instead, we feasted on the Salade d’asperges vertes et bulots en ravigote aux truffes d’encre de seche. This dish involved asparagus (crunchy but not tough; how does he do it?) capped with a few fine slices of marinated truffles and bulots (sea snails?) chopped and seasoned with the squid ink and a slightly tart relish. It was a fresh and bracing as a spring morning by the sea.
For the main course, I chose the Filet de pagre grille, mille-feuilles d’artichaut croustillant et douceur de noisette while John had the Rable de lapin farci aux gesiers confits et fine tarte de brocolis gratinees de vieux parmesan.My pagre was small but grilled to perfect flakiness and the nutty sauce added a touch of sweetness. The artichoke on the side was an elaborate concoction involving a confected artichokey crust and a sort of artichoke mousse between the layers. Inspired. John’s rabbit slices seemed to need more salt and I’m not sure about the gesiers part. It seemed like fine slices of sun-roasted tomatoes. The broccoli gratin with parmesan had a lovely Italian flavour but seemed not quite as artful as my artichoke fest.
The desserts really reached for the stars and then flew past them. John had the Conversation a la marmelade de fruits rouges, creme de lait and I opted for the Tendre ganache a la mandarine imperiale en velours noir. The sugary airiness and delicate balancing of flavors are almost impossible to convey but I’ll try. John’s “Conversation” was witty and endearing with fresh strawberries holding their own while creamy icey creamys sparred for dominance. What’s a ganache? John didn’t know either. If you got the essence of what chocolate cake is supposed to be but usually isn’t you’d come up with a ganache. Plus the decorations were of spun sugar and there was a little bit of fresh grapefruit and a candied mandarin on the side.
The restaurant was generous with the wine and it was excellern. Both the red and white were from Languedoc. The white was buttery and smooth and the red was mellow but sat well for a lunchtime drink.