French superstar chef Alain Ducasse has taken the audacious step of opening his second Monte Carlo restaurant in the Hôtel de Paris, where his three-Michelin-starred Louis XV has earned the reputation of being one of the world’s best.
Ômer restaurant: a Mediterranean cruise
Ômer, Ducasse’s new Monte Carlo restaurant, opened its doors on 7 January and is devoted to the flavors and savors of the Mediterranean Sea and the countries surrounding it. Ômer is touted as offering a “tasting tour of the essential flavors of Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, sometimes lingering on the shores of Spain, Nice and Malta”.
To emphasize the notion of a culinary journey, the restaurant’s decor has a distinct nautical feel, with wooden flooring, touches of brushed bronze, and neutral colored leather. Ômer occupies the ground floor of the Hôtel de Paris’ Rotunda wing, where the curved walls add to the feeling of being aboard a boat. The restaurant overlooks the hotel’s lush gardens and beyond them, very aptly, the Mediterranean Sea.
Patrick Laine: the helmsman
Alain Ducasse has placed French chef Patrick Laine at the helm of this new venture. Laine is a well-known face at the Hôtel de Paris, having worked at the Louis XV and the eighth-floor Le Grill restaurant as deputy chef. He returned to Le Grill as head chef when it reopened in 2017 after refurbishments. The restaurant has just been awarded a Michelin star, which bodes well for Ômer.
“I’m excited about being able to exploring the whole Mediterranean, in terms of fish, meat and vegetables,” Laine told me at a press lunch at Ômer this week.
“There are so many countries and they all have different culinary cultures – that’s what I like about this. Also, we can change the menu often, as each country has so many recipes.”
Ômer’s menu starts with mezze dishes, from which guests can choose an assortment of three, five or seven (costing 21, 32 and 43 euros respectively). We were able to try all of them.
Of the seven dishes, the calamaretti were the biggest surprise. Squid can be a rubbery disappointment but these had a melt-in-the-mouth texture and were sautéd in marjoram pistou with a hint of mustard. The dolmas were the best I’d ever eaten, without the acidic taste that sometimes accompanies vine leaves, and had a delicious filling of rice, mint, lemon, sultanas and pine kernels. Also noteworthy was the kibdeh bi sumac, kabis – chicken liver with cumin, sumac, coriander, turnip pickles and beetroot.
After the generous mezze dishes, two starters appeared. First came the deep honey-coloured glazed squid, which caused a stir of excitement and a lot of camera action when it was taken to a centre table, tentacles dangling, and deftly sliced in front of us. It was served with green and red lentils with slivers of marinated beetroot. The marinade had a subtle sweetness and, again, the texture was surprisingly smooth. The smoked aubergine moutabel was topped with tiny pieces of toasted peanuts, bringing out the silky texture of the vegetable.
By the time one of the friendly and knowledgeable staff arrived with my main course, I was wondering how I was going to be able to eat any more. My Palermo-style sea bream was accompanied by the complex fragrance of anchovies, rosemary, capers, chard, grapes and pine kernels. I can honestly say that I didn’t do this dish justice and would have happily stopped after the mezze dishes. My neighbor, however, was enthusing over her colourful gamberoni al coccio, tiger prawns baked in an earthenware pot, then sautéd in Marsala and served with slivers of vegetables.
Three desserts arrived next: soufflé with dates and lemon confit; a sweetmeat composed of milk, cardamom and saffron, accompanied by an almond milk sorbet, and, finally, agrumes en amertume – a medley of citrus fruits with bitter notes.
I had heard people in Monaco raving about the soufflé served at the Hôtel de Paris’ Le Grill restaurant when Patrick Laine was still head chef and felt I needed to try the Ômer version. It was a wise decision. The soufflé was so light that it was a mere backdrop to the lovely combination of dates and lemons. I also tried the citrus fruits, which were fresh and tangy and the perfect end to my Mediterranean culinary voyage.
Patrick Laine told me the menu at the new Monte Carlo restaurant will not be static.
“I think the people who’ll come here need to see different products,” he said. “We’ll follow the seasons but we’ll change more frequently.”
Regardless of what finds its way onto the menu in the future, the inaugural version is a delight. I will definitely go back to Ômer, although next time, I will eat a little less.
The Hôtel de Paris
The sumptuous Belle Epoque-style Hôtel de Paris was inaugurated in 1864 and neighbors the most famous Monaco real estate, the Monte Carlo Casino. Its construction was part of Monaco’s development by the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), the company that still runs numerous hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues in the Principality. SBM founder François Blanc dreamed of giving Monaco “a hotel that surpasses everything”. The Hôtel de Paris has featured in several films, including James Bond classics Never Say Never Again (1983) and Golden Eye (1995). The opening of the new Ômer restaurant is one of the final stages in the hotel’s four-year renovation program. The establishment now boasts 207 rooms, 60 percent of which are suites. HSH Prince Albert II and Princess Stéphanie of Monaco inaugurated the new 910m2 Princesse Grace Suite in December 2017. An overnight stay costs between 30,000 and 40,000 euros, depending on the season. The inauguration of the Prince Rainier III Suite will take place on 29 January, marking the grand finale of the hotel’s modernization.
Article by Marianne Burkhardt