If Mirazur had been open for lunch in the days before Interpol, running out without paying could have caused a diplomatic incident. The three Michelin-starred restaurant, voted ‘Best in the World’ in 2019 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants compilers, occupies the very last house in France.
In the narrow, bikini-bottom-brief gap between Monaco’s eastern border and the Italian state line, lies Menton, a raffish and, by the standards of the Cote d’Azur, low-key town (I saw only one Ferrari showroom). Mirazur, the creation of Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco, clings to its very fringes. In a structure that looks like it was built in the 1930s as a ‘dine-with-a-view’ kind of establishment (though nobody seems to know what restaurant was here before Colagreco moved in back in 2006), the yachts, villas and money laundering boltholes of the Riviera gape out in front of the spherical dining room.
Head out the back door and you’re ten footsteps from the Italian border post; the very same one that Edward Fox spun his coupé through in The Day of the Jackal on his way to attempt to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. Behind the restaurant lies the three-tiered steppes built into the cliff face that house Mauro’s gardens, from which much of the menu is created.
The ruins of what was once a villa belonging to Prince Albert of Belgium stand rotting amid banana trees, nasturtiums and a forest of sunflowers — the restaurant’s way of battling the larcenous prices of sunflower oil prompted by the war in Ukraine. Colagreco’s punch bag hangs from one tree, clearly a form of stress relief for the former accountant from Buenos Aires, who has also cajoled his staff into yoga and acting lessons.
Downstairs in the restaurant, the kitchen team beaver away in a glass-walled room, which gives the visitor the impression of watching food being prepared in a human-sized aquarium. Mirazur claims it takes one-and-a-half members of staff to produce a single dish. That may explain why staff (if you include the waiters) seem to outnumber guests in the upstairs, pale-wooden-floored dining room, which seats barely 50.
It is accompanied by a paddling pool of what is described simply as ‘carrot’ but is in fact a gloopy residue with the exact colour, and, it must be said, taste, of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup.
French food critics were, predictably, somewhat snooty about the fact that a non-French chef won the title of the World’s Best Restaurant in 2019. The long Covid break has meant the booking frenzy that was triggered by the award (8,000 bookings in three days) has abated slightly. Sadly, the same can be said for the superiority of more than one of the dishes.
Mauro has stated he is inspired by Miró sculptures and Impressionist painters in creating his dishes, and there’s more than a touch of a Henri Matisse stained glass window in the amber, orange, yellow and pink surface layer of raspberry reduction and cosmos flowers, glistening in aspic. Gently tearing the reduction apart reveals a hidden layer of veal tartare; a little too grey in colour and much flabbier than necessary.
It’s like ripping open a geisha’s kimono to find the innards of Joseph Merrick; aesthetically unpleasant and a textual and flavour disaster; confirming what we all (except Colagreco) already know to be true; namely, that raspberries and veal tartare don’t belong in the same postal district, let alone in the same dish.
Things did improve markedly after this catastrophic misstep. The yellow beetroot with saffron was a mesmerising creation; the colour of a cartoon sunrise with the extra sweetness and colour that yellow beetroot provides when given room to breathe and not be overwhelmed by the saffron, here taken from the banks of the nearby River Roya. The pork from Ibaiama pigs bred in the Basque region is shaped like the neck of a guitar and falls apart in decadently thin, muscular slices. It is accompanied by a paddling pool of what is described simply as ‘carrot’ but is in fact a gloopy residue with the exact colour, and, it must be said, taste, of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup. Note to the kitchen; this is not the place for Nigel Slater-style retro nostalgia.
My highlight was the guinea fowl with green curry. The fat on the guinea fowl slid off like a wet towel on a bathroom door hook, when it should be crisped and welded to the meat. But the meat itself was done to perfection. The green curry sauce, a masterpiece of poise and balance, does what all green curry should do: go heavy on the basil and light on the coconut milk.
My meal was accompanied by wines from the Adelaide winemaker Penfolds, which recently acquired vineyards in France in order to develop its first European release. Its blowsy, unpretentious, deceptively well-rounded reds combine well with Mauro’s dishes in the main; both parties being keen to strip down the purple prose that requires menus to be ‘explained’ by faltering waiters.
Mirazur roughly translates as ‘look out to the blue ocean’. Many will be more concerned with looking at the bill; it’s impossible to get out of here without spending at least £700 for two. For that kind of price, you expect something tantalisingly close to the best meal of your life. What you get is merely a diverting one with the odd trumpet blast amid a few too many bum notes. But the view is a knockout and, should you have a fake passport, that border post is within dashing distance — even after eight courses.