Le Chantecler, Nice
November 20, 2012
The Negresco Hotel will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. Its restaurant, Le Chantecler, has been the most prestigious in Nice for a long time. In 1978 Jacques Maximin took over as its chef and earned two Michelin stars two years later. He left in 1988, but Le Chantecler kept these two stars through successive chefs, Dominique Le Stanc and Alain Llorca. But after Llorca’s departure in 2004, the second star was lost. Jean-Denis Rieubland took over the kitchen in 2007 and the second star was restored this year.
Linda and I had enjoyed Le Chantecler several times over the years, but had not been there recently. We had celebrated New Year’s Eve there with Mary and Robert in 1988. I remember a sensational Menu de Mer during Alain Llorca’s reign. So we were looking forward to a lot when we returned for dinner on October 8, 2012.
One can enter Le Chantecler either through the hotel lobby or directly via its doorway on the Promenade des Anglais.
The dining room now seats only 35 guests. The tables are well spaced; the music is calm and mostly of our era. The décor is a mish mash of 18th century wood paneling, old portraits, a horrible flowered carpet and ultra-modern bronze sculptures on the tables.
The Champagne cart was wheeled up to our table right away. Very civilized.
Linda had a glass of 2002 Taitinger «Comtes de Champagne» Blanc de Blancs, which was quite refined, while I had a glass of 2005 Agrapart, which had more of a mineral flavor.
A plate of little elegant hors d’œuvres was served.
We ordered the five-course Menu Chantecler at 90€. There is also a nine-course Menu “Découverte” at 140€. We ordered a bottle of 2003 Domaine Hauvette, a good provençale wine we often order when the prices on the wine list are more ambitious than we were that evening.
The bread basket was passed; it was served with a pot of delicious Bordier demi-sel butter.
The Mise en bouche was a
Royale de foie gras, émulsion de cèpes.
The mousse of foie gras underneath was nicely enhanced by a foam of seasonal cèpe mushrooms.
The first menu course was
Tomates anciennes rouges et jaunes, Burrata à l’huile vierge, condiments de sucrine et sorbet au basilic.
There were rounds of fresh seasonal tomatoes; our server said they were from the arrière pays, or the hill country behind Nice. They had lovely distinct flavors brought out by just the right amount of salt. Underneath was a tomato gel and a layer of burrata, mozzarella thinned with heavy cream. On top was a little cylinder of basil sorbet. This starter, which had sounded quite ordinary, was surprisingly interesting and good.
The fish course was
Saint-Pierre rôti aux olives de Nice, réduction de soupe de poissons, anneaux de courgettes et confiture de Noire de Crimée de Berre les Alpes.
The perfectly grilled piece of Saint-Pierre was nicely enhanced by its sauce of fish soup reduction and a confiture of sweet black olives from a town in the hills behind Nice. Zucchini was present in decorative rings and a nice crisp beignet of its flower. Very good.
The meat course was
Suprême de volaille de Bresse au vert de blette, papillote de cuisse au foie gras, gnocchis et côtes glacés au jus.
As in the two previous courses, the main ingredient was beautifully enhanced by its preparation and garnish. Bresse chicken is known for its deep, elegant flavor. (Note the Bresse identifying tag in the back of the plate.) Here a slice of the breast had been cooked with green Swiss chard under its crisp skin, providing a little vegetable bitterness to the meat. The thigh meat had been cooked in foil with foie gras, creating a very rich chicken counterpoint. The diced chard ribs were served with green gnocchis. Underneath was a rich chicken glaze. Once again, this was a superb dish which had sounded as if could be quite ordinary.
We declined the optional cheese cart.
There was a pre-dessert of a chocolate dome over a coconut cookie and diced exotic fruits.
The dessert was
Fraîcheur d’abricots parfumés à la vanille de Tahiti, blanc manger aux amandes et croustillant au thym.
Slices of apricots cooked with Tahitian vanilla were on top of an almond sponge cake and an apricot gel. In back was a thyme-flavored crisp. In front was a scoop of thickened almond cream. This was a very good, light dessert bringing out two complementary flavors.
Mignardises de Notre Chef Pâtissier
To finish, the mignardises cart was wheeled over to our table. We tried the two financières (in the upper corners) and found them a bit too sweet for our taste.
The meal had surpassed our expectations. It was easily at the Michelin two-star level and would have been worthy of the mid-priced menu at a three-star. The only flaw was just the slight over-sweetness of the mignardises. This brings us to the question of the overall ambience. My regular readers will know that we enjoy grande luxe, properly done and in its place. Le Chantecler is positioned in this category, but they do not come close to succeeding in it like La Réserve de Beaulieu, or Le Meurice and Le Bristol in Paris. Part of this is the comical décor. But the clientèle makes grande luxe more difficult. Le Chantecler is on one of the best known popular resort sites of the world, La Promenade des Anglais. This does not lend itself to elegance like a corner of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, la Rue de Rivoli or le Faubourg St Honoré. At two tables next to ours were young non-French couples out for a special evening. Both were having the big Menu “Découverte” with wine pairings. The dining room staff was doing its best to make them feel at ease in a situation in which they seemed to be a bit uncomfortable, but determined to have a good time. Everything was cheerfully explained in English etc. I think they did have an excellent evening and Le Chantecler deserves great credit for that. The courses of their Menu “Découverte” which we saw before we left looked excellent and I hope we can return soon when we are feeling more ambitious than we were this time.