There’s never a dull moment in Monte-Carlo, and come December the Principality goes all out for Christmas. As the image above shows, the square in front of the Garnier-designed casino is covered not only in fake snow but also an abundance of Christmas trees. Luxury hotels follow suit: the Metropole has two full-size polar bears in its Karl Lagerfeld-designed lobby, and there must be at least a hundred real Christmas trees in the sprawling corridors that link one part of SBM’s gorgeous Hotel Hermitage to another (it took the gal a good ten minutes, and well worth every second, to get from lovely terrace-room 067 to Les Thermes Marins Monte-Carlo wellness).
My room had a heated hot tub on its substantial terrace. I looked across the harbour with its super-yachts to the palace. Oh there is so much history here. I was reminded of this at dinner, in the Grill, on the eighth floor of the adjacent, and sibling, Hôtel de Paris, HdP. After metaphorically fighting through Monaco’s philatelists, waiting for a formal dinner at the Hermitage, and a similar mêlée of black-tied dinner-goers at the HdP, I was escorted to an elevator and emerged, rooftop, at the glorious Grill, here since 1959 and, especially after a tweaking by architect Richard Martinet, still going as strong as ever. Its original sky-and-stars ceiling, restored and replaced, can be pulled back when weather allows – also, most of the year dining flows out on to the terrace for even more glorious views.
Chef Franck Cerutti is a long-timer and so, I suspect, are many of the waiters, who still show a universal enthusiasm for explaining the menu. I was recommended scallops to start, followed by rack of lamb. In fact what followed was improvisational theatre but for once I did not mind. First we had a small bowl of barbagiuan (typically Monégasque one-bite spinach-filled hot puffs), and then amuse cocottes of butternut squash purée topped with mushroom foam. Next came what I thought was another ‘extra’, a twist of simple pasta strips over which white truffles were liberally and expensively grated. We were drinking Les Amandiers de la Liquière 2018.
The scallops seemed to have gone AWOL, absent without leave. I was brought a Laguiole knife and then a 50cm upright-C stand was presented. From this hung a rack of baby lamb, from about 70 km away. It was deftly carved tableside – looking around the full restaurant every table had at least one such theatrical presentation, either of lamb or of chicken-for-one. We had pre-order soufflés: mine was a light-as-air Grand Marnier, as much liquor poured in as I wanted. This was the favourite of Prince Rainier, said the server. I got the impression that most of the diners around us were locals, who use this as their local, with a distinctly haute cuisine flair. And so I trekked back to my temporary home, at the Hermitage, slept for hours and woke with that view, of the Palace. Final memories include walking past Daniele Donde’s bewelled Mythos Audrey for a good work out at the massive Thermes, shared with HdP although that hostelry does now have a separate facility, including a pool, on its seventh floor. NOW SEE ROOM 067 (AND IF YOU WANT MORE EXPERIENCES AND HOT NEWS, SIGN UP FOR www.luxury-te.com )