The gilded interior is fully Parisian, but the menu remains deeply Mediterranean. The restaurant Quai des Artistes, located at the far end of Monaco’s harbour, is an act of the imagination. Everything here asks: what would Paris have felt like if it had been on the Riviera?
A young woman dines alone on a terrace somewhere along Monaco’s harbour. Whenever she moves a little to her left, she can glimpse the western flank of the Monte-Carlo Casino. If someone were to ask her why she is alone on that terrace, she would lie because for the purpose of her mission, she must remain incognito. A spy movie? No, just Monaco Tribune’s latest restaurant review.
And where is art in all of this, you ask? Well in the food, to start with, but more about that later. The other art – 11 paintings by artist Natalija Vincic – is exhibited high up on the brasserie’s walls. When I get there, I find out that lunch is on the terrace, which means that I won’t be able to eat amongst works of art after all. However, when I am showed to the terrace, I realise that the lack of art is not really going to be a problem: the terrace has the kind of view on Monaco that you would see on a postcard.
Oysters, sorbets and seafood on-the-go
At lunch, expect a daily menu which strikes the right balance between pragmatism and sophistication. For 25 euros you can get a two-course meal with drinks (27 euros if you order alcohol). You can either opt for a starter and a main, or a main and a dessert. This time the choice was between ham steak with cabbage coulis, or trout on a bed of cod brandade. I chose the latter. Of course, the usual menu is also available, offering endless seafood (oysters, fish, crab, scallops, lobster…), meat, and an appealingly long selection of desserts. For the homebodies amongst you, the restaurant also offers take-away, including a 310 euro “Royal Tasting” Seafood selection for four people, which includes, amongst other things, five different types of oysters (eight of each), a lobster and a crab.
The terrace is protected by a tall wrought-iron structure that recalls a 19th century Parisian train station. After I sit down on a beige bistrot chair, the waiter comes with bread (served in paper bag) and butter. Along with the cod, I opt for a duo of verbena and apricot sorbet. The other desserts on choice are a chocolate mousse and a trio of profiteroles.
The service is exceptionally fast. The main arrives not 5 minutes after having ordered it. The clientele is broad-ranging, from business lunches, to chattering couples and friends meeting for lunch. Waiters have a cheerfulness and cordiality which seem almost out of place in a Parisian brasserie.
From your grandmother’s kitchen to Proust
The trout confirms that while the influence may be Parisian, the restaurant keeps its roots firmly anchored in the sea. The capers in the grenobloise sauce taste of lemon juice and the skin of the trout is caramelised. On their website, the Quai des Artistes writes that their daily meals are inspired by “our memories of meals with our grandmothers”. It is definitely true. The Brandade, which is a French potato and fish purée, tastes like it came out of a lively kitchen. Yet the trout, with its caramelised skin, injects some Monegasque charm into the dish. Think of it as something your (Mediterranean) grandmother would have cooked had she been asked to cater for your cousin’s first communion, or the village priest. Refined, but not too fussy.
And then comes the sorbet. I do not even know where to start. In fact, the sorbet was so good that it successfully distracts me from the postcard view in front of me. The blend of syrupy apricot and granita-like verbena is the stuff of dreams. It is the taste of a summer in southern France. It is like something out of Proust: apricots – not madeleines – dunked in sweet, floral tea.
Art at last
After the ice-cream and a necessary coffee, I pay and head to the actual brasserie, some ten meters along the harbour promenade . After all, I have come here for Natalija Vincic. The artist, who is based in Nice, is exhibiting her collection “Mystery of Love” at the Quai des Artistes until October 1st. Her paintings are vibrant without being garish and she visibly has a soft spot for blues and golds. A particular shade of cobalt blue recurs, and its richness reminds me of haute couture fabrics or a 19th century evening dress.
The collection reworks the myth of Eros, the god who fell in love with the mortal Psyche, which means soul. Yet despite the vibrancy of the paintings, Vincic’s art exudes a sense of calmness. There is something in it that reminds me of the trans-like state of a dream. My personal favourite? Perhaps inspired by my fish-based lunch, I chose a painting of Eros riding a hippocampus in the sea, a cornucopia under his arm.
I leave the Quai des Artistes with the satisfaction that comes after a good meal. It is a place of warmth and joie de vivre, where art really is everywhere, from the paintings on the wall to the sorbet on the tip of your spoon.
Every day from 12:00 until 14:30 / 19:30 until 23:00
4 Quai Antoine 1er
Paintings by Natalija Vincic are on display until October 1st.