When in the South of France, few travelers look past the Côte d’Azur’s blockbuster towns of St Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Monaco. But hop on the public train that jostles along the coastline, and you’ll be amazed by the diversity of the small towns to explore along the way, each with its own unique backstory. Menton, the very last town before you hit the Italian border just three miles away, is one such place and it’s here at his flagship restaurant Mirazur that three-star Michelin chef Mauro Colagreco’s story took root before being propelled onto the world stage as one of the world’s best chefs.
Set on the Mediterranean Sea, Menton has all the French small-town pull you could want: narrow lanes ribboning down from a hilltop church, winding around picturesque squares and stone houses painted sunny yellow, burnt orange and blush pink. There’s a daily food market right on the seafront and plenty of restaurants peddling French and Italian classics. As pretty as the town is, the reason many visitors make a stop in Menton is to eat at Argentinian-born Mauro Colagreco’s Mirazur where his inventive cuisine eschews any one influence, reflecting his love of diversity and travel.
Here, nature is abundant, and thanks to a microclimate, exotic plants and vegetables are plentiful. But it’s not what first drew the chef and Julia, his wife and wing woman, to this little corner of Southern France.
“I was 29 years old, it was 2006, and I’d heard that the former owner of this place was looking to sell,” Mauro Colagreco tells me, dressed in crisp chef’s whites, as we sit at the table of his lab La Puerta below the kitchens, admiring the panoramic views of sailing boats gliding across the shimmery Mediterranean waters. “He was prepared to rent me the place first. I mean, back then people were a little wary of random chefs, foreign chefs even, setting up in their town. We had a deal with the owner – if the restaurant worked, he’d sell it to me.”
Six months later, Colagreco received his first Michelin star. Since then, the self-starter’s done nothing but climb up the ranks, receiving three stars in 2019, and, months before Covid brought the world to a standstill, Mirazur was named Best Restaurant in the World by The World’s 50 Best.
“When Mirazur had to close without any certainty of ever reopening, it was really hard – like for many people around the world, of course. Months and months went by of not knowing what would happen – we’d been named Best Restaurant in the World, which was a huge achievement for me and the whole team, and we couldn’t even really celebrate. I actually became depressed, but at the same time, it allowed me to start rethinking how we did things.”
When the French government announced restaurants could finally reopen, Colagreco jumped at the chance of changing things around. “After everything we had lived through, the world had lived through, and the focus on our environmental impact, I knew we couldn’t reopen and go back to doing things the same way as before Covid. I wanted Mirazur to be more in line with nature and the environment. I needed to do something that would give me hope for the future, for my two children. I wanted to grow everything biodynamically, so, according to nature’s pace and the moon’s cycle.”
While Colagreco’s always been focused on reducing the environmental impact of his restaurants using mainly local produce grown in his five gardens, the chef turned his entire method on its head and partners with anthropologists, writers and botanists who work together to produce the exceptional haul you’ll find here. The team at Mirazur took on a more holistic, ecological, and ethical stance to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition rooted in the work of philosopher and scientist Dr. Rudolf Steiner, and it’s helping him bring something entirely new to the table on the French Riviera but also on France’s dining scene as a whole.
“Our cuisine is generous, which was very important for me, throughout our four menus – root, leaf, flower and fruit – and depending on the cycles of the moon, you might have just one menu, like this week, which is root,” he says. “It all makes so much more sense to work even closer with nature, to its rhythm beyond just seasons. We’re reducing our waste even more than before and use very little plastic – and we actually have a few certifications confirming our commitment. But most importantly, my aim isn’t to earn more and more – that’s not happiness to me. My aim is to do things as well as I possibly can, because for me, happiness is doing things well and with a lot of generosity.”
Letting his words linger in the quiet lab, we both gaze out silently smiling at the deep blue sea, breathing in the scent of the fragrant gardens below, and contemplating the restaurant’s new beginnings after this major shift.
The overhaul also encapsulates a complete refit of Mirazur’s interiors designed by Mauro and Julia with architect Marcelo Joulia. Completely open plan, the chef’s kitchen now occupies the entire ground floor of the Art Deco villa like a sleeker version of a Top Chef set, in which diners are immersed right upon entering. There’s a chef’s table in the space and the main dining area is up the winding stairs and has windows running the entire length of the space that are thrown open to better admire the sea views framed by flowering palms.
We sample the “root” menu, a ballet of masterfully executed, presented and served courses paired beautifully with wines and non-alcoholic potions concocted by master sommelier Magali Picherie and her team.
The produce is impressive, like the giant beetroot from the chef’s garden, brought out by Maître d’Hôtel Damien Paty on a bed of grasses and presented like a rare truffle – and for good reason, I was to discover.
Carefully laid out like a flower on a plate doused in caviar, the real focus nevertheless remains on the vegetable. Tender and full-flavored, its texture is fleshy with the caviar taking a backseat but serving to recall our seaside location. Leak and chanterelle mushrooms are served with white turbot fish and black garlic, again, honoring the root vegetable menu. And the star of the show is the carrot and kumquat with tender pork cooked in an extract of each product.
“The aim is always to serve the very best of everything,” says the chef. “You don’t need to serve caviar or lobster at every course for your cooking to be high end – producing excellent vegetables takes a lot of time time and tremendous effort, making it just as special and rare as good caviar.”
Since Colagreco opened Mirazur, he’s also opened Pecora Negra pizzeria and Casa Fuego an Argentine grill house honoring the chef’s roots, an offshoot of which he’ll also be opening at the Raffles in London, as well as Mitron, a historic boulangerie where he’s bringing back 100% natural and organic ancient flours and artisanal pastries, putting Menton, a small town known for its annual lemon festival, on the map.
And he’s doing the same with Ceto, his ocean-focused restaurant at the newly opened Maybourne Riviera Hotel (Maybourne Hotel Group) next door in off-the-radar Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, where architects Eileen Grey and Le Corbusier built their Modernist beach huts — which you can visit — and Coco Chanel’s parties at her villa La Pausa, attended by Cocteau, Picasso and Churchill.
Seemingly hanging haphazardly off the mountain face, the impressive Jean-Michel Wilmotte designed hotel looks like it’s carved into the rock with a pool overhanging Monaco, so that you can hear the crowds oohing and aahing on the court during the Rolex Tennis Masters kicking off the summer season. Previously the Vista Palace Hotel, the Maybourne Riviera is a masterpiece, appearing like a celestial mirage wrapped in transparent glass walls and balconies, creating the illusion that it’s floating on the sea just below.
Colagreco’s been tapped to oversee all but one restaurant at the hotel, all fantastic – even the in-room dining. Ceto, named after the Cetus constellation, sometimes called Whale, is the restaurant that steals the show for its incredible setting overhanging the sea encased by the Maybourne Riviera’s angular glass terraces. Winning a star in its first year, it’s run by chef André Moscardino and head pastry chef Julieta Canavate whose focus is on fish sourced nearby and cured in the cold chamber designed especially, which you can take a peep at through a window at the restaurant entrance.
There’s olive oil made with sea lettuce and Egiategia natural wine as well as Millésime Aquae malt whisky from Maison Benjamin Kuentz, that have been rocked by the ocean in the making, 20 metres below sea level for four to five months in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Basque Country.
Some specials you might find on the menu include an artichoke salad with wakamé algae and kumquat, grilled Camargue oysters on a bed of sorrel, and the highlight: tuna matured for a whole 60 days and served with a kombucha and dried seafood blend. To finish, even the millefeuille is sea-focused and has a nori seaweed center with vanilla and toffee sauce. Make sure to set aside enough time to enjoy the pace of the six-course menu, and get there early to kick off the experience with a cocktail at the new terrace bar that has views of the coastline that swerves into Monaco and its blinking skyscrapers, before running off into more provincial France – and when the light is right, see the sky and sea melt into one, utterly indistinguishable from the other, creating an otherworldly bright blue picture.
“Everything we do, whether at Mirazur, Ceto, Casa Fuego… our other locations in Paris and elsewhere, is centered on generosity and a deep respect for nature instead of just profit. After Covid, my convictions not to compromise on produce or sustainability were stronger than ever, and we aren’t compromising,” says Colagreco. “People often say it’s impossible to be sustainable when you run a business, but if you really want to do something, you can. And it’s as simple as that.”