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Being surrounded by marble tables, Art Deco lamps and vintage wooden cabinets – all reflected in antique mirrors decorated with cursive scribbles announcing the menu du jour – makes it difficult to believe that Bouchon has only been around for a couple of months. “We wanted to give the restaurant that feeling of age, of a different period – a bygone era,” says architect Emil Humbert, who travelled the Parisian and Niçois flea markets sourcing furniture from the 1920s. “It seems like the space has been around forever,” he adds.

Bouchon is a refreshing addition to Monaco, a city with an outdated culinary scene, crowded with restaurants making an effort to keep naff decoration and extravagant dishes cool. Serving traditional French brasserie food, owner Riccardo Giraudi has managed to create a laid-back space that has brought Monte Carlo’s highbrow diners down to earth. “Bouchon is different within the area [it’s located on the upscale Princesse Grace Avenue, opposite the Grimaldi Forum].Its roughness contrasts nicely against the city’s bling,” says Giraudi. “We make simple food: the French classics with a refined twist.”

“It’s one of those places where people can while away a whole day,” adds Humbert. “Some clients come to read the papers in the morning, stay for lunch and linger until the evening when they meet their friends for an aperitif.”

Part of the reason for its cosiness is the familiar setting and decoration. “Everything was handmade by the best French and Italian artisans, from the tiled floors to the lamps’ metalwork,” continues Humbert. “What’s not new is reclaimed from all sorts of markets and weird places,” says the young architect who once had to follow a dodgy seller through a derelict garage in order to buy the vintage blue glass bottles that decorate Bouchon’s shelves. “I was scared in the beginning but when I saw what was hidden under a dirty blanket I was in awe – it was like finding Aladdin’s cave.”

And although the decoration gives the restaurant a homely and nostalgic feel, what is really alluring about the place is the uncomplicated food. Two of the restaurant’s staple dishes are steak tartare and the crêpes Suzette. The raw meat used for the tartare is trimmed Black Angus pure muscle, a sirloin cut from Kansas imported by Giraudi’s family who have been in the meat business for over 50 years. The fresh produce is minced rather than chopped, compacting the fork-and-spoon-mixed ingredients together so you get all the crunch of the onion, capers and parsley in one bite. But if the diner prefers to have his meat chopped, executive chef Thierry Paludetto (pictured opposite page) is also happy to serve it that way.

At Bouchon guests have the final word and that’s why the tartare is prepared at the table, letting the customer try the recipe along the way and decide whether it needs an extra dash of Tabasco or a bit more of a mustard kick. The dish is best enjoyed with red wine. At Bouchon it is sold under three categories: drinkable, agreeable and incredible, to suit the palate (and pockets) of diners.

On the other hand, the crêpes Suzette are usually served with café latte. Although the batter comes straight from the kitchen, the sauce is whipped up in front of the customers. A mix of orange juice, zest, sugar and butter is caramelised in a copper pan over a burner, also used to make the crêpes. The key to a perfect Suzette is to pour a thin layer of batter in a buttered pan and cook the crêpes for 1.5 minutes on each side, a canon every waiter at Bouchon in charge of preparing dessert à la table follows. “If our customers are well behaved we might even let them flambé the Grand Marnier,” says chef Paludetto with a smirk, just before setting the pan on fire and pouring the warm sauce over the translucent, neatly folded crêpes.

Recipe 1

Steak tartare

(Serves 1)

280g Black Angus fillet, minced
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp capers
½ tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tbsp ketchup
3 dashes of Tabasco
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tbsp chopped onions
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Side dishes
100g French fries
200g mixed green leaves
For the simple salad dressing use extra-virgin olive oil, Jerez vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

The method

Put the egg yolk, mustard, salt and pepper and rapeseed oil in a bowl. Whisk with a fork and add the other ingredients. Test the flavour, add the meat and coat thoroughly. Serve with fries and salad.

Recipe 2

Crêpes Suzette

(Makes 3-5)

Crêpe batter
250ml milk
100g flour
2 eggs
Grated zest from 1 medium orange
1 tbsp sugar and pinch of salt
50g unsalted butter (melted)

Sauce
200ml of orange juice and grated zest
1 tbsp sugar
50g unsalted butter (melted)
A dash of Grand Marnier

The method

  1. Mix flour, salt and sugar and whisk in eggs. Slowly incorporate the milk to the mix and add the zest. Set aside. To make the sauce, on a low heat mix the orange juice, zest, sugar and butter until it thickens. Turn off heat.

  2. Coat a non-stick pan with butter and add a dollop of the crêpe mix. Flip gently.

  3. Add sauce and Grand Marnier. Flambé.

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