Castelroc and A Culinary Heritage
“To do a Burberry: meaning to successfully revive a famous but moribund heritage name.”
I’m killing time before lunch at Le Castelroc restaurant on The Rock with the latest copy of Vogue magazine as Alexandra Schulman’s prescient words jump out at me. I have grabbed an outdoor table beside a pretty stone folly to best admire the picture-perfect views: I gaze on one side past cannon-ball pyramids towards the royal palace and on the other side down the rocky escarpment towards the sea. No other restaurant in Monaco can rival this location.
Run by the Bonafède family since 1953, Le Castelroc restaurant is synonymous with Monaco heritage. Francis Bonafède is the Godfather of Monegasque cuisine. He ran by the Monegasque motto “cun de pan e de vin se po invita u vizin (With bread and wine, you can invite your neighbor to dine).” His legendary Stockfish stew recipe has helped to keep four generations of Bonafède restaurateurs in business.
In 2007, I celebrated my daughter’s christening here with a glamorous crowd of friends reveling in champagne, barbajuans (Swiss-chard fritters) and a towering profiterole christening cake. A photo of me against the backdrop of the palace with Baby Dior christening-present bags slung over each shoulder caused endless jokes amongst old Cambridge University friends that I had found my inner jetsetter at last.
A decade later, I’m taken aback by the state of the place. The first thing that strikes me is that the front entrance of the restaurant has been engulfed by the neighbouring gift shop selling tourist knick-knacks so that you have to enter via a side entrance. The next thing I see is the transformation of the smart bar area into a bar-cum-depot for unloved furniture with one table as a makeshift desk scattered with paperwork. Finally I notice the worn beige undercloths and scarce clientele. I reflect that this Monegasque icon is looking a little moribund itself.
Once my partner has arrived, we study the tidy two-page menu that celebrates Monegasque and Mediterranean dishes. A brusque waiter takes our order and then bats away my proffered camera saying he’s far too busy to take a photo. Afterwards a kind-hearted tourist who has witnessed the scene from a neighboring table offers to take our photo instead.
My tomato-and-burrata starter arrives in an impressive technicolor of orange, red and yellow tomatoes. However, the burrata is rather hard (for a cheese that should be a melting combination of mozzarella and cream) and I’m not sure why the dish has been sprinkled with Parmesan. Luckily my clam pasta main course so hits the spot that I am tempted to polish the plate with my bread in enjoyment.
As our waiter clears the pasta dishes, he remarks that he is ready to take our photo now that we have “les yeux rouges”, (red eyes) after our lunch in the sun. My partner looks a little red-eyed with crossness as he asks for the bill. Yet as we finish off our glasses in the spring sunshine looking down over the leafy rooftops of Fontvieille, I reflect that there are few places to parallel a lazy lunch here even on an off day like this.
Le Castelroc is a slice of our national identity. It is as important to Monegasque cuisine as the beloved Chez Roger stall in La Condamine market which was revived successfully last month following a sustained public campaign: SOS Socca. With more and more competition within the principality from deep-pocketed international brands and celebrity chefs, we must seek inventive ways to sustain hard-working Monegasque dining dynasties. How about a Monegasque Culinary Heritage Foundation?
Le Castelroc, 1 place du Palais, MC 98000 Monaco; tel: (+377) 93-30-36-68; www.castelrocmonaco.com.