Match Point for Eqvita
“Eat your vegetables.”
This mantra is on the lips of everyone from our parents to our governments, while even geniuses such as Einstein and Tolstoy were known to wax lyrical about the benefits of greens. For the past couple of million years, we have foraged all manner of edible plant parts from beetroots, asparagus stems and spinach leaves to globe artichoke bracts, broccoli flower buds and courgette petals. In the absence of any botanical meaning, we have branded these plant parts as vegetables and endowed them with superhuman health benefits overflowing with vitamins, minerals and fibre.
If vegetables are the elixir of health, then by extension a vegan restaurant must be health nirvana. So I’m excited to be trying out Eqvita, the principality’s new vegan restaurant set up by tennis star Novak Djokovic and his wife Jelena. As I wait for my vegan friend Hanna to join me on the shaded terrace, my brain melts in the mid-summer heat. The recipe for the perfect vegan restaurant springs to my mind.
Take the world’s no 1 tennis player whose rippling muscles are an unbeatable advert for his plant-based diet. Mix with a beautiful and talented wife who could charm the most ardent meat-eater into polishing off his legumes. Beat the two together with a luscious-sounding green menu that even lists the nutritional benefits of each dish. Add in a pinch of rustic charm with whitewashed walls and wooden tables. Season this hotly-anticipated vegan dining concept with the glamour of a star-studded launch party. Then bake to perfection in the Monaco sunshine. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the first issue is the location: the outdoor terrace with no view is positioned just off a noisy roundabout. However, once inside, we find a tasteful and peaceful interior. The next conundrum is the multilingual menu: it’s so long that it takes over 10 minutes to work out and decide what to have – a time length that feels more like prepping for an exam than relaxing into a meal. Things look up as our health drinks arrive with a smiling waitress, followed by a tasty and imaginative watermelon gazpacho that’s chock-a-block with vitamins A and C. Then things go awry again with my main course. The kale in my kale salad has been replaced by bland-tasting spinach leaves, so it shouldn’t really be described as a kale salad anymore. The meal is finished off with a macchiato (remember to order an expresso if you’re not an almond milk fan) and a bill of over 40 euros each for two courses including health drinks and coffee but no wine.
The principality needs a good vegan restaurant not only for vegans, but also for meat-eaters like me balancing out our diets with some vegetable-only meals. While I have enjoyed my meal at Eqvita, I feel that this restaurant could benefit from some adjustments. For inspiration on ways to improve, I visit Vegan Gorilla. This vegan restaurant in central Nice hits an effortless perfect pitch. Their stylish natural wood interiors and smiling service echo Eqvita, but their menu couldn’t be more different: a single page of mouth-watering dishes that change weekly. Our bill for two courses plus coffee and health juice comes to under 30 euros per person – a lower price than Eqvita even after taking into account the massively lower Nice commercial rents.
If Eqvita shortens its menu by concentrating on its most popular dishes (separate menus for each language would also reduce the overall menu thickness) and introduces a low-priced set lunch menu to maximize local lunchtime loyalty, the Djokovics could be well on their way to serving a much-needed vegan ace.
Eqvita, 7 rue du Portier, 98000 Monaco (tel: +377-97-77-07-49, www.eqvitarestaurant.com). Open daily from 8am to 11pm.
Vegan Gorilla, 7 rue du Lycée, 06000 Nice (tel: +33-4-93-81-32-98). Open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday noon to 2.30pm and 7pm to 10.30pm.