Abandon preconceptions that restaurants on the rock of Monaco are nothing but expensive tourist traps. True, there are plenty of cafés serving overpriced crêpes and Croque Monsieurs, but Le Pinocchio on rue Comte Félix Gastaldi doesn’t play to that crowd.
Born in Romania, Liviu Iove has been the owner of the restaurant for two and a half years. He says he was inspired to join the hospitality industry by his father, who ran the royal palaces of Bucharest during his son’s childhood. Prior to moving to the principality – “long a dream of my wife and myself…” – Liviu studied at the HTMi Hotel & Tourism Management Institute in Switzerland then spent 10 years in Paris, where he managed a number of restaurants belonging to the Rothschild family.
“I knew I was buying a Monegasque institution when I purchased Le Pinocchio,” he says, “and that I would be catering to a certain prestigious clientele.”
During the week-day lunches, Liviu’s guests could include government personnel, civil servants from the nearby mairie, teachers from the Albert 1er de Monaco and François d’Assise Nicolas Barré schools, and tourists of any number of nationalities (Liviu himself is impressively multi-lingual). By night and at the weekends, his team welcomes celebrity faces and VIPs from the world over.
“The Société des Bains de Mer sends many of its best contacts my way,” he says with a smile. “Prince Albert has been coming here for years and it’s always a pleasure to serve him and the great families of Monaco.”
Liviu’s family roots are in Italy, a heritage reflected in his passion for its authentic cuisine and respect for its chefs; his entire kitchen team is Italian. Once a month, Sardinian head chef Gabriele Piga comes to the restaurant to train its staff in the workings of the menu, which changes regularly.
Everything is fait maison and fresh. When we visit in May, the antipasti include roast octopus with beetroot bavarois, pepper and olive oil (€19) and burrata di bufala with capers, olives and sundried tomatoes (€18). The restaurant is particularly well-known for its handmade pasta: lasagna aperta or open lasagne with seabream, topinambour, asparagus and salmon caviar (€21) and tagliolini with garlic, chilli and Gambero rosso di mazara (€19). The crowning glory of the menu – and a creation of Liviu’s – is the Fata Turchina risotto or tagliatelle (€29). This is what I choose, but the performance that follows is certainly not what I expected.
A wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano DOP aged for 24 months is brought out to our table on the Piaceta François Bosio. Liviu pours a generous portion of Cointreau 1849 into an inch-deep hollow of the cheese and lights it. He gently scoops at the softened parmesan before flambéing fresh pasta with mascarpone, pear and pistachio. There are no tall tales or growing noses here: it’s exquisite and quite simply one of the finest pasta dishes I have ever eaten.
“That balance between sucré and salé is just… Perfect!” says the boss, who clearly likes to get involved in the preparation and presentation of his restaurant’s dishes. To accompany our meal in the intimacy of the little square, with its flower-covered well and fresco walls, Liviu serves Pratello, an organic Pinot Grigio from Lombardy. In this peaceful enclave, it’s hard to believe that we’re just metres away from the tourist-dominated Place du Palais.
“From our food to our wine, and our style of service to our quirky tableware,” he says, gesturing to the 90° folded plates on which the desserts arrive, “I genuinely enjoy giving our guests new experiences. I know that parking, for example, can be complicated on the rock so we offer a navette, which guests can reserve two to three hours in advance from anywhere in the principality.”
Our lunch is concluded with two delicate sweets – a cheese mousse with lemon jelly, strawberry salad, honey and basil (€14) and zabaione with red fruits and tomato jam (€12) – and a small glass of Liviu’s preferred dessert wine, Antinori Muffato della Sala.
The restaurant is open all year round and seven days a week, which is unusual on Le Rocher. The pretty outdoor terrace will be open all summer long and until the end of October – perhaps even longer depending on the weather.