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A family affair: Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit

It isn’t often that you come across a whole family working beneath one roof anymore, let alone in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Yet Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit in Antibes has just that: the doting father, a welcoming wife and two talented sons, including one who put his travelling days behind him to return to the paternal kitchen. 

Christian Morisset knew he wanted to be a chef from the tender age of five. It’s been a life-long passion that he’s now transferred to his two adult sons, Jordan and Matthias, who work alongside him in the restaurant’s kitchen.

Tout seul, on n’y arrive pas,” says the chef. “Alone we achieve nothing.”

In the circle of life that is Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit, his boys have in turn inspired their father: to create two of his most celebrated dishes and to open his own restaurant after many years as the executive chef of Hôtel Juana in Juan-les-Pins, which had previously been run by Alain Ducasse. Christian, who is easily recognisable by his famous moustache, bought La Jarre in 2007, changed its name to honour the site’s 50-year-old fig tree, and won a Michelin star for Le Figuier de Saint-Esprit in 2010.

The birth of his eldest son Jordan – who has recently come back to the family restaurant after several years working as a chef in New York, Singapore, Corsica, Switzerland and Mel-bourne – in 1988 led him to imagine the first of Les Incontournables.

For €75, guests are treated to the visual delight of a saddle of lamb baked in clay from Vallauris and served with truffle gnocchi, seasonal vegetables and a thyme flower jus. Over 29,000 have been served in the past three decades and each is presented with a plaque for the diner to take away. When Matthias was born in 1991, Christian was compelled to create a new signature plat. This time it would feature squid ink cannelloni with supions and small clams (€55). 

“There are people who come to Le Figuier and don’t even want to see the menu,” says the res-taurant’s young and multi-lingual sommelier Nicolas Vieilleville. “They’ll have known Christian for years and have already decided they want the lamb or the pasta!”

Just as we order, an American guest at the table next to us receives the lamb saddle. It’s the 29,878th. “Perhaps we’ll break 30,000 this year,” laughs the wine connoisseur.

Much of Le Figuier’s ingredients come from the open-air Marché Forville in Cannes, which Christian visits every morning. He knows his suppliers well and likes to taste the produce before it reaches his kitchen. He also only buys freshly caught fish, never farmed. Quality is everything to this chef and he proudly tells Riviera Insider that his bread comes from a fourth generation baker in Antibes, Jean Paul Véziano, who produced the bread that was served at Prince Albert II’s wedding in 2011.

Every budget will feel at ease here: the two-course lunch menu costs €42; the Le Figuier menu is €89 (during the off-peak season, one guest dines for free); and the seven-course tasting menu is available from €138 (an accompanying wine experience is offered for an additional €60). If wine is something that piques your interest, the 35-page carte à vin should be enough reading for one evening. For further entertainment, guests can watch Christian and his lively team preparing every dish from the comfort of their seat via a live streaming screen: “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he jokes.

The roof above the courtyard can be closed entirely in winter months, when a cold wind comes in from the nearby sea, but whether for privacy or romance in the sunshine or under a cloudy sky, the dappled shade of the fig tree creates a truly magical atmosphere. “People go out to a restaurant for an escape,” says Christian. “I hope we provide that here.”

www.restaurant-figuier-saint-esprit.com

 

*Originally published in the July-August 2018 edition of Riviera Insider (#179)