Editors’ Pick: Lunch at the Iconic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc
You needn’t sleep at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc to enjoy one of its most alluring features: the ne plus ultra of lunch buffets, a gluttonous celebration of the region’s overlapping Italian and French culinary roots.
The apotheosis of French Riviera luxury, the Eden Roc opened in 1870, its modern jet-set status enshrined a century later in Slim Aarons’ iconic 1976 photos. A Cap d’Antibes landmark, the hotel exists in a deeply rarefied realm, but if the scene now is a bit more arriviste than grand tour—Russian oligarchs, alighting from their yachts, with families clad in cut-off jeans, Gucci sunglasses and Hermes sandals; “influencers” in sheer caftans, taking selfies—the food and service are sublime.
A recommendation: Arrive for lunch right when the restaurant opens, just past noon, to admire, and then to feast upon, the pristine buffet, its perfectly ripened produce suggesting a Cézanne still life. A partial list of the selection in late August: bountiful seafood towers of shrimp and Gillardeau oysters; succulent tomato wedges from the hotel’s vegetable garden, in four colors: yellow, green, deep red and orange; stuffed peppers Provençal; house made ravioli with pesto cooked to order; salmon, both marinated and smoked; bresaola; gazpacho; mozzarella balls; hunks of Parmesan; Caesar salad; pâté en croute; grilled chicken; quinoa salad; octopus salad; culatello; pissaldière (a Provençal version of pizza); caponata; tuna; anchovies; tzatziki; figs; and fennel.
The dizzying cornucopia extended to the bread table, showcasing nearly a dozen varieties (the hotel’s bakers make all but the gluten-free options). On our visit, the pointy ends of the epi flax seed baguette and the curved olive bread loaves were arranged horizontally and vertically, like sculptures. There were also: olive focaccia, breads with hazelnuts and grapes, rye bread, white bread, half baguettes with sesame and poppy seeds and fleur de sel, and chocolate-hazelnut Viennese bread. Every two weeks, the hotel’s bakers feature new varieties, adding in cheeses, spices, seeds, nuts or tomatoes.
Behind the mirrored doors, an epicurean army staffs the kitchen: head chef Olivier Gaïatto and pastry chef Lilian Bonnefoi direct 29 chefs and 14 pastry makers, including one chocolatier and a pair of bakers, all of them presumably working feverishly to create not just the buffet, but à la carte options like rack of lamb from the town of Aveyron and tagliolini with roasted lobster and zucchini.
In the dining room and on the terrace, all is serene and sybaritic. Friendly servers glide along, offering chilled Champagne from a trolley, their uniforms and demeanor still crisp in 90 plus-degree weather.
Arriving on a warm August afternoon, my husband, daughter and I sat on the shaded terrace, overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean, a mini calamondin citrus tree punctuating the starched white linen table cloth. Lunch was suitably languorous: a restorative vacation counterpoint to the fast-casual salads of working life.
We returned perhaps more times than was dignified to the buffet, sampling the salads, the soups, the cheeses and seafood. Certainly, the buffet could easily satiate even the most ravenous guest, but we couldn’t resist also ordering the restaurant’s signature sea bass. Prepared with a recipe from 1981, the fish is butterflied and roasted; served with generous pillows of fennel and tomato mousses and a basil, white wine and mustard sauce redolent of summer in southern France.
And then, there was dessert, presented on a trolley of impeccably lovely cakes and tarts: a “Marie-Gallante” cake of Peruvian Grand Cru chocolate and Madagascar vanilla; a baba au rhum; the “Tropézienne,” which manages to be both decadent, with its cream-filled brioche, and zingy, from the addition of orange flower water; a lemon meringue pie from nearby Menton; and a tart of local raspberries and Sicilian pistachio nuts.
Fortunately, a lighter option existed as well: a beautiful citron sorbet, speckled with tiny, elegant wild strawberries.
We ordered that too.