Dining in Monaco demands iron discipline. The principality contains some of the richest people in the world. Top-end restaurants are brilliant but also tailored to this league. Get carried away and you’ll be sending the children up chimneys when you get home.
Of course, special occasions can justify special efforts. On other occasions, be stern and head for the Condamine district back from the port – around Rue Princess Caroline – where reasonable bistros and pizzerias cluster. I favour Le Bambi on Rue Princesse Antoinette for a quick lunch or easy dinner.
Or try up on the Rock in Monaco-Ville old town. Restaurants there are routinely dismissed as “tourist traps” – but you are a tourist, they are mainly adequate and you’ll emerge with a bill that doesn’t look like a bank bail-out.
A handful of other points to help you on your way:
• It’s cheaper to eat well at midday than in the evening. Posh restaurants, stratospherically priced by night, often have more affordable menus at lunch-time.
• Monaco is not Spain. Eating hours are more recognisably normal to English speakers: 12-12.30 to 2pm for lunch, 7-7.30 to 9.30-10pm for dinner. Certain brasseries and hipper establishments may serve later in the evening.
• If you order water (“de l’eau, s’il vous plait”), they’ll likely bring a bottle and charge you for it. If, like me, you resent paying for water, ask for a carafe (“Une carafe / un pichet d’eau”). This will be tap water. Restaurants provide it free.
• Cooking times for steaks are treacherous in Monaco, as in France. What we consider well-done, they think of as burned. There is a reason for this. French beef cattle are generally slaughtered later than cattle in the UK. So, cook steaks too long and they toughen to the consistency of a bowler hat. Be on your guard, though. As a result of all this, cooking gradations are one step lower than we’d expect in English.
• So, if you like your steak well done, ask for it very well done. (“très bien cuit” – tray bee-enn kwee). The waiter will tut-tut – no-one in Monaco or France eats steaks thus – but, what the hell, it’s your meal, not his. If you like it medium, ask for “bien cuit”, medium rare – à point (ah-pwen), really rare – “bleu” (bleuh) and really, really rare – still moo’ing – “saignant” (say-nion).
• “Service compris” (service included) on a menu doesn’t get you out of leaving a tip. It simply means that the waiters are getting paid. In the old days, waiters received no salary. They were entirely dependent on tips. This was too hazardous for modern tastes. So legislation demanded that they be paid a wage. So restaurateurs stuck service compris on their menus to inform clients that they, the clients, were no longer responsible for the totality of the waiters’ earnings.
• And there the phrase remains, generating misunderstanding to this day. Thus, and as elsewhere in the world, you are encouraged to recognise good service with an additional gratuity. There is, though, no reason to strive for US excesses. If the service has been good, I leave 10-12%. Pretty reasonable attention rates whatever coinage I have about my person. If, by contrast, service has been off-hand or arrogant, I beat the waiting person about the head and take money from his or her pocket.