dining

Nice?… Noice, very noice!

Happy New Year and Bonne Annee everyone!

TC and I drove over to Nice for the new year celebrations, meeting friends from home (Australia) who flew in on the 31st. We were only in town for 2 nights, returning home on the 2nd and will be meeting up with them again on the weekend when they come to stay with us for a few nights.

In order to make the most of our stay, I wanted to book into some good restaurants so I spent an evening browsing through Tripadvisor to make some choices. Unfortunately, I had to spend about an hour on the phone to many restaurants before I could secure some bookings. The problem? Firstly new years eve is very popular for celebratory dinners, so everything seemed to be booked out. Thankfully I found one restaurant that took our booking, Le Grand Balcon. More on that in a minute. The second challenge was to find another recommended restaurant for the next night, new years day, as most of them were closed! Again, I eventually found one, the tiny Cote Marais in old Nice.

View from terrace

Our view from the terrace at Hotel Cresp

So on the 31st it was up early & out the door before sunrise in order to meet our friends’ lunchtime flight. True to the region, it was another beautiful sunny day, so after checking in to our respective hotels, we all headed to the terrace of our hotel (the Hotel Cresp) &  got the afternoon started with some chilled champagne while enjoying the views.  This is a small, family owned hotel on the 3rd floor of an apartment building in old Nice, right next to the Opera de Nice – an absolutely perfect location. We found this hotel to be good value. The decor might be overdue for refurbishing, but if you are ok with that, it is spotlessly clean and the owners are very friendly and helpful. The major drawcards, of course, being the location and the large outdoor terrace. Our room opened directly onto the terrace, but it is available for use by all hotel guests. This was our view

Le Grand Balcon

Le Grand Balcon

Once we had all retreated, rested & readied for the night, we met up again for a pre-dinner drink and it was then on to Le Grand Balcon for our celebratory dinner.

Our dinner was quite a lively affair as many restaurants in France put on a special event which includes supplying all of the guests with hats and streamers for the midnight countdown, then there is music and dancing until they all decide to leave. We had a 4 course dinner and stayed for a little dancing, but our friends were suffering from jetlag by midnight so soon headed back to their hotel. Now the food was all good, as was the service at this restaurant, but I did have one complaint.  When I phoned the restaurant to book, the reservation was made as if it was just any other night – she took down the number of people, the hour for the reservation and my contact number – done. The next day I got a phone call saying that because it was going to be such a busy night, I would need to provide a credit card to secure the reservation, or come in beforehand with a cash deposit. As we weren’t going to be in Nice until that afternoon, I gave my credit card number and that was it. However, what she didn’t tell me was that there was a special menu for the night at 94€ per person!! If I had known that was the price, I think we would have taken our chances on finding food somewhere else on the night. I should have probably thought ahead and asked, but I do think she should have made sure I knew. These things happen I guess.

Festive decorations outside the Opera, Nice

Festive decorations outside the Opera de Nice

By this stage, TC and I were still in a bit of a party mood so we went along the street to the Irish Pub for some more revelry. We met plenty of other lovely people and had a grand time until sometime in the early hours we finally hit the sack. Thankfully new years day means that everyone is expected to sleep in. It was a good day for sleeping in – grey and raining most of the day.  We met up with our friends again in the afternoon for coffee and crepes – love those nutella crepes – followed by a bit of a wander around then an afternoon rest before dinner.

Inside Cote Marais, Nice

Cosy atmosphere inside Cote Marais

Our next dinner involved using google maps on the phone in order to find our way through the narrow streets & laneways further into the old town to find the restaurant. Once there, we found a lovely, cosy, warm atmosphere and delightful waiters. This meal was quite different from the last – much more relaxed and being in a tiny restaurant, it was much more personal. I thought the Cote Marais was a delightful, authentic restaurant and quite good value as they had a 3-course menu for 31€ per person. Our head waiter put great thought into recommending a wine that would go with 3 of our different main courses and we were quite pleased with his recommendation. We were celebrating a birthday this night too, so I thought this was a perfect restaurant for our purposes – four friends lingering over good food and wine for a relaxed but special evening. If you are looking for an authentic experience in Nice, I would definitely recommend Cote Marais – take cash though, they don’t have card facilities!

Main lobby in the Hotel Negresco, Nice

Main lobby in the Hotel Negresco

In the streets of old Nice

A sample of wine on the walking tour, old Nice

One of the churches in the old town

Church in the old town

Wednesday morning we were up early again in order to have a light breakfast – fresh breads with assorted fruit confiture, creamed honey and tea from Le Pain Quotidien (right in front of the Cours Seleya)  for 6€ each, perfect – and then meet our guide for a walking food tour of Nice, which started at the famous Hotel Negresco.   This was really good fun, the only drawback being that because it was 2nd January, some of the normal venues on the itinerary for this tour were closed, so the tour was shorter than usual. Our wonderful guide, Gustav, improvised and included some extras instead and also gave us a reduced price to suit – I just wish we had been able to do the complete tour as I would have liked it to go on longer. Anyway, what we did was good, very tasty and more importantly to me, Gustav is a veritable font of information about Nice, telling us lots of interesting little facts and answering all of our questions. For example, I never knew that there is a river running right through the centre of Nice – its actually underneath the Place Messina, having been covered over in 1921 order to create more space in the city.    

View over old Nice from Castle Hill

View over old Nice from Castle Hill

View over the port, from Castle Hill, Nice

View over the port, from Castle Hill, Nice

We also got to try some authentic Nicoise food, such as pissaladière (yumm), socca (comme çi comme ça) and tourte de blette (Swiss chard tart – very yummy). I think I might have to try making that tourte, you might not think it from the name, but it was a delicious sweet dessert tart containing swiss chard and pine nuts. We finished our tour up on Castle Hill, which is the big hill separating old Nice from the newer Port, and has spectacular views.

Cailletier Olives marinated with garlic & basil

Cailletier Olives marinated with garlic & basil

We left Nice that afternoon with more fond memories, and a lovely stash of Cailletier olives and sun-dried tomatoes from the market – one bag of garlic basil olives and another of  the chilli variety (with a very nice kick). I think we might be making more trips to this lovely city.

PS sorry for the title of this post – its an Aussie joke!

Delicious? Delicatessen!!

Is this French love affair of mine ever going to end?

The short answer is: I don’t think so!

Delicatessen - looking in

Delicatessen – looking in

Tonight TC and I decided to dine in Delicatessen, an extremely unobtrusive little restaurant in Marseillan – one of my favourite villages of all time in France. Why? The village has everything one’s heart could desire. It is situated on a lake, which means fresh coquillage every day, yes every SINGLE day, of the year. Oysters, mussels and all the rest, from the lake direct from the fishing families to your shopping bag daily, say no more.

But there is a lot more to say. Next to the lake – or “a cote d’etang” there are vineyards. Quality vineyards and lots of them. Chateau Bauvignac is a personal favourite but there are more, so many more.

So lets summarise so far… we have a quaint old village that dates to pre-roman times with its own port, fresh daily seafood from the lake, close to the beach (Mediterranean) with the climate you would expect, lots of vineyards close by. Hmm.. have I missed anything essential? Well yes… the restaurants! This town is like a little oasis of good restaurants. To the point where I almost don’t want to tell you about them because I want to keep it all to myself!

Les Toilettes

Le décore dans les toilettes

But, I can’t resist, it has to come out, so here it is. There is a good diversity of restaurants here, and Delicatessen is probably the most modern of them all. There is a delicious blend of current and past, current being the menu, fresh dishes made with pride from local produce, and past being the vintage decor and quirky items used throughout. Hey, I couldn’t even resist taking a picture in the toilets!

Tonight we wandered in just after 8pm to find we were one of the first tables in to dine. Just a small word of warning for those not used to the French way – 8pm is considered early. We might have thought the restaurant was not going to open as it appeared to be empty, but no, we were the first in to dine and by the time we left there were several other tables occupied – this is just the way it is. First time travellers be warned – don’t expect to eat early in Europe!

TC decided on the dish that is the specialite of the house, the “deliburger” while I went for “gambas sauteed avec Noilly Prat”. Translation: prawns sauteed with Noilly Prat, which is the vermouth made locally and made famous by James Bond (go on, google it, you won’t be sorry!).

He was tres impressed with his burger – it comes served (cooked to order) complete with greens, tomato, camembert, egg and cornichons all between slices of freshly toasted baguette, with a small glass of aoili and a side order of duck-fat fried chips. OK frites. He declared it to be top notch.

My gambas were sweet, juicy and tasty, grilled with garlic and herbs and served with a mashed-potato-to-die-for. When the chef came by and asked how we liked everything, I just had to ask how he cooked those potatoes… apparently with garlic oil and aioli  – carefully mixing to taste – and I have to say they tasted very VERY good. Another thing I’ll be trying in my kitchen.

DSC_1263

Delicatessen – de la table

The wine list allows for all tastes and budgets. Enough choice, not too confusing, just right. We managed to choose a very nice red from a region that is very reliable – Faugeres. Delicious.  

decor

Decor du velo et du vin

This is the kind of restaurant you can go to with a group of friends, as a couple,  or just on your own, and you will always be assured of finding an understated chic atmosphere that you won’t want to leave. It isn’t dolled-up formal, it is a more casual setting, but the food is quality.

Was it purely the decor, was it the music – at times laid back soul, at other times slightly hard rock – or was it just the simple understanding that this waiter, this chef, want you to enjoy what they do best? Whatever the reason, there is much to  enjoy. This was my third visit, it will not be my last!

Enjoy!

reluctantly leaving

Delicatessen, un très bon repas

Delicatessen,  4 Place Gén Guillaut  34340 Marseillan, France

Paris restaurants – La Jacobine

For our last night of the girls’ weekend in Paris, we went to La Jacobine in the 6th for dinner.

Now, I had been wanting to eat here since July, when I happened to stumble upon this restaurant, read the menu in the window and started drooling! Back in July, it was my last evening in Paris and I had already eaten so I had been looking forward to getting back here ever since.

This time I was ready.  La Jacobine

It was a cold drizzly evening, we had just been on a cruise along the Seine, so the warm cosy atmosphere was just what we were looking for. We were shown to what appeared to be the last available table and settled in to browse the menu. Since my friend Katrina was in France for the first time, she was determined to try the escargot as an entrée. Encouraged by her bravery, I decided to also try a traditional French dish I have seen in so many places but haven’t been game to order: salade de gésiers. Escargots and Salade de Gesiers

I was told by some lovely Parisians “don’t think about where it comes from, just enjoy it”. So with a deep breath, I jumped in!

Now that I have tried it, I feel able to actually research what it is! It seems that the gésiers, or gizzard, is a pocket of muscle which forms part of the oesophagus in birds, and contains pebbles the bird has swallowed in order to break down harder food before it reaches the stomach. It can be very muscular in birds that eat hard grains and therefore needs to be cooked slowly for a long time in order to be tender.

Well, ok that information is not so bad – I was actually fearing something from the other end of the bird’s digestive system, ha!

So how did it taste? Not bad at all actually. This information explains the flavour, which for me was very much like duck meat but stronger and richer, perhaps slightly fattier. Obviously the gésiers are cleaned before cooking as there was no trace of grit or pebbles in my salad. It certainly did not taste anything like the offal flavours I was fearing.  I’m not sure if it is something I will eat very often, but I am glad I took the plunge.

As for Katrina’s escargot – she pronounced them to taste just like butter, garlic and herbs – no surprises there. She decided that with all the difficulty getting them out of their shells, she probably won’t bother again, but at least she has tried them once.

On to the main courses. Being a cold, wet evening  out, I had trouble deciding between the duck tajine with dates and almonds or the lamb shanks with prunes and figs. Katrina went for the lamb while I chose the duck and we shared a nice bottle of pinot noir to accompany the meals. When the food arrived we were surprised to see that they looked like they were cooked in the same sauce – they were almost the same colour. But no, looks are deceiving as we tasted each other’s dishes and they were indeed quite different. Katrina said the lamb was delicious but found the sauce sweet, but thought that the sauce with my duck was sweeter. I am quite fond of sweet flavours combined with meats and I thought they were both absolutely delicious.

I am glad I got there in the end and I would definitely like to return another day if I have the opportunity. The food lived up to the flavours I had imagined, the service was friendly and the atmosphere perfectly cosy for a winter dinner. This one is definitely on my list of recommendations.

La Jacobine, 59-61 Rue Saint-André des Arts, 75006 Paris

It’s a little tricky to find as it is located in a laneway that runs between Rue Saint-André des Arts and Boulevard Saint-Germain, one that is very easy to miss.  The laneway is called Cours du Commerce Saint-André and, thanks to Google streetview, this archway is what you are looking for:  Cours du Commerce Saint Andre 

Lights, camera and… Paris dining with a difference!

Well it was a bit of a whirlwind weekend filled with the usual sightseeing, exploring the beauty of Paris, but also with a twist – an exciting dinner with a difference on the Saturday night. But more on that later… I’ll start at the beginning, with all the more “normal” things we did.

Friday morning, early train from Beziers, arriving to a wet Paris. Wet Friday afternoon in the 2nd

First outing was to explore the Montorgeuil area in the 2nd and stock up on goodies for later on, then head to the Eiffel Tower for a horse and carriage ride around the evening streets, yes including champagne!  The Christmas lights are stunning, from the warm golden balls scattered through the trees of the Boulevard Saint-Germain to the glistening whiteness of the Christmas village along the entire Avenue des Champs Élysées, it was all beautiful. Wintry cold, but beautiful. Back to the apartment to thaw out and catch up over wine and the goodies bought earlier.

Saturday morning up & out early to the Eiffel Tower again, ready for our “behind the scenes” tour up the tower. Disappointment!! The tour operator changed our time without telling us – to that evening which we couldn’t make – so we were left with no option but to claim a refund when we got home. On with the day, walking and exploring a sizeable area of Paris and taking in a light lunch. Laneway in St Germain Des Pres  Street entertainment St Germain des Pres  Nutella crepes  Place des Voges   DSC_1198I love the Parisian sense of humour…  Red nosed statues

With very sore feet, but even more in love with the most famous City of Lights, it was back to the apartment to prepare ourselves for the big dinner ahead.

So what WAS the big surprise?

Well, we had the fantastic opportunity to be welcomed into the home of a wonderful Parisienne lady for an evening involving meeting new people, making new friends, discussing our cultures and that of France in particular, seeing how Parisians live in their apartments, enjoying French wines –  and all of this over delicious home-cooked French fare. Who would pass up that opportunity? Not me that’s for sure!!

Now I had never thought of this sort of an evening before, especially since I don’t actually know anyone who lives in Paris so that meant I might never have this opportunity… until I was fortunate enough to come across this website:

logo

After a quick browse, I decided this would be a perfect surprise for my friend so I went ahead and booked it. As I was booking quite a few weeks in advance, I entered my details and registered my interest. A week or so later I was contacted by Renaud, the owner of the site, to organise our dinner and we were on our way. A host was chosen, details were passed back and forth and it was all set.

Imagine my surprise though, when Renaud contacted me again a few days later  to ask if we would be willing to have a couple of journalists accompany us to our dinner and film the evening for a story to be aired on national French TV. Wow, this was now shaping up to be an even more interesting night!

The journalists contacted me and we arranged for them to meet us in our apartment where they did some general filming of us flicking through brochures, choosing our outfits and getting ready for the big night out. They then followed us down the street and into the taxi. With cameras following our every move, one cafe owner called out to us that we must be “divas”. How hilarious!!  Well our journalists were wonderfully friendly and put us all at ease as we arrived at the apartment of our host and began with a welcome glass of champagne and some nibbles.

All we knew about our host, Sacha, was that she was an artist.  She turned out to be a lovely and very talented lady who welcomed us warmly and showed us around her beautiful, original, Haussmann apartment.  For those who don’t know about Haussmann, he was the civic planner who modernised Paris between 1853 and 1870, giving the city the classic look it still has today. Sacha’s apartment was in one of these buildings and still contains the original walls complete with detailed ceiling work, parquetry floors, fireplaces and mirrors in the reception rooms. It was amazing.

Sacha then blew us away with her incredible talents as a concert pianist! Sacha playing piano  Personalised dinner setting by Sacha

More surprises were in store when we found out that Sacha designs and paints unique bespoke dinner services for weddings and she had designed a beautiful setting especially for our night. (If you are interested, her work can be found in the famous Galeries Lafayette in Paris). By this stage we were feeling that the whole evening was a little surreal – certainly not your average Saturday night dinner in Paris!!

Her talents certainly didn’t end there though, her food was also delicious.  Sitting down to dinner along with Sacha’s lovely friend Yael, we were presented with an entree of foie gras cooked with orange segments and artichoke hearts – my friend’s first ever taste of foie gras and duly pronounced to be amazing – along with a leafy salad. Main course was equally delicious,  fish cooked in a light coconut cream sauce and served with fragrant rice. The next course was fromage,  a selection of 4 beautiful French cheeses and lastly we finished with a decadently rich chocolate gateau. And of course the meal was accompanied throughout with delicious French wines.

The evening was very interesting and every time the talk turned to the differences, surprises and delights we had discovered with the French culture, on would come the lights and camera, and we’d find ourselves being filmed again! Thankfully the wine worked its magic and we were much less intimidated or nervous by the end of dinner.

After dinner, our journalists finished their interview and left us with our hosts – of course this meant some time to let our hair down and finish the evening with some girl-talk and a good laugh.

We left in the early hours with two new friends and an incredibly interesting night out in Paris to remember.

I would definitely recommend Voulez-vous Diner.com to anyone visiting Paris and looking for something a little out of the ordinary to remember.  DSC_1212

Our weekend continued on Sunday – after a decently late sleep of course – when we headed up to Montmartre for a fresh pasta lunch and to climb to the top of dome of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Be prepared for a steep, never-ending spiral stone staircase if you do this climb, but the view is worth it

The afternoon had us cruising on the Seine admiring the beautiful monuments from the water, albeit through slightly foggy and rain splashed windows and while tolerating a very loud and annoying tourist group on the boat with us, then it was out of the rain into a gorgeous little restaurant in the left bank for some traditional French food, but that will be the subject of my next post.

If you’d like to see a glimpse of our dinner on French TV, it is to be incorporated in a story on “66 Minutes” about visitors to France and their impressions of French culture. It is due to be screened on channel M6, Sunday night 23rd December. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Enjoy!

Anniversary dining with le chat du port

Marseillan Port2

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary so after I arrived home from my weekend in Paris, we had time to relax with a chilled glass of champagne, have a nice catch-up with our weekend news over some brie and baguette, and then head out for dinner to celebrate.

We had originally planned to go to a restaurant we’ve tried once and I’ve been waiting for an excuse to return to ever since, it was that good. Unfortunately they were closed being a winter Monday night, so instead we went down to the little port in Marseillan (pictured above) and dined in the Brasserie du Soleil.

It wasn’t our first visit, we have been to this restaurant a couple of times before, both on our own and with family and friends that were visiting and we haven’t been disappointed yet. It is a reliable restaurant offering decent food at good prices. We got a warm welcome and a lovely meal, drank more champagne and when we told them it was our anniversary, the staff gave us another glass each to help celebrate.

TC started with moules and oysters gratineed while I went for the foie gras with a fig conserve, salad and very tasty little bread triangles. Mmm, delicious.

SAMSUNG

We then both followed with a crispy skinned cabillaud with a fresh, lemony sauce served on a bed of rough mashed potatoes.  TC even managed to finish off with dessert, a large profiterole, icecream and cream concoction topped with warm chocolate sauce. It looked delicious, but there was no way I could squeeze one in. Maybe next time.

At least while TC was polishing off the profiterole, I got to play with the local port cat who is fond of visiting patrons in the restaurants. He helps me get my pussy cat “fix” while I am 17,000km away from my own little kitty cat. It looks like he’s already won the hearts of the staff around here too –  for a homeless moggie he looks very well cared for!

SAMSUNG

Overall this is a nice little restaurant so definitely worth a try if you are in the area. And if you do, keep en eye out for our little ginger friend!

Brasserie du Soleil, 34 Quai Antonin Gros  34340 Marseillan, France

Bonjour Paris!

I was in Paris in July and this where I stayed – along with what we ate for summer evening nibbles on the balcony. Mmmmm… only topped by our picnic on the Seine, oh and a few good restaurants.

Well I’m off to Paris again in the morning for a fun girls’ weekend – we have an exciting dinner booked on Saturday night which will be something QUITE different. Ooh I’m getting excited just thinking about it and I’ll be posting all about it next week!!

But first will be my wedding anniversary dinner with TC when I return on Monday night, in a wonderful local Languedoc restaurant – stay tuned for that post, closely followed by my weekend news!

Bon weekend everyone 🙂

A Sete for all seasons

One of the joys of the south of France is the access to the Mediterranean and somewhere very special is the region between Sète and Marseillan Plage. Here there is a very narrow strip of land that runs between the lake (Etang de Thau) and the sea. This fragile strip was in danger of destruction from erosion, so for the past 6 years or so, a major restoration project has been underway.

Completed and opened in June this year… dah DAHHH!! We now have the absolutely fabulous “Lido de Sète à Marseillan” which has restored beaches, a new road and a fabulous new 12km pathway for pedestrians and cyclists. The area is already popular with campers and on any fine day you will see all sorts of people out enjoying the area, whether on foot, two wheels (bikes), 4 wheels (wheelchairs) or 8 wheels(rollerbladers), enjoying lunch or café, or playing in the water.

In summer the beach was dotted with a number of gorgeous pop-up restaurants right on the sand. I say pop-up because, come the first week of October, the trucks and cranes came in, and the restaurants all disappeared! I’m sure they’ll be back for next summer and I for one will be trying out as many as I can. Mmmmm, just imagine lounging back on comfy chairs or loungers, enjoying the sun, fresh seafood and lovely local chilled vin rosé. I’ll be there!

And in the meantime I know we’ll be out enjoying this wonderful facility as long as we can brave the cold (and sometimes rain). Today’s weather wasn’t so bad…on a fine day you will be dazzled by the amount of blue just everywhere. Just beautiful.
 

CLICK here to find the restaurants of the Sete beaches:   You can also see the film about the restoration here: Thau Agglo – Lido de Sète à Marseillan : découvrez le film !…. and some lovely aerial shots taken from the film