Food, wine, travel, music
With plenty of bistros serving good value – and fairly run of the mill – traditional Niçoise dishes, Nice has plenty of culinary offerings. Salads are a good bet for lunch, and hot vegetable dishes are generally paced with flavour. The Italian influence is felt through an abundance of pizza places, some of them offering poor value and mediocre wine. So, it’s a bit of a lottery, and worth seeing what’s on plates as you pass by.
My quest on a recent trip to Nice was to find both the most cutting edge restaurants and the inexpensive, simple bistros. Flavour was the guiding factor for food while good, not necessarily long, wine lists were preferred. My top eight are found below, from least to most expensive. All need to be booked ahead, even 12-24 hours in advance to be sure. Wine prices are per glass.
After the restaurants I profile a couple of things to do in Nice and where we stayed.
Old Town refers to Vieux Ville/Vieille Ville.
Agua – Bistrot de la mer
41 Boulevard Stalingrad, Port area
Tel 04 97 19 08 15
Open Tues to Saturday. Closed for fishing festivals and any time fisherman can’t go to sea.
Brothers Alexis (chef) and Serge Frasca (front of house) from over the border in Italy cook and serve the freshest of fish, caught the same morning. Full of life, they love to chat and extoll the virtues of fresh fish and sulphur-free wine. The décor is basic and easy, with some tables outside on the street (not a pretty one), so inside the action with view of the kitchen is more fun.
The lunch menu du jour was €16 for main course and dessert. Wines by the glass available are local and well chosen, but not top drawer. Ours was topped up at no extra charge. A relaxed experience with spanking fresh fish, fun and no rush. This is the place to be adventurous and try local fish at its best.
Le Bistro du Fromager
29 Benoit Bunico, Old Town
Tel 04 93 13 07 83
Open evenings only. Closed Sunday
A converted cellar with tables at different levels, candlelit and rustic, results in a cosy, relaxed space. The bread is baked in house and was the best bread of the week. The wines are mainly biodynamic and so sulphur free, and like the local food ingredients, chosen with an eye to the fresh and natural. A starter of lightly caramelised foie gras (€12,pictured right) with a mixed green salad spiked with roquet and topped with shavings of aged parmesan was perfectly dressed, and the fried fresh sardines a lighter, good option. A sweet chenin from Coteaux de Layon 2009 (€6) was a perfect match for the foie gras, with a dry version from the same area (€4) just right with the fish. They were chosen by Hugo Loubert, who with his brother Gregoire, the chef, took over the restaurant three years ago.
Main courses were difficult to choose with lots of pasta, risotto and a few fondues. Pork cheeks with cheesy mashed potatoes (€18) was superb and a fondue of St Feliciano cheese (€17, pictured right) was quite light and creamy in texture and taste, and not stringy. Cooked vegetables were served for dipping. These were not heavy enough main courses (as expected with cheese) to divert away from a ganache noisette filled éclair (€7) caramelized on the outside before being iced with butterscotch sauce. Sublime. The lemon tart (€6) was perfectly tart with a crunchy pastry base. A warming experience and interesting to learn how cheese can be used in main courses.
La Mise au Verre
17 rue Pastorelli Old Town
Tel: 04 93 85 69 90
Open every day but closed for lunch Sat and Sun.
A wine bar with great food is worth a trip, even just for a plate of their charcuterie.
A plate of ham (€7.50) was delicious, and, as stated on the menu, finely sliced on a Berkel in front of us while starting our tasting of some interesting wines. A blend of grenache and cinsault (€4.50) from Jean Baptiste Senat called Arbalète & Coquelicots (bow and arrow and poppies) referring to a Guns ‘n Roses song and the life these rockin’ winemakers left in Paris to renovate the family vineyards in the Minervois. Grapes are typical of the area, in this case Grenache and Cinsault. It was superb with guinea fowl (€15.50) served with olives and sliced baby marrows. The neck of pork (échine de cochon) was a full-flavoured chop served with couscous. A glass of red from the Touraine area from Thierry Puzelat was another biodynamic wine. The grape type, Pineau d’Aunis, also known as Chenin Noir, is grown mainly in Touraine and Anjou in the Loire to add to wine blends. This one, earthy and complex was perfect with the wild boar style of the pork chop. Financier (€7.50), a delicious almond cake, was served with vanilla icecream and large enough to share.
A very good Sunday choice with delicious, adventurous wines and food, as well as good value.
Chat Noir Chat Blanc
20 rue Barillerie Old Town (behind flower market)
Tel: 04 93802869
Sit indoors or outside in the narrow street and enjoy a buzz of activity and a casual sense of fun created by chef Milan born Giorgio Grilenzoni and dreadlocked front of house Nico who also makes the desserts. They worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in the past and clearly enjoy this more relaxed approach to dining, coming out front of house for a cigarette and a chat.
John Dory (€18) with morels and sliced potatoes and osso buco (€22) with typical risotto were full of flavour. The choice of red wine from Gaillac (€6) was perfect with the meat while a glass of Champagne (€10) lasted from aperitif through fish main course. A dessert wine from Gaillac with the both the chocolate mousse tart (€6) and a Corsican chestnut tart (€6) was a good choice. Good fun. Book a few days ahead.
27 rue de la Prefecture
Tel: 04 93 85 29 57
Closed Sunday and Monday
Veal kidneys (€14) with sliced potatoes potatoes and a large comma of creamed salsify was superb. Duck breast (€13), moist and flavoursome, was served on creamy mashed potatoes and another comma of salsify. Both dishes were drizzled with reduced meat juices. A glass of house red (€3.80) was rough, but suited the food – you get what you pay for.
Desserts (€7) were delicious: Tartare of pineapple and mango, with ginger crumble and mascarpone mousse on the side. Reine Claude plums were paired with roast figs, a crumble of shortbread-style speculoos biscuits and a light almond mousse. Good white bread was served in little paper bags and a glass of olives was provided on the tables. A big whisk hangs from the ceiling as decoration, the style is casual indoors and out. Staff scurry at a great rate. A satisfying lunch with good use of local ingredients.
The terrace mentioned on the website is a few covered-in tables on a not particularly interesting street, in an area becoming more popular with restaurateurs every year. Inside the feel is of a wine bar – lots of wood and bare tables. In the ladies’ loo there’s a surprise: an old olive press (pictured right).
Olivier Labarde and Bonaventure Blankstein are the organic wine enthusiasts while Chun Wong creates unique dishes for a set tasting menu (€39) that is well worthwhile. It’s a good idea to ask them to pair wines by the glass for each course.
We had a VDP de cotes Catalanes (€4.50) with thinly sliced rare steak with horseradish on the side. A fillet of local fish with soy sauce and finely sliced spring onions was paired with a Saumur Champigny ‘Ruben’ 2011 (€5.50) which was also good with pork cooked two ways. One disk of pork steak had a comet trail of cauliflower on the plate while short pork ribs were slow cooked and sweet and served with a comet trail of beetroot. Both the meat and vegetables were rich with flavour and texture.
A vendage tardive from D. Lamarche in the Roussillon region (€7) came with the poached whole figs served with iced yoghurt and sesame seed biscuit. All dishes had a fresh energy, intensely flavoured with a lively Asian flair. The wine pairing was perfect.
Les Deux Cannailles
6 rue Chauvain North east of Promenade des Anglais
Tel: 06 22 54 11 30
Closed Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
The name of the restaurant means ‘the two scoundrels’ which is not a name I would give to the two owners of this lively, Michelin listed (but not yet starred) restaurant. Front of house Laurent Inqué is French-Japanese who brings his Paris experience to hit the right note of polite correctness with an appreciation of customers’ need to feel relaxed. In the kitchen partner in the business chef Tsumoru Takano takes pleasure in precision cooking with intense tastes and the delicate touch of his Japanese traditions in their presentation.
Two set menus at €45 and €65 tempt in their reading, the latter too appetising to resist. The amuse bouche, creamed pumpkin flavoured with cinnamon served with a parmesan biscuit, was followed by a white onion stuffed with chorizo, tender lobster served with fresh peach slices and skinned and halved fresh tomatoes. Poached turbot had a delicate shellfish sauce. A game pie was a rich mix of game, potatoes, French beans and a few peanuts in its deliciously light pastry. On the side came a warm chocolate sauce. Bliss.
Figs poached in red wine with vanilla and praline ice cream was one of two desserts to finish a journey that nodded more to French cooking than Japanese, but was none the worse for that. The finale was a mille feuille served with a cider sorbet. Mango jelly sweets and a vanilla macaroon came on a plate with rich toffees in cellophane wrappers. Our wines (€7 per glass) chosen by Laurent Iniqué were a Cotes de Provence Domaine du Jas d’Esclans 2011, Domaine Guilhem Tournier rosé from Bandol, and the cuvée tradition 2010 from Domaine Richaume, all impeccable choices. Leave it to the experts. A glass of whiskey from Japan was offered after the meal. While not appreciated by my whiskey-loving companion, a nice gesture and a revelation. A lovely evening of delicious food served with relaxed, respectful charm was fairly priced.
28 rue Gubernatis. Old Town
Tel: 04 93 62 53 95
Closed Sunday and Monday
This one star Michelin restaurant owned by chef brothers Gael and Mickael Torteaux has a menu that stimulates the appetite and despite 5/6 courses of the €70 tasting menu, left the body in perfect harmony. No Eastern genetic influences here, yet there is a sense that balance is important.
Wines matching each course are on offer for €35 (for 5) and are good value. The exact tastes of the amuses bouches served on a slate were so beautiful we cannot remember them, but they were enough to divert us from the planned shorter menu. Starters of the Menu Découverte consisted of Serrano ham and Black Qwehli prawns (organic from Mozambique), preserved lemons with fresh coriander and local octopus which set the senses reeling, served with 2011 AOC Touraine Domaine des Corbillieres from Maurice Barbou. With that the palate was ready for a lemon and mint risotto, carpaccio of sea bream, and green mango and Mojana – all delicate morsels, perfect in their freshness, all ingredients recognizable but melding into each other beautifully. These were served with 2009 AOC Bourgogne – Philippe Collin, gently oaked and with just enough weight for the risotto.
Lobster with a green curry sauce, iodine broth and coconut milk, and Christophine (a gourd) and gyoza ravioli were accompanied by 2009 AOC Alsace Vignoble d’E riesling from Domaine Ostertag. All riveting combinations.
Duck fillet, sweet potatoes emulsified with foie gras, a mixed fruit layer and a spicy, peppery sauce were cleverly paired with 2010 AOC Cotes di Marmandais ‘Le vin est une fete’ from Elian Da Ros. A maverick winemaker from close to Bergerac, he blends 50% merlot with 20% cabernet sauvignon and 20% of the lesser known local abouriou which is said to be closely related to the gamay grape of Beaujolais.
Crushed date with thyme and lemon, argan oil and Greek yoghurt and mousse of St Maure de Tourain cheese seemed like a perfect end to the meal until followed by pineapple and coconut, vanilla and lime, and fresh cream cheese with a sablé biscuit with Maldon salt. All paired with a silky 2010 IGP Cote de Gascogne Gros Manseng from Alain Brumont. Impeccable service. Imaginatve tableware. An excellent night of foodie entertainment to spike the senses.
Drinks: Have a cocktail in Le Negresco Hotel bar or terrace and take a walk around this amazing building. Wear you best smart casuals! Easy to find on Promenade des Anglais.
Ice-cream: The chocolate and ginger ice-cream at one of the Fenocchio Glacier shops was my favourite, but I was happy to taste the rhubarb and the lemon were delicious too. Great intense flavours.
By the way:
La Colombe d’Or. St Paul de Vence: The least impressive of the week’s food experiences. Food was unimaginative, plentiful, with no sense of vibrancy or earthy freshness. More style than substance. However, a mainly American clientele looked happy in this wonderful setting out of doors under cool canopies and indoors where artists over the years came to stay and eat and paid for their time there with paintings. For those alone, it’s worth a visit.
Fondation Margeurite et Antoine Maeght 623 chemin des Ardettes Saint Paul de Vence: A cheap bus ride from Nice, then a hefty enough walk up the hill. Admission €14 with €5 extra charge for permission to take photos. The coffee shop is closed on Mondays.
The Jean Cocteau museum at Menton (€8 entrance) was fascinating. This artist, film maker, photographer and writer sure was talented. A bus ride from Nice to Menton costs €1! Plenty of places to eat in the town and a good beach with fairly small stones (unlike Nice) for a swim. Close to the Italian border the train passes through Monte Carlo where you can hop off the train and get back on at no extra charge. The exotic gardens were a steep walk from the train and are of interest to those with a passion for cacti.
The Villa & Gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild near St Jean de Cap Ferrat show how in the early 1900s the other half lived in total luxury with a panoramic view of the Med. Get the bus to Cap Ferrat, take a walk around the coastline and walk on or get another bus further to enjoy the seven wonderful garden styles and a collection of furniture, tableware and artwork at the villa.
The Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain is located in an impressive building near Nice’s Acropolis Convention Centre. International and French artists’ works are well displayed.
Matisse museum. Worth a visit to see the extent of this man’s talent.
The Chagall museum is worth a visit to understand this Russian’s passion and social conscience which informs his work. Make sure to see the film of his life while at the museum.
The Saleya flower and food market is worth a look, but don’t expect a huge variety of flowers, at least not in October. Seasonal vegetables looked great and it’s worth buying some sundried tomatoes to take home. Interesting salts and peppers too. They looked vibrant, but I can’t vouch for the quality, and they seemed expensive.
Where to stay
There are plenty of hotels in Nice, many of them overpriced and on busy streets. However, it’s not like Madrid or Barcelona where the fun starts at midnight. In Nice you will find streets sleepy and quiet after 10pm. We stayed in a rental apartment in the centre of the city a few minutes walk from a bus stop on the Promenade des Anglais, fifteen minutes from the airport.
Spacious and comfortable, the pictures on the website represent it perfectly. Centrally located, the quiet air-conditioning, good shower, comprehensive cooking and washing facilities are ideal for one couple with room for a few children or a couple of friends on a decent sized sofa bed. Ideal for a weeks stay. See it at: Vrbo.com 314257.