Our wine correspondent Jim Walker is well known for combining fine dining with his wining. “They go together like a horse and carriage, love and marriage and flotsam and jetsam,” Jim explains. Below we see what he means as he and wife Hélène explore the restaurant scene on a recent trip to Nice, France.
Le Koudou: It was our first full day of our most recent visit to Nice visit. We hadn’t slept particularly well and decided that a good lunch was what was chiefly required. So, we toddled down the three blocks from our rental apartment to the sea and scouted La Promenade des Anglais in search of a likely spot to rejuvenate mind (which was definitely off kilter thanks to jetlag) and body.
We settled on an inviting looking establishment called Le Koudou and settled into an inviting little table well positioned at the front of the restaurant near the thoroughfare. What a delight it was to watch the exotic cars whizzing by, commenting on all manner of folk in various stages of dress parading before us and seeing the palm trees swaying in the not inconsiderable breeze. Amid an array of international flags across the way was the Union Jack at half-staff for it was the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. The only minor fly in the ointment was the distant droning of some sort of malevolent machinery.
The first order of business was to latch onto a nicely chilled bottle of Côtes de Provence Rosé and to judiciously peruse the extensive menu. We chose well as you can see from the accompanying photo. I do wish that they would lop off the heads, get rid of the shells and clean the prawns (les gambas) but that doesn’t seem to be the way they do it there. After another slurp of the delightful rosé, we dug into our meal to the accompaniment of much sighing and oohing.
Now then, that slightly aggravating buzz from down the road was becoming louder and significantly more vexing. We discerned that the culprit was a chain saw and that a gang of arborists was diligently trimming the large palm trees along the promenade. And, they were progressing maniacally toward us, palm by palm. To add to the cacophony, they were dragging along a shredder that was making horrid sounds as it devoured the lopped off fronds. And then it got worse, much worse.
For you see, we were situated directly down wind from the great palm massacre. The power saws kicked up a great mass of debris that began to settle on us and our meal like the fresh driven snow, if snow was dark brown and black. Before we knew it, we were covered in the dastardly detritus.
We called our server who immediately sized up the situation and, amid a flurry of apologies, moved us to a table inside the restaurant. As we brushed ourselves off, our meals went back to the kitchen and soon reappeared in pristine condition. Our server picked up the bottle of rosé, still in its ice bucket, and said, “Oh good, there’s some left”. However, no restitution was offered for the two nearly full glasses that had been whisked away bearing the palm tree debris.
The howling of the saws and the thunderous grinding of the shredder did not abate. Not at all. And to add to the auditory Armageddon, they were enjoined by the incessant, piercing wails of a wretched little white dog at a nearby table. We couldn’t finish our meal fast enough. There was no offer of a complimentary dessert or digestif, just the bill.
What had started off so promising ended up being a big disappointment. But better gastronomic experiences were sure to come.
Le Cénac: On our third day in Nice we decided it was time to grace another eatery with our lunchtime presence. Hélène had read about one tucked down a secondary street off Avenue Jean Médecin, the main north-south artery in Nice (wonderfully devoid of cars and trucks). Called Le Cénac, it had a great looking menu and glowing reviews.
Le Cénac was a leisurely 20-minute stroll from where we were staying. We planned our arrival for just before noon. The restaurant was already filling up and we noted that the street-side patio was occupied by cigarette and vape smokers. We were fortunate to get a somewhat isolated table inside at the back. This gave us an ideal vantage point from which to observe the hustle and bustle of the place and habits of our fellow diners. It seemed that we were the only tourists. Three businessmen sat at a preferred table to our right (it had padded chairs and white linen; we had typical French restaurant wood seats and paper place mats). They ate and drank well and spent most of their time on cell phones.
Straight ahead and slightly to our left was a table set for four but occupied by up to eight middle-aged chaps (individuals kept coming and going) who appeared to be tradesmen. They were clearly friends bent on making the most of their lunch hour. Glasses of beer and red wine flowed freely. I liked their table better than that of the businessmen.
Madame and I each ordered a very large salad that featured little toasts festooned with warm goat cheese and drizzled with herbes de Provence infused honey, many slices of thinly sliced ham (jambon cru), tiny tomatoes and many olives awash in an oil and vinegar dressing. Splendid stuff. Of course, a nicely chilled bottle of Côtes de Provence Rosé helped wash it all down. To finish it all off we had the best café gourmand we’ve ever had. The six or so separate desserts were medium sized instead of small and each was at the top of the yum meter, particularly the crème caramel.
Lunch at Le Cénac was as wonderful as our lunch at Le Koudou was disappointing … and at about two-thirds the price. It pays to go off the tourists’ beaten path.
Restaurant Dante: We will be returning to Nice this spring and six good friends will join us there for dinner on Good Friday. Hélène and I have been charged with the responsibility of finding an appropriate restaurant for this august gathering. Work, work, work!
We found a likely candidate near where we will be staying called Restaurant Dante. One day we decided to mosey over and give it a test drive on behalf of our very discerning friends. We were warmly welcomed and seated at a table in a little bay window. The atmosphere was exactly what it should be at a good French restaurant and the aromas were tantalizingly terrific. We could hardly wait to order. I selected home-made duck foie gras accompanied by fragrant fig jam and little toasts. These were washed down with a glass of semi-sweet wine from the Languedoc. Hélène chose Mediterranean red tuna, mashed potatoes and crispy vegetables all in a tangy Sicilian dressing. This was accompanied by a bottle of superb white wine from Bandol.
Next came a three-cheese plate helped down by the rest of the Bandol. Then came the pièce de résistance called La tarte au citron très meringuée (lemon pie with lots of meringue) – the best we have ever had. It was the lemon pie my mother’s wished it could be.
Everything about Restaurant Danté was first rate and the price was most reasonable. It will be the perfect spot for our Good Friday reunion. Of course, Hélène and I will have to return before then, just to be sure
Le Séjour Café: Our old friend Philippe Gadbois, a gourmet if ever there was one, has a theory that the best restaurants are those striving to earn their first Michelin star. Naturally, we felt compelled to put his theory to the test.
It so happened that just such a restaurant could be found right across from a post office we planned to visit. You see, we mail back to Canada those goodies that are not permitted in, or would overload, our carry-on luggage. This includes invaluable items like vats of Dijon mustard-infused mayonnaise, tins of foie gras and clothing for our grandchildren. This is a long, drawn-out process due to the vast amount of paperwork that must be completed.
As all this was going on, I waited patiently outside on the sidewalk where I was greatly entertained. A post office van was illegally parked across the way astride both sidewalks at a corner making it very difficult for vehicles to turn right. Presently, a big, nasty-looking, black and grey truck straight out of a Mad Max movie came along and smashed into the back of the van. I couldn’t tell if it had misjudged the turn or had decided to teach the van a lesson. Whichever, it backed up and sped away from the scene of the destruction.
At last Madame emerged having spent the equivalent of $100 Canadian to mail off our goodies. Across the street we went to Le Séjour Café where the Michelin mention was proudly displayed outside. We were a bit early for the noon opening but were never-the-less warmly greeted and given our choice of tables.
Hélène selected roasted courbine (cousin of the sea bass) with girolles (chanterelles) in a decadent cream sauce. I went for two appetisers – split pea soup with pan-fried coppa (a special bit of pork) and coquilles Saint Jacques (scallops) – both to die for. These were washed down with a lively rosé from Cassis. Then came the pièce de résistance – a millefeuille with passion fruit that we shared and a café allongé for us both. Throughout, the service was wonderfully pleasant, upbeat and attentive.
It is wise to heed M. Gadbois’ advice when it comes to food and drink!
Bistrot Marin: We enjoyed the Le Séjour Café so much that we decided to give its sister restaurant two buildings over, Bistrot Marin a try a couple of days later. Unsurprisingly, it too had a Michelin mention (same chef).
The wait staff weren’t as professional as those at Le Séjour Café. Competent, but not special. As you might expect, Bistrot Marin specializes in seafood, and it does it very well. Hélène had a generous portion of grilled daurade (sea bream) wrapped in a wonderful artichoke mousse and beurre blanc sauce. I settled for a big bowl of crab bisque. A bottle of 2018 Château de Saint-Maur ‘Cuvée M’ Côte de Provence Rosé (comprised of a medley of southern France grape varieties and described as having a gourmet nose (whatever the deuce that is) with notes of red fruits, gariguettes (a fragrant small French strawberry) and pomelo) washed it all down quite nicely. We concluded with a couple of really decadent Cafés Gourmands. Overall, it was a fine lunch for 90 Euros all in.
Another good friend, Hugh Oddie suggested that we try a Michelin one-star restaurant. Who are we to resist such a recommendation? Expect a full report of all the delicious details and much more in my next Gentleman’s Portion post.
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This is Jim’s 78th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories.