France


It had been a lazy day in Marseille. We had missed the bus to Cassis and instead took another couple of buses to Marseille’s beaches south of the main city. A very lazy day by the beach. And what was for dinner that night? Pizza. Pizza in Marseille? Yes, and I was really looking forward to it, especially after my great pizza experiences in Nice a couple years ago and also another cheap pizza we scoffed earlier on this trip. My French colleague had sent me off with only one recommendation for Marseille – Chez Etienne – which specialises in, you guessed it, pizza.

The restaurant is easy enough to find in Le Panier, Marseille’s oldest neighbourhood just north of the port. We got there quite early (19:30) and got a table, no problem. However, it started filling up swiftly and when we left, it was completely packed. Get there early.

Pizzaria Etienne

Service was generally grumpy here. There was one or two friendlier waiters but in general, don’t expect anything too pleasant. It’s a good thing the food was good!

There are only two pizzas available at Etienne: anchovy or cheese. We followed the suggestion of my colleague and ordered a pizza moitié-moitié, half and half (€14). The pizza arrived on a tray and the surly waitress dumped half of it on each of our plates and whisked the tray away. The anchovy pizza was just anchovy and black olives and tomato sauce and was very good but what was even better was that ooey gooey cheese pizza (also with olives). The crust was thin and almost cracker-like; it felt like a particular unique sort of Marseillaise pizza. If I get the opportunity to return, I shall be only ordering that amazing cheese pizza.

Pizza

We followed our pizza starter with an order of their famous supions (€16), the little squids popular in the Marseille area. Here they had been sliced up and fried with a healthy amount of garlic and parsley and a little something to give them a bit of a coating – flour? Anyway, they were delicious, all garlicky and tender and made just perfect with a squeeze of lemon. The man next to us was also a visitor to Marseille and when he asked a (friendlier) waitress for a suggestion, she suggested the supions; I’ve also since heard that they’re considered some of the best in the city.

Supions

Bread (perfect for mopping up the garlicky juices) and a dressed salad were served alongside. However, we found the salad dressing to be just a bit too spicy, having been made with an uncomfortable amount of hot mustard.

Salad

The rest of their menu looked good, especially their pastas and meats we spied on neighbouring tables. The pizza is a must, though, and is what they’re famous for. Apparently in earlier days, everyone eating at the restaurant was forced to eat pizza as a starter!

Chez Etienne
43, Rue de Lorette
13002 Marseille
France

It was absolutely boiling in Aix-en-Provence. We were here in this former capital of Provence on a day trip from Marseille, having travelled very easily and smoothly along the highway by bus, a bus not dissimilar to the Oxford tube from London to Oxford. When we arrived, it was just about lunchtime and after seeing a couple of the very pretty buildings in the city, we then headed to Chez Charlotte on Rue des Bernardines for our midday meal. The restaurant was one recommended online but I had no idea what to expect, especially since the entrance didn’t seem particularly promising, all small and narrow. We walked through the empty restaurant to find that the action was really all the beautiful shaded back patio. Stunning really. And a cool relief that day too – we wouldn’t have to dip our toes into the fountains though that looked quite fun actually.

The back patio

Service matched the lazy, dreamy look of the back garden but as we weren’t in a rush to see anything in particular, we were fine with this. Refreshing chilled bottles of cold water were brought to the tables as we perused the very short menu.

Blai chose the day’s special starter of a salad with duck hearts. The hearts were grilled until tender and weren’t as offally tasting as I expected. He enjoyed it!

Salade avec Coeurs de Canard

My starter of oeuf en cocotte was incredibly simple but no less flavourful for it. An egg, sitting in a bed of creme fraiche, topped with cheese and baked until cooked. Ooey gooey goodness and so perfect for mopping up with baguette slices.

Oeuf en Cocotte

We both went for the dish of the day as our main course – roast leg of lamb (gigot d’agneau) with fried potatoes and runner beans. It was gorgeous. Tender slices of lamb studded with garlic cloves sat in its own jus – no mint sauce required here! The boiled runner beans with chopped onions were simple but good and the potatoes…I have no idea what variety of potato was used here but there was a hint of sweetness in its flesh.

Gigot d'Agneau

It felt wrong to leave without dessert. After watching a couple of ladies next to us tuck in enthusiastically into their desserts, I called the waitress over and ordered their charlotte. It didn’t look like much but that web of ladys fingers held together vast amounts of whipped cream and tangy forest fruits.

Charlotte

Two courses are €16 and three are €20. Either go early or try to make a booking. Most of the other customers were locals that lunchtime and there were only a few tourists…very few considering how many there were in the rest of the city.

Oh, and by the way, their steak tartare looked amazing.

Chez Charlotte
32 Rue des Bernardines
13100 Aix-en-Provence
France

All my photos from Aix-en-Provence can be seen here. It’s a beautiful city with plenty of history and lots to see. We went on a market day (Tuesday, also Thursdays and Saturdays) and I would highly recommend that if you like food and flower markets! Apart from just strolling the picturesque streets, the Musée Granet is also worth a visit.

We started our holiday with a bang. We were going to be spending two weeks by the Mediterranean, the first in Marseille and the second in Barcelona. The timing also coincided with our wedding anniversary and we were going to celebrate it by eating Marseille’s most famous dish – bouillabaisse. After scouring the internet and getting a few recommendations from friends, we settled for Chez Fonfon for lunch on our first full day in the city.

The walk to the Vallon des Auffes, where the restaurant is located, was longer than we expected from the port but we got there in the end (uh…give yourself time!). But when we did, we couldn’t see the restaurant anywhere (we were up at the top on le Corniche du Président-John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy). We should have paid more attention to the location – a vallon is a small valley – and sure enough, there were some stairs that took us down to this beautiful tiny harbour and there was the restaurant!

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Le Vallon des Auffes

We got settled inside the very modern-looking restaurant quickly (that third photo above, that was my view!) and were brought delicious homemade taramasalata with croutons while we perused the all-fish, all-seafood menu. There are no other meats nor are there any vegetarians options from what I could tell. If you’re not a fan of anything that swims, stay away.

Taramasalata

We would share one order of bouillabaisse (there’s no need to order this in advance at Chez Fonfon – it’s so popular and they always have it everyday) and one of their fishes of the day, grilled with a side of our choice. The waitress ran to the kitchen to bring over a basket of the fishes they had available – there were red mullets, and a couple of fishes I didn’t recognise. After we asked for a recommendation, she suggested that the sea bream would be best grilled and we went with that, with panisses on the side. While we waited, we were again shown another basket of fish; this time, this was the selection of four fishes that would play a part in the bouillabaise.

After we had made our selections, we were brought an amuse – melon gazpacho, a lovely way to chill out that hot day. We appreciated having the windows open in the dining room as well; it was a hot day.

Melon Gazpacho

The grilled sea bream came first – it was presented to us tableside where a waiter filleted it. On the side were lemon, olive oil and a lovely generous bowlful of homemade tartar sauce (I hate it when you have to make do with a tiny ramekin’s worth). The fish was gorgeously fresh and so delicious just with a squeeze of lemon. The panisses on the side (made of chickpea flour) were lightly crisp on the outside, soft and moist on the inside, and surprisingly filling.

Filletting

Filleted Grilled Sea Bream

Tartar Sauce

Panisses

The sauces for the bouillabaise were already at our table; there was an aioli and the classic rust-coloured rouille. They did forget the croutons though and we had to ask for them – these are essential! A soup bowl was set down before me and a waiter came by with a large tureen and ladled a very dark fish broth into the bowl. By itself, it’s a great, flavorful fish broth, very dark and rich and comforting. But it really comes alive when you smear some of spicy and garlicky rouille on a crouton and float that baby in that bowl. Ah… I drank a lot of that soup. And we could have as much of the broth as we wished – that tureen kept making the rounds of the tables.

Aioli and Rouille

Bouillabaisse Broth

With Crouton and Rouille

The fish from the bouillabaisse was presented alongside not long after, on a bed of potatoes that had also been boiled in the broth. You could tell there were four different types though I can’t remember them all for the life of me. It was fun trying the different textures from the different species. Anyway, you eat the fish and you eat the potatoes and then if you’re like me, you try to fit in as much soup, croutons and rouille as you can.

Bouillabaisse Fish

After all that fish and soup, I could barely even think about dessert. What a shame, as their dessert menu was full of delicious sounding things! Chocolate fondant with a chestnut heart? Dammit – no space!  Blai found space for a selection of their delicious sorbets though. Their fruit flavours were just about perfect – I suspect they’re all homemade.

Sorbets

I just got a coffee which came presented with these excellent little sweets – delicious fruit jellies, orangettes and two types of calisson – regular (white) and rose-scented (pink). A sweet yet light (and caffeinated) end to the meal.

Sweets

Of course, this could hardly be called a budget lunch. The total was about €120, including mineral water and service. But then, this was an occasion that required something rather grand and I think we got it. Happy anniversary, my love!

Chez Fonfon
140 Rue du Vallon des Auffes
13007 Marseille
France

Bookings are essential.

Blai’s work brings him to Paris occasionally and earlier this month, he brought me along for the day (how romantic!). Our train arrived in Paris at 11:47 and for our lunch, I had searched for a restaurant near where Blai needed to be that afternoon. We selected Bistroy Les Papilles from this list – a little restaurant very close to the Pantheon with very good reviews online. Walking down the street, it’s a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it kind of place with its narrow storefront that, on that cold day, was entirely condensed over.

We didn’t have a booking that lunchtime but there were a few spare tables, of which one we snagged. The place is extremely cute with its beautiful bar counter, its tiny tables and equally tiny kitchen in the back and lots of specialty goods that they sell and that I think they use in their food as well. There’s a menu at lunch and dinner that’s entirely fixed – it’s based on what’s good that day at the market. You can go for either the entree-plat-formage-dessert formule (35€) or just entree-plat or plat-dessert (28€).

The starter that day was a sweet potato soup with chorizo and croutons. A small tureen of the soup was brought to the table along with a bowl of diced sweet potato, chorizo, croutons, creme fraiche, fried parsley and piment d’espelette. This was just gorgeous – I’m not sure why I don’t order soup more often. The creamy sweet potato soup was fantastic with all the bits adding great textural contrast.

Sweet Potato, Chorizo, Croutons

The tureen was huge too! I reckon there was enough to refill that bowl twice over.

Sweet Potato Soup

The main that day was also brought to the table in a similar manner as the soup – in a large serving dish. This was magret de canard glazed with honey and spices and served with carrots, new potatoes, mangetout, tomatoes and thyme. Each serving was half a huge and tender duck breast and there were plenty of vegetables too – no leaving hungry here! And there was lots of bread to mop up all that delicious sauce. Fantastic stuff.

Magret de Canard

I ordered something different off a separate a la carte menu (only available at lunchtime): brandade de morue parmentière (20€).

Brandade

The salt cod puree had been toasted to a beautiful golden hue and was served with a fresh and perfectly dressed salad on the side.

Brandade

For dessert, we skipped the day’s option (pear pannacotta with caramel) and went with Gelée d’agrumes au campari, crème battue aux zestes (9€). This was a refreshing dessert with lots of citrus fruit segments but unfortunately, the jelly itself had not set. Still, it was pleasant.

Gelée d'agrumes

With coffee came some fantastic soft nougat – I’ve heard that they also sell the little sweet things they serve with their coffees. What a great way to sample their wares!

Cafe

It’s a gem of a place for a meal but it’s not cheap – this lunch for two (we were stuffed) came to about 70€. It’s a lovely treat though. If you’re extremely keen to dine there, do call ahead for a reservation – we saw them turn away many disappointed people after we arrived.

Bistroy Les Papilles
30 rue Gay Lussac
75005 Paris
France

Our journey through France and Catalonia was all via train and while yes, it’s certainly a slower way to get around, there’s still something quite romantic about travelling by train. As a bonus, I don’t suffer from as much motion sickness on the train and hence I’m able to read and stare out the window and also eat…. because I love train picnics! I love shopping for train picnics. These tend to come from supermarkets only because I’m never prepared enough to organise one from foodstuffs obtained from a proper market.

Our 5.5 hour TGV ride from Paris to Toulouse was on a Sunday so it was a rush in the morning to obtain our supplies before the supermarkets closed (at about 1pm). With a couple of plastic forks and knives obtained from a fast food chain, we dined like kings on a baguette, pate, cheese, nuts, tomatoes. Not pictured below, the rest of the tomatoes, crisps, rice crackers and plums. A bit of everything makes it feel more balanced and doesn’t it look much better than a sad train sandwich?

Train Picnic

Our next train picnic occurred only days later. We took two trains to get from Toulouse to Barcelona, changing at Latour de Carol/La Tor de Querol. It’s not a proper train picnic per se but a train station picnic. We picked up supplies at the small town’s only supermarket (about a 10 minute walk from the station) and then picnicked on a bench while waiting for the Rodalies train that would take us to Barcelona. This turned out to be the right thing to do as the tiny shop at the station only had a supply of cold sandwiches and it closed for lunch soon after we arrived!

Train Station Picnic

Similar stuff in this picnic – I like to think of them as the basics of a French picnic! The baguette was one of the better ones we had on that trip, and that pate de campagne, and that cheese!

What do you like to bring to eat on long train journeys?

Carcassonne is only about 45 minutes away by train from Toulouse, thus making it a perfect day out. It’s famous for its impressive walled city and castle, restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc. It’s also famous for being a board game, which is probably how most people are familiar with the name! The town itself is made up of two parts – the walled city/castle on one side of the river Aude and the lower city (la ville basse) on the other side – and altogether it’s small enough to explore in one day.

From the train station, It’s a bit of a walk to the walled town but not a difficult one. As we were there on a Tuesday, we encountered their weekly market in Place Carnot and it was fun walking around the small square and seeing what was in season. It took great effort not to walk away with a melon or a head of pink garlic. But we weren’t there for the market – onwards we went.

Melons were in season

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It was only from the old bridge crossing L’Aude that we got our first view of the walled city and it was impressive.

A First Sighting of the Old Town

Crowded!

It’s absolutely lovely walking through the walled town, even though it’s quite crowded (just like the Middle Ages perhaps?). Our tummies, though, demanded lunch not long after we entered it. We avoided the super touristy al fresco eateries near the main entrance of the old town and headed further in to find Comte Roger, a restaurant with a fine lunch prix fixe (€21 for two courses) and a shaded terrace.

My Salade de melon et jambon du Pays, vinaigrette balsamique was just the ticket for that warm day.

Salade de melon et jambon du Pays, vinaigrette balsamique

Blai’s Terrine maison de merlan frais, haricots verts, pois chiches et coulis de poivrons rouges was not to be sniffed at either – the terrine of whiting was very light and pleasant.

Terrine maison de merlan frais,  haricots verts, pois chiches et coulis de poivrons rouges

We both opted for something light – Blanc de seiche cuit plancha, brandade de morue et tapenade d’olives noires. This was a tumble of thinly sliced grilled cuttlefish on a little hill of brandade de morue, that delicious paste of salt cod and olive oil.

Blanc de seiche cuit plancha, brandade de morue et tapenade d’olives noires

The other option for the main course was cassoulet and it looked remarkably good. Dessert options weren’t terribly exciting, however, so we decided to skip dessert and head straight for the castle after lunch.

Comte Roger
14, rue Saint-Louis
11000 Carcassonne
France

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the main castle. It was certainly worth the entrance fee and walking along the walls of the town (included in the ticket) was an experience I won’t soon forget. (Then again, I do love a good castle.)

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Yes, Carcassonne is also worth the visit even though it’s significantly more touristy than Toulouse. Time for me to dig up my board game!

Toulouse feels like so long ago already! We spent three nights in Toulouse (a quick and pleasant 5.5 hour TGV ride from Paris Montparnasse) and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘pink city’ (named for the pinky-orange colour of its bricks). Apart from the grand sights, including the grand Basilica of St. Sernin and the beautiful Church of the Jacobins, the food was amazing! We didn’t make any bookings and mainly just walked in off the street based of the menus outside and most everything was very good. Only once did we use an online recommendation and that was at J’Go.

Rue du Taur

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Cloitre

We were hungry and tired from walking on our first full day in Toulouse and we settled for a little restaurant along a narrow alleyway in central Toulouse – this was Le Coq Hardi. It was full of locals on their lunch break, always a good sign! We opted for the lunch menu, which was about £12 for two courses if I recall correctly.

A Tarte Mozzarella et Tomate was a simple but lovely start to the meal.

Tarte Mozzarella et Tomate

Blai’s Poulet Fermier à la Crème et aux Champignons was the better of our choices. Actually, it was incredible. The roasted leg was massive and doused in a delicious creamy mushroom sauce. The fries that accompanied it were just about the best fries ever – freshly cut, crispy, crunchy, a bit of tenderness, wonderful flavour.

Poulet Fermier à la Crème et aux Champignons

My cassoulet was not the best example, with its very dry beans, but the meats on top – duck confit, Toulouse sausage, bacon/ham – were all excellent.

Cassoulet

My Île Flottante was simple but the perfect light finish to the meal.

Île Flottante

Le Coq Hardi
6, rue Jules Chalande
31000 Toulouse
France

For dinner on our first night, we headed to the restaurant-rich area around the Marché Victor Hugo and ate at J’Go, one of a small group of restaurants in Toulouse and Paris.

Œufs pochés sur toast et poitrine de Porc Noir grillé, façon piperade

Blai’s Gigot d’Agneau fermier du Quercy à la broche were thick slices of a most tender roasted lamb leg and he opted for yet more fries on the side. These had clearly been fried in duck fat!

Gigot d’Agneau fermier du Quercy à la broche

My Grande Salade Fraicheur was the most popular item on the menu with half the tables ordering it. And I could see why! This massive salad with lettuce, tomato, green beans, melon and grilled peppers was topped with duck ham, grilled duck breast, cold roast lamb and the most amazing slice of buttery foie gras I’d ever had.

Le Grande Salade Fraicheur

Desserts were equally impressive. Blai’s Sablé aux abricots et zeste de citron vert was again simple yet well executed and delicious.

Sablé aux abricots et zeste de citron vert

My Assiette gourmande autour de l’abricot was a little selection of different apricot preparations – a macaron (dry and the only dud), baked, in a financier and in a pudding. Yeah, we were stuffed afterwards!

Assiette gourmande autour de l’abricot

J’Go
16, place Victor Hugo
31000 Toulouse
France

After a long day in Carcassonne (that’s the next post!), we returned to Toulouse tired and hungry and we fell into one adorable place with great outdoor seating in the centre. Le Troquet was full of locals again and they looked to be having a grand time. I must say what sold it to me was the al fresco seating and the Toulouse sausage on the menu.

And indeed, my sausage was far from disappointing – it was excellent. And that homemade potato puree on the side was wonderfully creamy and buttery.

Toulouse Sausage

Blai ordered the fish special of the day – the grilled cuttlefish, which was perfectly cooked to tenderness.

Grilled Cuttlefish

For dessert, we ordered the profiteroles. Our waiter teased me for ordering it after seeing it go past me but I was confused. I ordered profiteroles; what passed me had been a mountain! Yes, it turned out to be a single giant profiterole!

Giant Profiterole!

Le Troquet
11 Rue Baronie
31000 Toulouse
France

There’s some seriously good eating to be had in Toulouse and I do hope to return one day, not only to eat, but to further explore the surrounding region.

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