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

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.

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.

Getting between cities and towns along the Côte d’Azur couldn’t be easier. For only €1, you can hop onto a bus in Nice and hop off anywhere between the city and Menton. On our day off, we chose to visit just the next town along the coast – Villefranche-sur-Mer. It’s utterly beautiful with a beach surrounding a deep natural harbour and we spent the morning exploring its citadel and the old town.

The Town

We happened upon the restaurant La Grignotiere in the old part of town and I got a good feeling when I realised that most of the people lunching outside were locals. A sign announced that the restaurant offered a set lunch menu for €16 for three courses for lunch so here we stayed. We were unable to get a table outside but inside was just as comfortable if a little bit dark.

On the lunch set menu, there were about five choices available for both the starter and main course. I started with a giant salade Niçoise. I do love these and never encountered a bad one while in Nice. Boiled egg, canned tuna, anchovies were all encountered but never a boiled potato!

Salade Nicoise

My main course was one of the specials of the day – une Petite Bouillabaisse (I think a simpler version of the classic bouillabaisse from nearby Marseille). Two large fillets of fish (different types), a pile of mussels, a large prawn and a large potato were nestled together in a very large bowl full of a delicious thick fish soup. This really hit the spot – it was fantastic and quite a big portion too.

Une Petite Bouillabaisse

Une Petite Bouillabaisse

A list of desserts was recited to us – we did notice that some that were available earlier were no longer on the list. Ah well, that’s our own fault for having lunch so late! Luckily, what took my fancy was the profiterole. I did think there would be a few profiteroles but what arrived at our table was a single huge profiterole filled with vanilla ice cream, surrounded by whipped cream and topped with lots of chocolate sauce. Excellent.

Profiterole

After lunch, we proceeded to burn it all off by…um…. lazing around on the beach. It was clearly a very productive afternoon!

What a beautiful town. The only downside? Well, its bay is naturally very deep and so is the perfect stop for cruise ships, with one blighting our view that day. Luckily they don’t stay for long and the one that day was off again after lunch.

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La Grignotiere
3 rue Poilu
Villefranche-sur-Mer
06230 France

That’s the end of my short series of posts of my trip to Nice and the Côte d’Azur. All my photos (including a night trip to Monaco) can be found in this Flickr photoset.

There was certainly some good eating throughout my work week in Nice. Even my work conference offered up some proper three course lunches (with wine!). On one night, a couple of colleagues and I managed to get a last minute table for dinner at La Merenda (which runs a “no telephone, no cards” policy), near the Cours Saleya. The tiny restaurant is packed with tables and you’ll be eating elbow-to-elbow with your neighbours. And I’m still not sure how they manage to churn out all those dishes in their tiny kitchen.

It turns out we got the last table for the last seating that night and we had to patiently wait our turn to see the chalkboard menu. Though service was brusque, they did answer our million questions about the menu and the local specialities offered on it. And they kindly let us split a large portion of Soupe au Pistou (pistou being the Niçoise version of pesto) by three to start! We had seen other patrons slurp up this magical elixir and yes, it’s as good as it looks. Cheese, ham, vegetables, basil…it’s all in there.

Soupe au Pistou

Beignets de Fleurs de Courgette were just that – battered courgette flowers. This was the first time I’ve ever had them not stuffed! They were fine but not particularly exciting; this does seem to be the way they’re prepared here in Nice though.

Beignets de Fleurs de Courgette

A Pâtes au Pistou (pasta with pistou) was perfectly al dente and bathed in a luxurious basil- and garlic-rich dressing.

Pâtes au Pistou

Of all the mains available, we were all drawn to the Daube de Boeuf à la Provençal. What emerged was a hearty beef stew served with…chips? No, the texture was too smooth, too…wait, do I detect the flavour of chickpeas? The large golden chips sitting alongside our daube turned out to be panisses, fried cakes made of chickpea flour. I believe the flour is first cooked like polenta and when its cold and stiff, it’s sliced and fried. They originated down the coast in Marseille. They were beautiful and so good with the thick, wine-rich stew.

Daube de Boeuf à la Provençal

Desserts were also good. A Compote de Figues was sweet and simple with its dollop of fromage frais.

Compote de Figues

A Mousse au Chocolat was a little stiff but still went down easily. By this point, we were pushing the remnants of our desserts to our colleague with the largest appetite but even he was starting to have trouble. Oof.

Mousse au Chocolat

To get a table in this tiny restaurant, you’ll need to book and to do so, you’ll need to pop into the restaurant (remember: no telephone!).

La Merenda
4 rue Raoul Bosio
Nice, France

As I mentioned previously though, not all was brilliant eating in Nice. Meals at Le Safari and Du Gesu were fine, if not spectacular, but our dinner at La Zucca Magica, Nice’s highly lauded vegetarian restaurant and which came recommended by a friend of a friend, was distinctly mediocre and unmemorable.

Back to the good. My favourite pizza place turned out to be this takeaway joint – Pili Pizza. Any pizza on the menu for €6,50. And they were excellent! Great crusts and very good quality toppings. I have no shame in saying that we even tried their kebab pizza – good stuff.

I miss you, Pili Pizza

On our penultimate night in Nice, we all ordered pizzas and took them to the beach to eat by floodlight. It was brilliant.

Pizza on the Beach

Pili Pizza
24 rue Benoit Bunico
Nice, France

I spent my last day in Nice revisiting the Cours Saleya Market for the colours and smells and hustle and bustle.

Vegetables and Eggs

"Pepper" Tomatoes

Spices

Pink Garlic

I wanted to take lots with me but as my next stop was Barcelona (a very short work/play related trip and I won’t be blogging it this time), bringing perishables with me didn’t seem like the best idea.

Along the Quai des États-Unis

Finally, a restaurant worth looking out for in nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer – that’s the final post in this short travel-eating series.

Nice is nice, to sum up my first trip to the Côte d’Azur. Actually, it’s awfully grand and I wish Blai could have come along on this work trip of mine. As it was, I had my lovely colleagues as company and we did pretty well on the eating front though there were a couple disappointments along the way. But the city, oh the city is beautiful and lots of fun with the sea and the hills and lots to see and do; I do hope to return one day.

I developed a slight obsession with the Niçoise socca during my week in Nice. This soft/crispy baked pancake is made of chickpea flour and is usually served as a snack with drinks. On our first night in the city, I dragged my friend and colleague to Chez Pipo, one of the best places for socca according to David Lebovitz. We grabbed the last available table outside and set to work on the menu. With such low prices (everything was about €2,50 per portion), we ordered one of everything to try. Salty tapenade noire and anchoïade were served with little toasts.

Tapenade Noire et Anchoïade

Their pissaladière was delicious and I could easily have handled about three portions of this. However, there was cause for restraint as I’ll explain in a minute.

Pissaladière

We had quite a wait for our portion of socca as only a tray’s worth is made at a time (each tray being about the size of a wagon wheel). It was incredibly addictive with it’s crispy edges and softer centres…but then again, I adore chickpeas.

Socca

Chez Pipo
13 Rue Bavastro
Nice, France

After dinner, we strolled through old and new Nice to our next destination, a very important destination.

Nice at Night

Place Masséna

The reason for our restraint at dinner was this: Fenocchio. One hundred flavours of ice cream. We made it our mission to try as many of these flavours as we could during the week. I think I only managed 7 overall.

Fruit Flavours

My first tasting was of two scoops: an exquisite marron glacé studded with lots of the candied nut and a brilliant speculoos. It was a good start.

My First Fenocchio Ice Cream

Later in the week, two more flavours: a bright and fruity guava and a slightly disappointing, subdued salted butter caramel. I heard that the intensely chocolately flavours were excellent as were the other fruity ones. I can also vouch for the ginger flavour!

Guava and Salted Caramel

We started at their stand in the old city by the tram line but then became loyal to their main stand in Place Rossetti. They have seats in the square and you get to gaze upon the imposing Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate. Oh, and they serve sundaes and waffles there too.

Fenocchio
2 place Rossetti (main shop)
6 rue de la Poissonerie (not open every day)
28 boulevard Jean Jaurès (by the tram line)
Nice, France

Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate

On most days, there’s a fruit and vegetable market at Cours Saleya – more on that in the next post. What you want to look out for is Chez Theresa and their excellent socca.

Socca

The large tray of socca sits on an oil drum stove, frying gently. It’s not cooked there but in an oven of Chez Theresa, located in the Old City; you can buy your socca at this location but it’s not quite the same. To get the socca from one site to the other, there’s a man and a moped and a trailer for the large tray.

Theresa herself serves the socca. It’s a pretty no-nonsense affair – hand over your €3 and get your portion. She’ll direct you to the salt and pepper (both recommended) and off you go with your snack.

Serving the Socca

Her socca isn’t much of a looker and could certainly be improved by being more crispy (it’s soft almost all the way through). However, what’s amazing about it is its flavour – all toasty and coated in extra virgin olive oil and so so good. It’s hard to stop burning your fingers as you reach for more. It’s highly recommended. On weekends, you can expect a queue for it.

Socca

Were these the best soccas in Nice? Well, I did try a couple others but mainly their flavour was weak. These two were certainly the best I tried on this visit.

Chez Theresa
Cours Saleya (stall in the market)
28 Rue Droite (shop in the old town)
Nice

When in Nice, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a place that serves pizza. Nice is located very close to the Italian border (and was itself under Italian rule until 1860) and this shows in its local cuisine and well…all those pizza and pasta joints. We grabbed a random takeaway one from a cafe in the old city and took it over to the base of the castle. It has a good thin crust and good quality toppings – it sure beat most of the takeaway pizzas in London.

Pizza

I love that every takeaway pizza comes with a sachet of sauce picante, which turned out to be some pretty good chilli oil.

Sauce Picante

We had also grabbed some pastries from the renowned Patisserie Lac. My friend’s intensely chocolate macaron filled with chocolate ganache almost did her in (in a very good way). I tried Lac’s version of the Niçoise tourte de blettes, a Swiss chard tart that comes in both sweet and savoury varieties (here be sweet). It was delicious with the raisins and pine nuts coming through rather than any vegetal flavour.

Pastries from Lac

Our lunchtime view was nothing to sniff at either.

Our Lunchtime View

More in Part 2!

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