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.

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

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.

Our summer holiday was a great one…the big train trip through France and Catalonia, we called it! We took the Eurostar to Paris for one night, took a TGV to Toulouse where we stayed 3 nights and finally we underwent an epic three-train journey from Toulouse over the Pyrenees into Spain and ended our trip with a relaxing week in Blai’s village. Needless to say, we chose to fly back to London from Barcelona!

This time in Paris, we stayed in Montparnasse, in close proximity to the train station from where we’d depart for Toulouse the next day. We spent a long afternoon at the Musée d’Orsay and then searched the Montparnasse area for a good place for dinner. There were a lot of good places! Somehow we weren’t in the mood to make decisions (this being the first day of our holiday!) and when we came across Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, that decision was made for us. Steak frites it would be and here we would have it.

Sure it’s a chain but this chain restaurant was packed full of locals, as well as tourists, and had a reputation for being very good. There’s a similar restaurant chain (Le Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte) that also has branches in London but they’re not from the same group; I’ve not visited the London restaurants so this was my first time at one of these steak only restaurants.

When you’re seated, elbow to elbow with your neighbours, you’re only presented with a wine list. Decide on your drinks and how you’d like your steak cooked. Soon after, a basket of bread and plates of a well-dressed salade aux nois are place in front of you. The greens are very welcome, especially when you realise that what’s to follow isn’t particularly healthy.

Salade aux Nois

Your empty plates are whisked away only to be replaced by larger plates filled with slices of entrecôte cooked to your liking and a small mountain of frites.

Steak Frites

Their steak frites hit the spot that night. Their famous sauce (lots of butter and herbs and anchovies from what I could tell) was fine though not outstanding – I preferred a dab of Dijon mustard from the pot. I’d heard, of course, of that ‘second helping’ of steak and frites that they bring over though it didn’t turn out to be much of a surprise as I saw where the second portions were set aside. Still, more steak and frites!

I did mention all the locals around us. There were a lot of young couples clearly on dates and an older couple beside us placed their tiny dog right next to Blai’s chair. I did have to stifle a giggle when the young woman next to me turn down her second portion of frites and her partner was then asked, “Would you like the rest of mademoiselle’s frites?“.

And of course there was space for dessert! Profiteroles au chocolat were definitely one step up from the offerings we’ve had in London. There was proper dark chocolate and lots of ice cream stuffed into the little choux puffs.

Les Profiteroles au Chocolat

With a bottle of water, our bill came to about €70 – so not a cheap dinner by any means but luckily, a good one. I find it’s quite easy to eat badly in Paris without prior planning (as in any other large tourist-filled city) so I’m glad we found this place!

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte
101, boulevard du Montparnasse
Paris
(there are other branches too)

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. I really like Brasserie Zédel. It’s got a great central location, it’s huge (there’s almost always a table available) and the food is decent. Oh, and it’s well priced.

Blai and I visited one weekend and dined on their cheapest main course – the Steak Haché, Sauce au Poivre et Frites (£8.75). It was a good sized portion and makes for a nice change from the usual burger (which is essentially what a steak haché is but without the bread). A side of Epinards à la Crème (£3.23) was delicious and had us scraping the bowl clean.

Steak Haché, Sauce au Poivre et Frites

Desserts were a brilliant Ile Flottante (£3.95) and a very good but slightly less brilliant Profiteroles au Chocolat Chaud (£5.00) (that needed its chocolate sauce to be hotter).

Ile Flottante

Profiteroles au Chocolat Chaud

I returned again recently with friends one evening and was impressed with their confit de canard and their tarte Tatin. The food went down well with everyone – it was all very good and did I mention that it is all very well priced?

Confit de Canard at Brasserie Zedel Tarte Tatin at Brasserie Zedel

In addition to the brasserie itself, there’s a cafe on the ground floor and it’s a great place to stop off when shopping along Regent Street. Their cakes are excellent!

Yesterday's gorgeous hazelnut and cherry cake at Cafe Zedel

Brasserie Zédel
20 Sherwood St
(just off Piccadilly Circus)
London W1F 7ED

Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon

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.

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