France


Like the title says, this was a much needed weekend away. It was a girls’ trip and it was going to be all about food and shopping, a proper escape from the working weekends we’d all been having recently. We met at St Pancras after work on the Friday night and caught the last Eurostar train to Lille, arriving a little after 10pm. If you’re familiar with Lille, you’ll know that there’s not much open in the centre past 10 or 11pm but we did just manage to dump our bags at our hotel and then go straight to Flam’s for a flammekueche dinner.

We sat outside and dined on two of the flams and a warm salad. I loved the thinness of the tartes and how light it all felt (yeah, sure, there was cheese on top and plenty of lardons on everything but, look, salad!).

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And we couldn’t help it and shared a chocolate banana flam for dessert as well. With drinks, it came to only €30 total for all three of us. An excellent late night eat.

Chocolat-Banane

Flam’s
8 Rue Pas

On Saturday mornings, Lille has a small local food market around the Theatre Sébastopol and the stalls all looked excellent. We only bought some cherries and they were very good indeed. We didn’t find the breakfast we were looking for though, finding patisserie and not viennoiserie.

Cherries

Marché Sébastopol
Place Sébastopol

And so we stopped at a random cafe close to the market and fed ourselves with cafe cremes, croissants, …

Cafe Creme et Croissants

… and giggled at the cappuccino that came with whipped cream! Definitely more luxurious than your bog-standard one!

A "Cappuccino"

Then the shopping began in earnest… and I’ll spare you the details. Well, other than to say that the sales at this time of the year were fantastic and prices were already at their third markdown.

Lunch! I couldn’t get a dinner booking at Bloempot, run by Florent Ladeyn of French Top Chef fame, for any time in July and instead we tried to get a walk in table for the midday meal… and we succeeded! By going a little early (12:30) we had our pick of tables in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it restaurant down the end if a narrow alley; by 14:00 the whole restaurant was packed.

Bloempot

On weekends, they serve the same menus as weekday evenings. There’s a choice of three menus which differ on the number of courses you get and we went with the cheapest at €34, getting us a starter, main, cheese and dessert. Drink pairings are also available. It’s a surprise menu based on what’s good at the market at that time of the year, though they do take allergies and dietary restrictions into consideration.

The little extras were more generous than I was expecting. Prior to our starter, we received a mound of fresh radishes with plenty of salt, butter and a soft fresh cheese. Very good bread too, in a paper bag.

Radishes, Butter and Fresh Cheese

Our starter was a beautiful roulade of thinly sliced kohlrabi with a quenelle of a fresh drained cheese topped with tarragon.

Kohlrabi and Fresh Cheese

Our main course was fish. A perfect piece of skate was served with sliced razor clams, mangetout and the loveliest little potatoes.

Skate, Mangetout and Potatoes

Then came what we originally thought was our cheese course. This was a massive bowl of maroilles foam topped with lardons and parsley crumbs, served with a big hunk of toasted bread crust for dipping. (Maroilles is the famous odoriferous cheese of the region) It was insanely good and we requested spoons to hasten its transfer into our mouths.

Maroilles Foam Dip with Lardons and Parsley Crumbs

Our waiter then came around with three small glasses half filled with a yellow-green liquid. He explained that we were being served a limonade made using their homemade sorrel syrup and topped up the glass with fizzy water. It was a lovely and necessary touch to clear our palates after that cheese onslaught.

Limonade d'Oseille

Our actual cheese course then arrived – yes, the Maroilles foam was an extra. This was thin slices of tomme de sec bois topped with fresh raspberries, rose petals and a drizzle of syrup.

Tomme with Raspberries and Rose Petals

Dessert was a dream. Fresh perfect berries, sorrel sorbet, langues de chat and a milk custard ladled on the side – I could have had another few bowls!

Berries, Sorrel Sorbert, Langues de Chat, Custard

Bloempot is highly recommended!

Bloempot
22 Rue des Bouchers

Then it was back to shopping. When the shops finally did us in, we headed straight to Meert for refreshments.

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Thé Glacé

The cakes were all excellent as usual (and that waffle!) and the iced tea was exactly what I needed.

Meert
27 Rue Esquermoise

We swung by the hypermarket next to the train station and picked up goodies for home before finally taking a break at the hotel before dinner. Can you tell that we were trying to cram all the shopping in on Saturday? Like most other places in France, 99% of Lille shuts down on Sundays.

Our night was going to be spent on Rue de Gand, a street lined with restaurants and wine bars. I had made a booking at Chez la Vieille, a highly regarded Lillois estaminet (and one in which we couldn’t get a table the last time I was in Lille). They served large portions of hearty northern French food and we struggled to finish it all.

Croquettes aux crevettes were excellent and full of little brown shrimps.

Croquettes aux Crevettes

My friend’s Coeur des Flandres was a fantastic homemade tart filled with minced pork, onion and apple.

Le Coeur des Flandres

My Gratin de la Vieille was insane. An entire cooked endive (and a fat one at that) had been wrapped in ham and then drowned in plenty of bechamel and topped with maroilles cheese before being grilled on top. With frites!

Gratin de la Vieille

Estaminet Chez la Vieille
60 Rue de Gand

And then we crashed back at the hotel…and I think all the day’s cheese affected the others as they awoke around me recounting strange dreams the next morning. Haha!

We checked out, dumped our now overflowing bags, and headed straight to the Marché de Wazemmes. The walk along the way was through a deserted city but as we got nearer to the market, it became exceedingly clear that the entire city was there. The first thing I did was find the lady who was selling Tunisian bricks – this was the brick that got away the last time I was in Lille!

Brick!

Brick!

It hit the spot. This one was filled with minced lamb and onions and the essential egg.

After walking once around the market (and perhaps I’ll mention here that not everything was peachy – we had coffee at a specialist place where they treated us badly), we noticed there was a bar (L’Oxford) at one corner with plenty of outdoor seating and everyone sitting there had ordered drinks at the bar and were tucking into food purchased at the market. Yeah, we wanted in on that! We surveyed all the rotisserie chicken vans (there were a few) before choosing our favourite and for the grand sum of €9, we received one roast chicken, plenty of potatoes that had been cooked in the drippings, and a giant spiced potato and lamb patty.

Preparing our Lunch

Lunch!

That poor chicken never stood a chance.

Marché de Wazemmes
Place Nouvelle Aventure

The afternoon was spent in the Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille and when we emerged, it was raining (not in the original weather forecast!). We had a couple hours to kill before our train back and headed out to the Quai du Wault in search of a hotel that used to be a convent, hoping to wait out the weather. That was the Alliance Couvent des Minimes and we sat in their bar eating pastries…

Cafe Gourmand

… and ice cream.

Ice Cream!

Alliance Couvent des Minimes
Quai du Wault

And then it was time to catch the Eurostar back to London. Back to reality. I highly recommend Lille for a short break. It’s easy to get there and prices at restaurants are lower than similar restaurants in Paris. And if you’re there during the sales… well, I take no responsibility for that.

All my photos from Lille can be found in this Flickr album.

I happened to be browsing on my phone in Marseille when I came across an article that stated that the Cours Julien was where the young people go in the evenings. I immediately Google mapped it and to my surprise, it was not far at all from our flat, just in the opposite direction to that we’d normally instinctively go. And it turned out that the Cours Julien is a fabulous area – there are boutique shops and lots of restaurants and a big communal square and a playground. It’s a lovely place to be. We wandered around for a bit but immediately knew when we stopped in front of Le Resto Provençal that this was where we wished to dine.

And yes, their menu was full of Provençal specialities. In addition to their a la carte menu, they had two set menus and we opted to choose from their slightly cheaper one of €18,50 for three courses. There was already so much choice on that menu and there’s even more with their €24 set menu.

Blai went for the Petites seiches au basilic, which were served cold on a salad. Refreshing but simple, they were exactly what he desired, proclaimed he.

Petites seiches au basilic

I, remembering how good the soup was at Chez Fonfon, opted for the Soupe de poissons, which was listed as a house specialty.

Soupe de poissons

Oh glorious, glorious fish soup with your crunchy croutons, spicy garlicky rouille and shreds of gruyere waiting to melt on top of it all. And if the rouille wasn’t garlicky enough for you, a garlic clove was also provided to rub on the croutons. It was utterly delicious.

It was just after we finished our starters when the heavens opened and it started pouring. Proper buckets with lightning and thunder and everything. People who had been sitting outside all somehow managed to squeeze inside… and it was a tight squeeze! Luckily, by the time we finished our meal, the rained had slowed down but we did have to wait it out for a bit.

Pouring Outside

All the better weather for us to dive head first into our comforting main course – Alouettes sans tête, served with pasta. These long-braised stuffed rolls of beef were fabulous – full of garlic, parsley, pine nuts and bacon. They were cooked to falling-apart tenderness and were incredibly moreish and comforting. Oh wait, I said that already…but it’s true. So so so comforting.

Alouettes sans tête

Desserts were simple but perfect endings to the meal. We split a Petit flan de romarin

Petit flan de romarin

… and a Salade de fruits frais.

Salade de fruits frais

I never would have thought of incorporating rosemary into a dessert but it did work! And the fruit salad was a proper one full of ripe fruits. Ripe fruits.

It was a shame they close on Sundays (most of the restaurants on the Cours Julien do) as we were hoping to repeat this meal!

Le Resto Provençal
64 Cours Julien
13006 Marseille
(6e arrondissement)
France

We arrived quite late on our first evening in Marseille and after dumping our stuff in our flat, we walked straight to the port, hoping that our noses would lead us to something good to eat. Unfortunately, most of the places we could see were chains or very expensive or blasting music (read: looking like a disco); later we would encounter the south side of the port and its plethora of tourist traps. It’s not easy to eat well by the port. There was one place on my list though – La Kahena, a Tunisian restaurant that was well rated. It was brightly lit and open (relatively) late and we got a table easily (it was a Tuesday night).

I couldn’t eat in a Tunisian restaurant and not have one of my favourite things in the world – brick (also spelled brik). This was a brick au thon, a thin pastry sheet filled with tuna, onion, parsley and egg and fried. Yes.

Brick au thon

We also split a couscous mechoui. Mechoui is a roasted lamb dish and sure enough, here was a big hunk of roasted lamb on our couscous…and lots of vegetables….and a boiled egg. Portion sizes were big here and we saw people ordering one for themselves and failing to make any significant indentation in their bowl.

Couscous Mechoui

On the side was a bowl of the broth the vegetables (and usually lamb) cook in. Pour it over the couscous and there’s some mighty fine eating.

Couscous Sauce

We finished the meal with sweet mint tea with nuts (pine nuts in my case and toasted almonds in Blai’s). I loved the pine nuts but we both got a bit fatigued by the almonds…there were just so many! (Not a normal complaint…) The Tunisian sweet we also ordered was alright, but had clearly been sitting around for a while.

Mint Tea with Nuts

La Kahena
2 Rue de la République
13001 Marseille
France

And that was our first taste of North African food in Marseille – we were hooked and we needed more. Luckily for us, there was a good restaurant only a 5 minute walk from our flat and we ate there twice during our visit. Their menu’s very similar to that at La Kahena but prices are lower (portion sizes were still large) – it’s only something like €7 for the basic lamb or chicken couscous. We found it quite easy to get a table (there were quite a few tables and most people didn’t linger).

We went for the most fancy couscous combination they had – the couscous royale. Again, couscous and the broth (the vegetables stayed in the broth this time) and a plate of meats.

Couscous Royale

Let’s take a closer look at that meat plate, shall we?

Boom.

All the Grilled Meat

A grilled lamb chop, braised lamb (in the vegetable broth), a beautifully braised tender meatball, a grilled lamb brochette and grilled merguez. It’s a bit too much meat for one but perfect for sharing between two.

And again, one of my favourite Tunisian things ever – another brick au thon! And it was another excellent specimen.

Brick au Thon

We even had it on our last night in the city (a Sunday). It being France, many restaurants were closed on Sunday night but not this place! We repeated the couscous and the brick as they were both brilliant and we added a salad as well.

Dinner

This was a mechouia salad – lettuce, tuna, boiled egg, tomato, olives and a roasted pepper relish. I loved those roasted peppers that seemed to pull everything together in this salad. Delicious.

Mechouia Salad

We finished our last meal in Marseille with mint tea….two mint teas each actually! Their tea was cheap and excellent – not too sweet. We did try their sweets but again, they were on the stale side – a bit of a letdown these sweets were.

Excellent Mint Tea

Saf Saf
29 rue Vincent Scotto
13001 Marseille
France

It’s no surprise that the French have embraced North African cuisine, especially couscous. It’s all delicious! If you’re interested in reading more about North African culture in Marseille, I recommend this article from the New York Times.

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

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