France


We spent last weekend in Paris – it was a much needed break from work though it did feel like we traded one city full of tourists for another. That said, I love the change of culture, of language, of scenery. On Friday evening, we caught a Eurostar train to Paris, checked into our hotel in the 11eme and then headed straight out to find the nearby Les Niçois, a bar/restaurant that brings the French Riviera to Paris.

It was crowded on that Friday night but we just managed to find the last two seats in the place. We also managed to order food just before the kitchen closed and we dined on an Assiette Nissard, featuring a variety of Niçoise specialties: pissaladiere, pizza nissarde, panisses, tapenades noire et verte, anchoiade. With a basket of bread, this was a perfectly sized sampler of fantastic treats from the south for one person.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

But we were two and we needed a couple other light dishes. Croquettes were filled with a vegetable mixture similar to ratatouille, the flavour of which was very reminiscent of the south of France.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

I couldn’t leave without an order of grilled sardines. These little oily fish were perfect. Just perfect.

Dinner at Les Niçois in Paris on Friday night. The place is brilliant! You can play petanque in the basement!

As it was close by to our hotel, we even dropped by for a drink on our last day, prior to picking up our luggage and heading to the train station. It was quiet on a Sunday afternoon and they were preparing for the barbecue they hold every Sunday evening.

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I’m leaving what’s possibly the best for last! They have a games room in the basement, complete with a petanque court!

Basement Petanque

It’s a seriously fun place!

Les Niçois
7 Rue Lacharrière
75011 Paris
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

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