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GPSmyCity Travel App – Seasonal Giveaway

It’s time for another seasonal giveaway with GPSmyCity. This brilliant travel app has just published 4 more of my travel articles, this time from my trip to Tuscany in the summer. I’m excited to now have 54 articles published on the app from trips to Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, France, Austria, Greece and also guides in the UK.

GPSmyCity has been successfully publishing travel articles and self-guided tours since 2009. With more than 6,500 articles and tours exploring over 1,000 cities worldwide, the app allows you, as they say, ‘to lose yourself without getting lost’. It will act as your personal guide and you’ll always know where you are and how to get to where you want to go. It’s full of inspirational tips for what to do, where to eat and what to see in the city you’re visiting.

The beauty of GPSmyCity is that it allows you to go at your own pace and follow the route you want to take. All you have to do is search for articles on the city you’re travelling to and download them onto your smartphone or tablet and they’ll always be with you. No more carrying heavy guidebooks around or struggling to open out a map to find your way. Nor do you have to rely on WiFi or using valuable GPS data on your phone: you can download articles for free and read them offline – even on a plane or the beach.

On top of all this, GPSmyCity offers you the chance to upgrade for a small fee (US$1.99) and receive a city map and GPS navigation to all the sights and places mentioned in the article, which you can access offline. If you want to get the most out of your holiday or if you travel a lot, you might want to buy a subscription: US$12.99/year to access all travel articles for 900+ cities worldwide; US$18.99/year buys access to all travel articles + walking tours for 1,000+ cities worldwide. You will get the upgraded full benefit of GPS and city maps right across the app, in whichever city you’re visiting, for a whole year. Click here to find out more on their website.

To celebrate the publication of my 4 articles on Tuscany, a free upgrade is being offered on the firstTuscany: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo and Morefor a week. Why don’t you upload it onto your phone – especially if you’re planning a trip to Florence – and see how great the app is? Here are links to the 4 new articles on the app:

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Tuscany: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo & Mercato Centrale in Florence

Click here for free upgrade.

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The following are also available to read and download:

Return to Florence

Click here for link.

 

24 Hours in Lucca

Click here for link.

 

A Walk Through Florence at Night

Click here for link.

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Next time you’re travelling to a city for a holiday or city break, why don’t you take a look at GPSmyCity and all it has to offer to make your trip great? Click here.

Glorious Grains & Roasted Vegetables – Three Ways

This is one of my regular midweek supper dishes, especially now autumn is here with its cooler evenings and I crave something comforting and warming in the evening once the night has drawn in and the temperature dropped. I’ve taken to using it for three meals as there’s far too much for one. Food shopping for the single diner isn’t always easy. Things come packaged in 2s, 4s or in quantities far too big for one meal. Of course you can wait at the meat counter and buy just one chicken breast; you can pick loose fruit and veg – though in supermarkets generally they’re not organic, which I prefer to buy. More and more I’m tending to buy salads and veg in my local Wholefoods where loose organic is an option. And sometimes I’ll go to the local fishmonger to buy fish for one meal. But other times life is too busy and a quick dash to the supermarket is all I have time for. And sometimes, lovely packets like these grains come in packs with more than enough for one but are irresistible and make the base of a quick but tasty and nutritious supper.

I’ve been buying Merchant Gourmet’s pre-cooked, vacuum-packed Puy lentils for years and the basis for today’s recipe uses them in a similar dish which has been one of the top-viewing posts on my blog over all time – more than 8 years now! I discovered the Glorious Grains recently and love them; they make a nice alternative to the Puy lentils (which I still buy). The Glorious Grains are a mix of quinoa and red rice and now there’s always a pack waiting in my cupboard.

In all honesty it’s not really a ‘recipe’ as such: it’s more a ‘put together something from what’s lurking in the fridge and needs using up’ in the vegetable compartment. Yesterday I gathered one solitary courgette, a Romano pepper, 2 small red onions, 1 celery stick and some small tomatoes on the vine. I took the grains from my cupboard – and then I got cooking!

 

Glorious Grains & Roasted Vegetables – 1st Way (and base)

  • selection of veg – see above
  • olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence (or thyme or oregano)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pack Merchant Gourmet’s Glorious Grains (or Puy lentils)
  • balsamic vinegar

 

 

Trim and chop the courgette and pepper into small dice – about 1·5cm. Peel and chop the onions and slice the celery stick into similar-sized pieces. Quarter the tomatoes. Put them all together in a large ovenproof pan. Drizzle over a good amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with the herbs and season with salt and pepper.

Mix it together gently with your hands (getting messy hands really is the best way!). Put into a 200C/Fan 180/Gas 6 oven for about 40 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and starting to caramelise a little. It’s a good idea to give it all a stir once or twice during the cooking.

Tip in the grains and give them a thorough – but gentle – mix in. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and I like to add a drizzle of balsamic too – but that’s optional. Put back in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the grains are heated through.

Your 1st meal! Spoon a portion onto a serving plate. I grated over some Parmesan and drizzled on a little more olive oil. One perfect supper.

 

2nd Way

I’d transferred the leftover grains and vegetables into a smaller dish and kept in the fridge. The second evening I spooned a portion into a small, shallow ovenproof dish. I covered it in foil and put in the oven (200C/Fan 180/Gas 6) for about 30 minutes or until the mix is nicely heated through and hot.

Make 2 holes in the mix with a spoon. Then break 2 eggs – one into each hole. Return to the oven for 10 minutes.

 

I like my yolks runny and this timing seems perfect, but leave it in a little longer if you like your egg yolks well cooked.

This is my favourite version! You get all the lovely, rich and warming grain and vegetable mix but with the eggs. When you break the yolk and it runs into the mix it’s just a little piece of foodie heaven. Gorgeous! I eat it straight from the dish. No point in trying to transfer it – and you’d probably ruin the egg!

 

3rd Way

There was only a small portion left over so I did what I usually do and used it as part of a salad for lunch on the 3rd day. It’s just as delicious cold and partnered with some raw salad vegetables – cucumber, tomatoes, avocado, grated carrot, whatever you have and fancy using – and perhaps some hummus or cheese, it makes a fabulous lunch.

I cooked the vegetables specially for the meal but I often roast a similar mix of vegetables when feeding the family a roast dinner on Sunday – usually a chicken – and there’s often leftovers of the veg. I use these in the same way, heating them the next day and adding the grains. It’s a wonderfully versatile recipe. Enjoy!

Simple Apple Tart

It was a lovely family weekend. My aunt Arleen was visiting from Kent for the weekend and my son and family coming over on Sunday for a meal. I didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen so prepared a Boeuf Daube on Saturday morning before my aunt arrived, so it could just be reheated the next day for the family meal. Dishes like this seem to benefit from being made ahead anyway.

I had in mind a provençale meal to recreate my recent Nice experience. To start I’d just offer some little pieces of toast with tapenade to have with our aperitif as I’d had in Nice. What could be simpler?

For dessert I decided to make a simple tarte aux pommes. I bought some all-butter puff pastry and basically made it in the way I made the tomato tart last week – but this time with apples rather than tomatoes.

 

Simple Apple Tart

  • 1 pack (about 350g) ready-made all-butter puff pastry
  • 3-4 medium-sized eating apples (I used Cox’s Orange Pippin)
  • 30g butter, melted
  • a little flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon ground almonds
  • 2 dessertspoons caster sugar

 

 

Peel 3 apples, cut into quarters and remove the core. Slice thinly into segments. Have another apple to hand in case this isn’t enough once you start laying the apple on the pastry. I prefer to use eating apples to cut down on the sugar needed and Cox’s Orange Pippins cook well.

 

Grease a baking sheet with a little of the melted butter. Dust with a little flour to ensure the cooked tart doesn’t stick to the bottom. Unroll the pastry onto the baking sheet. Cut strips of about 1cm from each side. Brush the strips with a little beaten egg and lay along the edge; then brush the top with more egg. This is to make a little ‘wall’ to the edge of the tart. Sprinkle the ground almonds over the base to help keep the pastry crisp under the apples (I did this because I’d done the same with polenta when making the tomato tart and it worked well.)

Neatly lay the apple slices in rows on the pastry (or however you fancy decorating it!). Brush the apple with the melted butter. Sprinkle over 1 dessertspoon caster sugar.

Put into a preheated oven at 200C/Fan 180/Gas 6 for about 20-25 minutes, until the pastry has risen round the edge and browned nicely. However, your apples probably won’t have browned and caramelised at the edge!

It was at this point I realised I should have replaced my broken blowtorch. So I had to improvise. I turned the grill on. Then I covered the pastry on the edge of the tart with strips of foil. I sprinkled over another dessertspoon of caster sugar (you’d need to with a blowtorch too) and put under the hot grill.

Watch carefully. The apple caramelised quite quickly – so don’t take your eyes off it. When it looks nicely browned, remove from the grill. Carefully transfer to a serving plate or, if like me you don’t have the right size and shape large plate, a wooden board. Of course you could eat it straight away, but I made it earlier in the day to eat cold.

There was little left to do come dinner time. I’d peeled a mix of white and sweet potatoes for a mash to go with the daube. I toasted little slices of a baguette for the tapenade just before eating while my son got glasses out and opened some champagne. We were ‘doing’ French so it was a wonderful excuse for champagne rather than our usual prosecco. And I had a bottle of gorgeous Pol Roger in the fridge – a gift from some time ago – that definitely required drinking!

I decided to also offer some smoked salmon pâté (bought) with the toast and some hummus. The hummus was for 22-month-old Benjamin’s benefit. Benjamin would live on hummus and olives if we let him. We had our aperitif in the sitting room so the boys (4½ year old Freddie as well) could run around. Then we all sat down for the main course. It was just so rich and gorgeous, we all loved it. I had a large green salad on the side too.

Then it was dessert time and the apple tart was carried through with a choice of crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream to go with it.

We ate nearly all of it! It looked large at about 32cm x 24cm and you’d think it would serve 12. Well not when feeding my family! But of course it’s a thin layer of pastry with just a thin layer of apples on top so we weren’t really being greedy when seconds were asked for. And it’s always wonderful to feed enthusiastic and appreciative guests.

It really is a quick and easy dessert – but not any less wonderful for being simple. And it was a perfect end to our provençale meal.

Tomato & Goats’ Cheese Tart

Travelling to beautiful places like Nice, as I did last weekend, where there’s the most wonderful food to be enjoyed, just has to be an inspiration once you’re back home in your own kitchen.  I thus decided to cook a Niçois meal for the family this evening.

Tarte à la Tomate, along with pissaladière (onion tart), are common on menus in Nice. They’re also found in bakeries or on street-food stalls to have as a snack. I had a tomato tart as a starter for lunch in La Merenda on my last day. That had a kind of bread base and was very nice but I thought I’d prefer to make one with a lighter pastry base, and which is perhaps more common in Nice. I found pretty much what I was looking for in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday! I used Hugh’s recipe as a base but added some goats’ cheese and olives; instead of fresh thyme, I used the Herbes de Provence I brought back from Nice.

Like Hugh, I used ready-made all-butter puff pastry. This shortcut means it’s a really simple and quick dish to put together. It’s also fantastically delicious!

 

Tomato & Goats’ Cheese Tart

  • 1 pack (about 350g) ready-made, all-butter puff pastry
  • olive oil
  • a little fine polenta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • about 350g tomatoes (I chose a mix of colours)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • dried herbes de Provence (or thyme)
  • 100g wheel of goats’ cheese, with rind, but into thin slices
  • a handful of small black olives

 

The pastry was ready rolled. Grease a baking tray and lightly oil with the olive oil. Sprinkle over a little polenta – this helps make the base of the tart nice and crisp. Cut away strips of about 1cm from each side. Brush with the egg and put back on to the edge. Brush the top of the strips with more egg. This makes a little ‘wall’ round the edge of the tart.

Cut the tomatoes into roughly 2-3mm slices; the smaller plum tomatoes I cut in half lengthwise.

Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the pastry base then lay the tomato pieces on top so the pastry is well covered. Season a little with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over a little of the dried herbs. Drizzle with a little olive oil.

Put into a preheated oven at 190C/Fan 170/Gas 5 for about 15-20 minutes, or until the edge of the pastry is light golden brown and the tomatoes noticeably softening.

Remove from the oven and lay the cheese slices on top. Scatter over the olives and a little more of the dried herbs. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and put back in the oven for about another 10-15 minutes.

Remove when the tart is nicely brown and the cheese starting the melt.

It looked wonderful and smelled gorgeous. It’s best served warm rather than hot, but I actually made mine in advance – an hour or two before eating – so it had cooled. I considered reheating but decided not to. It was going to be fine just as it was.

We had it as a starter and cut it into 16 smallish pieces – mainly because we had 4½ year old Freddie and 22 month Benjamin eating with us. It was really fantastic and just as I’d hoped, really did taste of Nice. I was transported back – despite the cold, wet autumnal weather outside. Freddie liked it so much he ate 4 slices!

I’d made a Salade Niçoise as a ‘main’ which we had with fougasse bread (Provençal bread) from Paul Bakery.

I was really delighted with how the tomato tart turned out. I thought we’d eat just half of it as a starter but we finished it. Everyone loved it.

It would make a great midweek light supper with a nice green salad, and of course is a great dish for vegetarians. It would even be good for picnics.

It may be cold and grey outside but you can bring a little Provençal sun into your home with this sunny and gorgeous tomato tart.

The Food of Nice and Where to Eat

One of the great pleasures of visiting Nice is sampling its wonderful cuisine. With a lifelong interest in food that goes beyond simply eating, from cooking in my family’s pub restaurant in my teens, editing cookery books in my 20s and now writing a food & travel blog, I have to confess that I have no interest in travelling to places where I can’t find good food and good wine to go with it. Thus Nice is an ideal destination for me and a place I find myself wanting to go to again and again. Its food is as colourful and vibrant as the city itself. Nestling in the beautiful Baie des Anges, Nice has a view over the Mediterranean that offers the most stunning sensory delight with its incredible blue sea that’s drawn artists like Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Dufy to its shores. The French call it the Côte d’Azur – the blue coast.

Just off the seafront by Vieux Nice (Old Town) in the Cours Saleya the sensory delight continues as you walk through the food market (Tues-Sun) where bunches of fresh flowers, lavender, rosemary, thyme and other herbs fill the air.

 

 

Plump tomatoes ripened in the sun are sold in different shapes, colours and sizes – no supermarket uniformity here. There’s the fragrant perfume of ripe figs, peaches and other fruits. Even if you’re staying in a hotel, you can buy fruit to take back to your room and enjoy.

 

You’ll find great street food to snack on: pan bagnet, a Niçois speciality sandwich filled with tuna and/or anchovies, boiled egg, tomatoes and other vegetables; socca – a local speciality pancake made from chickpea flour; slices of pissaladière – open onion tart with onions cooked down to a sweet delight and topped with anchovies and olives.

 

Olives grow easily in the mild climate and I was often served the gorgeous little taggiasca olives you also find in Liguria in Italy with a drink or in food. There’s local olive oil in abundance and great local wine too.

You’ll find lots of tempting food shops all round the city, but going up rue Marche in Vieux Nice is a great place to look. I found this wonderful shop selling Herbes de Provence, olive oil, preserves, white truffles and lots of other foods. Olio Donato has been producing and selling traditional Mediterranean delicacies since 1939. Now run by Fabio Donato he sells olives and olive oil from trees planted by his ancestors.

I bought some herbs which make great presents – and can also go in a hand luggage bag if you’re travelling lightly.

 

Breakfast & Morning Coffee

If you’re staying in a hotel then breakfast might well be part of your package. For me it was extra and I did take it one morning, but then decided I’d prefer to go out. There are lots of breakfast deals advertised on blackboards outside cafés – usually a base of freshly squeezed orange, croissant and a hot drink, but with all kinds of extras and variations, and on average about €10. I liked to go to Pain e Cie (a former Pain Quotidien and much the same) in rue Louis Gassin right by the Cours Saleya market. It was great to be able to watch the stallholders setting up the morning market outside while I ate. The basic Niçois breakfast was €7.50.

 

I also went to Chez Maître Pierre in rue Massena. It had been widely recommended in guides online and I’d noted they supplied bread to a couple of my favourite restaurants in Nice so they were bound to be good.

 

There’s an endless choice of cafés to choose from, of course. What I did find was that it was quite hard to find really good coffee. The French aren’t ‘in’ to their coffee like the Italians and many still use (horror!) long-life milk when you have a café au lait. However, if good pastries are your thing for breakfast or with morning coffee, then you’ll be in luck, for of course French patisserie is wonderful!

 

Lunch

I’m a light lunch person and prefer my main meal in the evening so am always on the lookout for a good snack around midday. Of course you can buy great street food from the market, boulangerie (baker’s) or charcuterie (deli). I like to sit down though as I’ve usually been on the go and walking most of the morning.

I had a good lunch in La Femme Du Boulanger in rue du Commandant Raffali, off rue Massena. As the name suggests it’s a baker’s and offers a choice of open sandwiches, salads and hot dishes too. I had an excellent Niçois Tartine – an open sandwich with ratatouille.

I also had a good salad lunch at Bar de la Degustation in rue de la Préfecture.

Another option is to just have some starters in a restaurant or one small plate – at Peixes they serve small plates for sharing but on my own I had just one for lunch and it was perfect. It was my first day and the food so amazing I had to go back for dinner another night (see below).

 

Ice Cream

I’m a great gelato fan and usually want an ice cream a day on holiday, but I only went to one gelateria during my stay in Nice because I was saving my sweet treat of the day for the evening meal and having dessert instead. However, I had an excellent gelato at Azzurro in rue Ste-Réparate. They make the waffle cones themselves at the front. Nearby in Place Rossetti is Fenocchio, one of Nice’s most famous gelaterias. I had ice cream there on my last trip and it is very good. Another good place is Roberto 1er in rue Marché. There are also branches of Grom and Amorino in rue Massena.

 

Aperitif

I found the Bar de la Degustation by chance on the first night. I was in the busy Place du Palais de Justice in Vieux Nice and it just looked like a good place for an early evening drink – an aperitif. It was a fun place to be and they always brought a complimentary plate of little toasts with tapenade (a great speciality here) with my €4 glass of Provence rosé. The staff were friendly and seemed happy for me to hang about for quite a while, watching the Nice world go by, before heading to whichever restaurant I’d planned to eat my evening meal. One day I had a good salad lunch here too.

There are lots of places to stop for a drink and quite a few along the seafront if you’re looking for a sea view. One evening I chose a bar in Cours Saleya and I was brought a dish of nice olives with my drink, but the Degustation bar became a favourite.

 

Dinner – Traditional Niçois Cuisine

If you’re a foodie of any kind then you’re going to want to sample some of Nice’s traditional food and there are plenty of places to do so. While you’ll find a lot of the classic and familiar Provençale dishes like ratatouille, daube de boeuf, etc., you’ll also find a strong Italian influence for back in the 19th century Nice was governed by the House of Savoy who were based in what is now Piedmont, Italy. It’s interesting that there are many Italian restaurants here and I’ve even heard Italian spoken in the market.

Look out for Petits Farcis (stuffed small vegetables), Salade Niçoise and Ravioli Niçois (which I had on my first night at Lou Pistou – ravioli with beef and daube gravy).

You’ll find lots of dishes contain pistou, the Niçois version of pesto.  Pasta is often served with pistou and look out for Soupe au Pistou, a bean soup enriched with pistou.

I actually had lunch in La Merenda (photo above) on the last day, but it was the kind of meal I’d usually have in the evening – however as my next meal would be at the airport, I made the most of what Nice had to offer and this restaurant has made a big name for itself. It’s a tiny, modest place where the owner was once a 2-star Michelin chef (for more click here) and now prefers to cook more simply in a small open kitchen at the back. I had a lovely tomato tart but a great Daube de Boeuf with panisse (chips made from chickpea flour).

My dessert was another local speciality, Tourte aux Blettes – a sweet pie made with Swiss chard.

I also had good meals at Lou Pistou (almost next door to La Merenda in rue Raoul Bosio) where I’d eaten 4 years ago, and at La P’tite Cocotte (click here).

 

Dinner – Modern Niçois Cuisine

If you enjoy good food then you’re bound to be on the lookout for the best Salade Niçoise or a great Daube de Boeuf and other traditional dishes, but Nice is also home to some wonderful newer restaurants serving a more modern cuisine. I just loved Peixes which has been making a big name for itself serving extraordinarily good fish dishes with often an Asian touch. The Michelin Guide even says eating there is ‘the stuff of great memories’. They do pretty much only serve fish so don’t go there if you don’t eat fish at all. (Click for full review.)

A sister restaurant, also owned by much-respected restaurateur Armand Crespo, is Bar des Oiseaux. I had a great lunch there but it’s a good place for dinner too. Their food is a little more classic than Peixes and isn’t just a fish restaurant so serves meat too – although I ate a gorgeous prawn risotto.

I love the traditional Niçois cuisine but although it has some wonderful vegetable dishes – think, ratatouille, pissaladère – many dishes are quite meat heavy and rich. I found it great to be able to sometimes go for something just a bit lighter and more modern.

 

Wine

Think of wine in Provence and the first thought is a chilled, pale pink rosé. There are some lovely rosé wines to be enjoyed and I liked having one as an aperitif or at lunchtime. But there are some great red wines too. I know a reasonable amount about wine but I’m always happy to ask the restaurant what they recommend, and I prefer to drink local wines if I’m in a wine-growing area. I like to learn by asking and the chances are you’ll end up with something a bit more special by having a conversation, and a wine that complements your meal well.

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Wherever you eat in Nice, and whatever kind of food you enjoy, there’s a fantastic choice of gorgeous food at all prices, from markets and cafés, to smart restaurants.

 

 

Nice 2019: Last Morning & Lunch at La Merenda

My flight home wasn’t until 19:50 so I had most of the day in Nice to continue holidaying. The damp weather of the previous day still hung lightly in the air and I put up my umbrella when leaving the hotel to go out for some breakfast. Breakfast wasn’t included in my deal and the hotel – Best Western Plus Hotel Massena – offered me a reduced rate of €13 a day instead of €17 if I had it the 4 mornings. I said ‘yes’ on arrival but after one morning changed my mind. I don’t eat a lot first thing and although the buffet was fine, the breakfast room was far too busy and noisy for me to deal with first thing. I found the morning peace I sought in Pain e Cie by the Cours Saleya market again, as I’d done the day before. A simple and good Niçois breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, croissant and coffee for €7.50. The staff were friendly and the few people there were talking quietly and I could look out on the market. It was perfect. But I did notice everywhere that breakfast deals were round about the €10 mark, so the hotel’s wasn’t particularly expensive and if you eat a lot in the morning, you could certainly fill yourself up for the day on their buffet and it’s great value.

Outside I discovered that the Monday market is a flea market rather than a food market. There were lots of stalls and it was quite fun seeing them being set up.

I wandered down to the seafront through one of the arches leading off the market. It was grey still as I wandered to the eastern edge of the bay but pleasant to be out by the sea and with the promenade still relatively quiet in the early part of the day. I looked up at Tour Bellanda.

It was too early to take the lift (which opens at 9am) to the top but I’d walked up before so I started climbing the steps. It’s not really that far and in fact you can get higher for an even better view from another point. But it was fun to be up there when it was virtually empty.

Even with the dark clouds it offers a great view over Nice.

Just below a fishing boat was making it way in. Had it had a good catch? I wondered.

By late morning the sky was clearing to a gorgeous blue which was reflected in the water below. The sea here really is the most wonderful and extraordinary colour and you can easily see why artists like Matisse and Dufy fell in love with Nice.

I had to check out of my hotel by 12.00 so went back around 11.00 to do my final packing, pay the city tax, and store my suitcase in their storage room. Then I made my way back to the Old Town where I’d booked a table for lunch at La Merenda at 12.00. My friend Miriam had recommended the restaurant to me when I bumped into her a couple of weeks ago and told her I was going to Nice. She said she and her husband always head straight there. She said you couldn’t book but they must have changed their policy for when I passed it in the morning a note in the window said phone reservations only (I’d read they once didn’t even own a phone; they still don’t take card payment). They were opening up (they’re closed Saturday and Sunday) and I could see people inside getting everything ready for later so I stuck my head through the beaded curtain across the front door. The guy I spoke to hesitated when I asked if I could reserve a table for lunch but then offered one for 12 o’clock. When I said it was for just one, he asked if I’d mind sharing. No, that’s fine, I assured him. Miriam had told me there’s always a long queue so a table shared and certain for my last day was better than none at all, and at least he’d asked at the time of booking, which I appreciated. (In the end, I didn’t have to share and had the little table all to myself.)

La Merenda has an interesting history that explains its popularity. Owner/chef Dominique Le Stanc was once a 2 Michelin starred chef at the famous Negresco hotel on the Promenade des Anglais. He gave up the gastronomic high life to return to his love of cooking rather running a large prestigious kitchen. At La Merenda he prepares simple classic local dishes in a tiny open kitchen at the back of the small restaurant (officially 20 covers but they squeezed in a couple extra yesterday).

It really is remarkably tiny and simple; on entry more like a workman’s cafe but then you find there are thick linen napkins on the table adding just a little touch of luxury.

 

Everything was run with great efficiency but always a smile and friendliness. The restaurant filled up quickly and I hadn’t been there long before I saw lots of people being turned away. I heard some English voices in all the coming and going but in the main I was surrounded by French people, so the locals haven’t been pushed out by the tourists.

There’s just one blackboard which does the rounds, so I had to wait until it was my turn. Everything was explained to me. A lot of the dishes were full-on meat-heavy French classics: andouillette sausages (made from pork intestines – and really quite smelly!); Tête de Veau – (calf’s head); tripe (animal stomach lining). I was however very happy to choose a Daube de Boeuf à la Provençale et Panisse (€17). The starters were lighter and more vegetable based: stuffed courgette flowers; ratatouille; rocket with ricotta, figs and olives. I chose Tarte à la Tomate (€12).

This was so simple but absolutely delicious. The roasted tomatoes on top of a bread-like base were full of flavour; a little pistou (French version of pesto) and olives were strewn over it. Nearly always In Nice I was served little black taggiasca olives which I’ve enjoyed in Liguria in Italy. They are grown in this area too and are lovely olives.

I’d been having a modest small glass of wine with my lunches each day but as this was my last meal before the airport and a flight home, then I decided to have a glass of cool Provence rosé with my starter and a glass of local red with my beef (€6.50 a glass).

The daube was heavenly; the beef cooked so beautifully it fell apart. The taste of the thick gravy was rich and gorgeous and I liked the panisse chips with it, made from chickpea flour and much like the Sicilian street food panelle.

Well for a ‘last meal’ I had to have dessert too – or there was a cheese option. I was told the choices: chocolate mousse, a fresh peach dish … but I was tempted by the Tourte aux Blettes (€6), which I was told was a Niçois speciality – a sweet Swiss chard pie with raisins, pine nuts, apples and a little icing sugar sprinkled on top.

When I say ‘tempted’ it was more to be a bit adventurous and in the name of food research, to be honest. I was a little uncertain about Swiss chard as a dessert, even though I buy it and often cook it. And as for the pie, it was certainly different and while I didn’t actually dislike it, I couldn’t help wishing I’d gone for the less adventurous chocolate mousse instead.

I had an espresso (€2) to finish and I’d had some Evian (€3) with the meal. The total bill was €53.

It was a great ‘last meal’ though and a great place to eat. It was buzzing with happy diners. The tables were so close there was only about 6cm between each; tables had to be pulled out for anyone to get up. But the simple, slightly cramped surroundings took away none of the pleasure of the eating; of the watching M. Le Stanc just a few metres away in his little kitchen, cooking, supervising and arranging plates. The two waiting staff were rushed off their feet but always polite and helpful. For a bit of true Niçois cooking, it has to be a must if you’re in Nice.

Outside it was a bit grey again, a slightly chilly wind blew, but then the wind always gets up in the afternoon at the sea. I walked for a while as I’d a couple of hours to spare. I looked across the walls surrounding the Cours Saleya and could see the house where Matisse had lived, which I wrote about yesterday. Up at the viewpoint on Quai Rauba Capeu it was less grey than it had been in the morning and the sea, despite the clouds above, was a beautiful turquoise colour.

What a delight Nice is. It has so much to offer and I think is rather unique. Back home, I’m already thinking about when I can go back.

Nice 2019: A Day of Rain & Dinner at La P’tite Cocotte

A day of rain had been forecast before I left home but you have to hope when you’re only somewhere for 4 nights – somewhere that’s supposed to be sunny in September – that the weather people have got it wrong. Sadly not. It was only a light rain when I emerged from the hotel this morning to seek breakfast but it had clearly been raining heavily in the night. I made my way down to Pain e Cie (which was a Pain Quotidien when I was here in 2006 and is much the same) where I ordered a Nicoise breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, croissant and coffee for €7.50. It was good and I liked sitting by the window looking over the Saleya market. It feels like being in the heart of Nice.

 

Outside the rain was getting heavier again so I made my way back to the hotel for a while. For lunch I ventured westwards rather than in the Old Town direction as I’d read about La Femme Du Fromager and thought it would be a good place for lunch. Weirdly it also turned out to be a lot like a Pain Quotidien but I don’t think there’s a connection.

I decided to order a Salade Nicoise which was on the specials blackboard. Then I was told it was finished. No Salade Nicoise in Nice?? I settled for a Nicoise Tartine instead. A tartine is an open sandwich. This one came with a gorgeous, slightly warm ratatouille on some thin sourdough toast with some tapenade on it. It was delicious and I felt slightly virtuous that it also seemed a healthy option for lunch!

I considered a half hour walk from here to the Musee des Beaux Arts. I rather fancied that a dose of Raoul Dufy and his glorious bright and cheerful paintings of Nice would cheer the dull and damp day up. But the rain was falling more heavily again and since I’d felt a bit coldy in the morning I decided not to push my luck and just retreat to the hotel again.

Late afternoon the rain had stopped and while it was still grey and damp in the air, I ventured out and made my way down to the sea. There’d been a wonderful painting of the Promenade des Anglais during a storm in the Musee Matisse yesterday and I remembered it as I looked out on a slightly tempestuous sea. It was still beautiful though. I love being by the sea and there’s something wonderfully special about the sea at Nice.

Back through the arches into Cours Saleya where in Place Charles Felix you’ll find the grand house where – on the 3rd floor – Matisse rented an apartment from 1921-1938. It was here that many of his famous paintings of looking through windows to the Mediterranean were painted. From here he moved to Cimiez, where the Matisse museum now is.

Well it seems writing this that it was mainly a day of eating and drinking. Well that’s rainy days for you! Bar de la Degustation in rue de la Prefecture has become my regular aperitif haunt of the holiday. It’s a great place looking over Place du Palais. They always give you a plate of little toasts and tapenade with your drink in the early evening and my glass of wine (toast complimentary) was only €4.

Walking up rue Marche to the restaurant I’d booked for dinner is full of tempting shops to go into. This one was particularly good and I bought some herbes de Provence to take home.

I knew the La P’tite Cocotte was ‘tucked away’ but it’s seriously hidden up a narrow alleyway. I got there for 7.00 when they opened. I rang a couple of days ago to book and the guy didn’t take my name; he’d remember it was just one, he told me. Obviously solo dining isn’t as common in Nice as it is in London! There was a moment of alarm when I had to remind him and then he said inside was full, would I sit outside. Oh no! I thought, not another disaster like last night. But he quickly recovered when I said, No, sorry, I want to sit inside. No problem. He shifted a table round a bit and indicated I sit down and turned out to be nicely friendly.

 

Complimentary toast and tapenade came straight away (yes more for me!). I asked for a glass of red wine. From Provence? he asked. And it turned out to be very good (€6).

I’d read about the lemon and Parmesan ravioli with a creamy sauce so ordered it. It was delicious and I liked the strong but not overpowering lemon.

A chicken supreme with a mushroom sauce and dauphinois potatoes was a fairly classic choice but delicious and excellently cooked. The chicken was beautifully tender. The menu combined the French and Italian heritage of Nice very well.

I’d also read about their chocolate fondant served with pistachio ice cream – in the eponymous cocotte! – so I had to have that too. Especially, I joked to the waiter, because it was one of my family’s favourite desserts so I could make them jealous by sending a photo.

It was gorgeous. The only slight disappointment was the ice cream. It was suspiciously green and there was an almond taste to it. I know from talking to the owners of my local Gelateria Danieli that almonds are often used to bulk out the pistachio. Carlo comes from Sicily where the best pistachios come from (in Bronte) and prides himself on the source of the nuts for his pistachio gelato. And Danieli, one of London’s best gelaterias, supplied ice cream to the queen for her 80th birthday.

It was an excellent meal, a nice intimate setting and very friendly staff. A lovely meal for my final evening. The bill for food, wine and coffee was €42.

It was still early though. I didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet so I cut down to the sea again. Cours Saleya was surprisingly busy for a Sunday evening.

Through an archway and I was on the front again. There’s something about this part at the eastern end – Quai des Etats-Unis – that makes me think of North Africa.

I rounded the steep bend into Quai Rauba Capeu.

And there, again, the view back across Baie des Angers, now in darkness but lots of lights sparkling along it. The day began in dullness and ended in light. Au revoir, beautiful Nice.

Nice 2019: Dinner at Olive et Artichaut

I’ve largely given up writing negative reviews. At home I have a personsal rule that I don’t write about disappointing meals unless they’re at some big name place – usually with a big name TV chef attached to it. I consider they’re not likely to suffer any significant loss of diner support because of me. But I don’t negatively attack local places and sometimes I’ve simply no interest in writing about a meal I haven’t enjoyed. After all, blogging is supposed to be fun – or it is when you’re writing about food and travel.

Perhaps it’s the downturn in the weather matching the downturn in food experience that makes me want to write. Yesterday’s hot and gloriously sunny weather turned grey, windy and wet as the hours passed this afternoon. And the glorious food I’ve enjoyed at Peixes, Bar des Oiseaux, and Lou Pistou on the first night (remembered from my 2015 visit) gave way to the most disappointing meal I’ve had in a while.

It didn’t start well even before I sat down. They tried to sit me in a miserable corner of the bar near the open front door where the bad weather was sweeping in. I have to say that in 8 years of blogging this is only the second time I’ve felt my solo woman dining status has been badly treated. And the other time was in France. My boss told me to sit you there, the waitress told me when I complained. And I had booked a week or two ago – this was not a random visit. No one asked me if I was happy to sit at the bar, I said. And I’m not sitting by the door. Well she could move me but I could only have the table for an hour … I chose to move. I was given a tall bar-type table in a kind of corridor between the front and a larger dining area at the back.

Fortunately they were serving their set menu at €33 for 3 courses, so I wasn’t bound to a more expensive a la carte. I think that’s what made me stay; I did consider walking out. And of course I remembered the amazing reviews I’d read, which had caused me to book there, so I thought my dinner should at least be good.

Some crisp bread – like Sardinian pane carasau – came with tapenade and some sparkling water, which I hadn’t ordered and was charged €1.50 for. I don’t mind paying if asked but have actually mostly been ordering – free! – tap water. The bread seemed slightly stale, not as crispy as it should be. I eat this a lot of my local Italian deli so am very familiar with it. The waitress recommended a local red wine, allowed me to taste before pouring a glass, and it was fine.

 

More bread came with my starter. The black bread was charcoal bread I was told and certainly had that flavour. Very fashionable at the moment, I know, but not particularly to my taste.

I chose the pissaladiere to start. It looked arty in a foodie way with lots of extra bits. However it was too far removed from the classic (which I enjoyed at Lou Pistou my first night), lacking that lovely sweet softness one looks for in the onions. And the pastry was so flaky it was almost impossible to gather some onto my fork.

The porc mignon was fine but the vegetables were over cooked. I know, how do you overcooked mash? But you over cook the potatoes before mashing. Or that’s what it tasted like. The carrot and courgettes lacked any bite. I left half my main course but no one questioned whether there’d been a problem.

I chose the rice dish to end. It was quite nice but a bit too rich in its creaminess.

The bill was €42; I didn’t leave a tip. After 48 hours of wonderful food in Nice wherever I’ve been, it was hugely disappointing. I’d booked there as it’s a Michelin Bib Gourmand and is consistently named as one of the best restaurants in Nice. Once back at my hotel I couldn’t really find a bad review. But this was my experience. I’ve eaten at many Bib Gourmands not to mention a few Michelin starred restaurants over the years. I could maybe have accepted ‘not quite up to Michelin standard’ but actually, it was really bad and the service in complete contrast to the friendly and brilliant service I’ve enjoyed elsewhere here.

Nice 2019: Musee Matisse & Lunch at Bar des Oiseaux

I last went to Musee Matisse in 2006 with my daughter, and as I love Matisse’s work so much, it was definitely time for a revisit. The museum is in Cimiez, about 3km north of Nice. The hotel were very helpful about how to get there, telling me I could take a No.5 bus from a stop just round the corner and giving me a printed copy of the route with the names of stops and timetable. The buses tend to stop only if you request them to so it’s useful to know when your stop is coming up. It was about a 20-minute ride.

It turned out entrance was free today (and at all of Nice’s museums for the weekend, due to some special anniversary).

Once inside there was a free guide and the route round was clearly marked.

The Museum is a 17th century Genoese residence, Villa des Arene, which has housed the museum since 1963. Matisse (1869-1954) discovered Nice in 1917 and created most of his major works here. He loved the city and said he couldn’t imagine leaving it.

Matisse opened an art school in Paris in 1908 and the museum has its own ‘Little Matisse Academy’. Some children were painting and the teacher in charge seemed happy for me to take a photo but first – and very responsibly – moved them out of my camera’s sight.

I really enjoyed going round the museum. It doesn’t have a huge collection of Matisse’s works but lots of other interesting things related to his life and work. I love his vibrancy and the zest for life that comes through.

Back outside I spied a cafe in the park area. It turned out to be excellent: a very good croissant and coffee that was even brought to my table.

The No.5 bus runs about every 12 minutes so I didn’t have long to wait to head back to Nice. By now it was lunchtime. Although tempting, I decided not to return again to Peixes but instead try another of Armand Crespo’s restaurants – Bar des Oiseaux. Crespo is known as one of Nice’s most pioneering restaurateurs. Apart from Oiseaux and Peixes, he owns Le Bistrot d’Antoine and Le Comptoir du Marche.

Housed in what was once, in the 1960s, a nightclub it’s attractive inside – rather Art Deco – but also outside, where I chose to sit. I was lucky to get a table for many prospective diners came after me and were redirected to the Comptoir du Marche.

With a table booked for tonight, I didn’t want a huge meal and Oiseaux served many small plates like Peixes. I ordered the prawn risotto (€17) and a glass of white wine (€4). The wine came with the same gorgeous bread from Patisserie Chez Maitre Pierre (where I also had breakfast this morning). Also like Peixes, the service was both wonderfully efficient and very friendly.

 

When my risotto arrived a loud Wow! erupted in my head. It looked fabulous. It tasted wonderful. I WhatsApped to my son and daughter that these were possibly the best prawns I’ve ever had (perhaps an exaggeration given the good food I’ve enjoyed in my life, but certainly recently), and the risotto was cooked to creamy perfection. It was sublime cooking.

Given how good the risotto was, I just had to break my intention of eating just one small course for lunch. I had to have a dessert too. I chose Tart Tartin (€7). That it was freshly baked to order was apparent from the wait involved (but not too long) and its obvious warm freshness. It was superb.

I finished with an espresso and the bill was €30.

More traditional than Peixes, Bar des Oiseaux still offers a great modern touch to classic Nicoise cooking. Like other Crespo restaurants, it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays. I might have to come back to Nice just to eat at them all – but obviously avoid the ‘closed’ days next time! I knew I’d find good food here – a big part of my choosing to come to Nice – but it’s been exciting to find such inventive and brilliant cooking at reasonable prices.

 

 

Nice 2019: Dinner at Peixes and A Beautiful Sunset

The day promised to be the best of my trip weather wise (rain and even thunderstorms forecast later), so I wanted to make the most of it. Hence the bus ride to Éze in the morning, which I wrote about last time, for magnificent views, then a return to Nice where I had an excellent salad for lunch in Bar de la Degustation (I’d discovered it as a great place for aperitif the night before).

I spent much of the afternoon walking along the Promenade des Anglais. I hadn’t been able to find any of Nice’s iconic blue chairs since my arrival but by walking further along today, at last they appeared and I sat down for a while to enjoy the sparkling azure blue of the Mediterranean and a warm full sun on my face.

After my wonderful lunch at Peixes the day I arrived, I knew I had to return. The cooking is sublime. I thought it would be a good choice for lunch on Monday – a final meal of the trip before I fly home in the evening. But I discovered they’re closed Sunday and Monday. With a table already booked for Saturday evening, it had to be Friday evening that I ate there again. You can’t book but it’s open all day from 12-10pm and I decided to turn up early to be sure of a table.

The staff were so friendly the first time, I’d got talking to a couple of waiters; had exchanged ‘bonjours’ when passing – and I have to pass it almost anytime I leave my hotel. I was welcomed back like an old friend; it was lovely. It was quiet still with most diners choosing to sit on the little terrace outside while I chose ‘my’ little table just at the entrance – almost outside but not quite. All the staff were gathering together into a group. Would I take a photo? of them, I was asked, as a phone was held out to me. It was someone’s birthday. I happily obliged and then took this with my own phone’s camera. For a solo traveller it was a delightful moment of inclusion.

My friendly waitress came and explained the menu to me and when she told me about the special ceviche of the day, my meal was decided. Fantastic bread came with anchovy butter, a glass of Tarn white wine (€4).

 

More diners slowly streamed in as I waited for my food. Then came my special ceviche: sea bream ‘cured’ in orange juice, lemongrass, chilli, pecan nuts, a gloriously smooth fennel mash (€14).

Oh my word, it was truly incredible; absolutely glorious. Sea bream is one of my favourite fish and I’ve had carpaccio of it before, but this was something different, quite thick pieces of almost raw fish but so tender and tasty. The accompanying ‘sauce’ perfect with its citrusy notes and little bursts of chilli heat.

All the dishes are ‘small plate’ size but this was enough for me with the bread and left room for dessert. I chose Financier (almond pastry), Greek Yoghurt, crisp honey (€7).

Given the small plates of the menu, I was somehow expecting something quite modest but actually it was a good-sized pud! And full of delightful surprises: moist almond sponge, a light cloud of yoghurt foam, gorgeous smooth yoghurt ice cream with a lovely tart edge, pieces of honeycomb, little drizzles of honey and a sprinkling of lavender.

A good espresso finished my meal. The Michelin guide says Peixes (pronounced pesh and Portuguese for ‘fish’) is ‘the stuff of great memories’. I shall certainly remember eating here always. But will I resist coming back for lunch on Saturday before they close for the rest of my trip??

The total bill was just €27.

It was too early to go back to the hotel so I walked further up little rue de l’Opera towards the sea. The day of sun had faded gloriously into a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean.

I walked up to Quai Rauba Capeu and joined the crowds looking back over the lovely Baie des Anges. What a perfect end to a lovely day.