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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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