I just spent an absolutely lovely weekend in Nice with Jimmy as a way to grab some sunshine and celebrate my birthday. I was adamant that I didn’t want to turn 30 sitting at my desk in London and I am so glad that we decided to go to the Côte d’Azur.
I’m lucky enough to have been to France before – watching the Eiffel Tower lights show as part of a group of Aussie pals whilst being serenaded, squeezing into a tiny hotel room with two girlfriends, shopping for knickers, make-up and sequin dresses as we had made it to Paris but our luggage had not, riding on the back of Jimmy’s motorbike past field after field of sunflowers as we made our way to a 16th century château in order to see two wonderful people get married – as you can see, I had pretty amazing memories.
This weekend we made even more – although let’s be honest I’m not here to talk about that. Here, it’s all about the food!
Again, I have lovely memories of the food on my previous trips to France; my best friend’s parents (my second parents) treating us to steak and Bordeaux,which tasted AMAZING after hostel dinners, grapes in Parc du Champ de Mars, the discovery of a supermarket brownie that became a staple of my backpacking diet, tasting frogs legs and snails for the first time, fresh bread, tomatoes and cheese during a pre-wedding picnic at Chateau de Valencay and drinking leftover wine the day after the wedding when we cooked ourselves some food in the château kitchen.
This weekend we covered the wide range of the food that France has to offer – from a saffron & orange amuse bouche to saucisson on the beach. I even ate McDonald’s for the first time in years as I had such fond memories of their frites sauce (if I’m being honest most of the food went in the bin but some sauce sachets did end up in my liquids bag!).
But we aren’t just talking about French food here, rather specifically Nicoise food. I’d read that recently an application for 90 Nice-based dishes to be heritage listed had been made by local city councillor Franck Viano so I figured it must be pretty one of a kind. I did some pre-holiday research, had a list of dishes in my head, locations starred on the map on Jimmy’s phone and set off to explore.
Below are some of the culinary highlights of the weekend;
Socca & Pissaladiere
If you don’t think we are dedicated to food well think again as we made socca, a chickpea pancake speciality of Nice, our priority over checking in to our hotel. We knew of a couple of small stalls that are known for their socca and specifically wanted to try Chez Theresa, a hole-in-the wall in old town where you can get socca and pissaladiere. We weren’t sure of it’s opening hours other than the fact that it was closed on Sunday and Monday and was a lunchtime thing so made it the first stop of our time in Nice. We got off the bus from the airport and walked through winding streets until we noticed it and let me say we were not disappointed! The socca tasted both greasy and healthy at the same time, which I realise doesn’t make any sense but it’s made of minimal ingredients, gluten-free and yet had a nice crunch that you know means there was a healthy amount of oil involved. The pissaladiere was also nice but not as tasty or interesting as the socca (it probably would have been nicer hot and fresh from the wood fired oven).
Crisps & beers
I realise this doesn’t sound exciting in terms of the amazing food we ate over the weekend but humour me. During the holiday that included the aforementioned wedding we discovered cheeseburger flavoured crisps and they are kind of amazing (and, I’m pretty sure, not available in England). I mean they are everything I usually despise in crisp flavours – cheese and meat – but somehow it works. Combined with the small beers found in France and a surprisingly sunny day it was the perfect beach snack on Saturday afternoon.
My lovely colleague Fleur was kind enough to make us a reservation for Saturday evening as my birthday meal. I had chosen the restaurant after looking online and reading a lot of reviews and we were very happy. The staff were very excited when we arrived, had decorated the table with small stars and served my dessert with sparklers so it felt like a special meal. I ordered the lobster risotto on the restaurant manager’s recommendation as she advised us that it had arrived fresh that day. It came with a very more-ish sauce and a Parmesan crisp.
Fresh strawberries and goats cheese
Not the most common of combinations but Sunday morning we stumbled across a Farmer’s market that had amazing fruit and vegetables. We spent some time ogling fresh seafood, pastries, bread and local delicacies before Jimmy’s hunger took over and we had to commit to buying something to eat. He chose a slice of pizza bread with bacon, potatoes and herbs on top. I couldn’t resist the fresh strawberries and we were both keen on trying some local cheese so bought a chunk of chevre.
Frites and steins
One of the reasons for choosing Nice as the location for my birthday weekend was because it coincided with the Paris-Nice cycle race. Much more Jimmy’s interest than mine the city did have a great atmosphere as it prepared for the final day of the race. For the beginning of the day’s stage we were lucky enough to find the last table outside a restaurant facing the street so that we could watch the cyclists go past whilst drinking rather large beers.
Whilst Saturday night’s dinner had been booked in advance we left Sunday open to see how we were feeling after a day of watching cycling (and drinking). There was a star on the map for a restaurant in the old town that sounded ideal – your choice of rotisserie cooked meat with a variety of sides. We found the place and the handwritten exterior advised us that it was only open for 2 hours during the day and 2 in the evening. Therefore we thought we would go kill some time in a nearby bar, after a couple more drinks we ventured back to the restaurant. This time we discovered some more writing that advised us it was closed on Sunday’s and Monday’s! Being both hungry and a little tipsy we ended up going to the nearest place we could find and did the typical touristy thing of ordering a set menu – shock horror! Well actually the food was incredibly tasty, my starter of fried courgettes and aubergines was yum but it was the main of duck that stole the show. Served with well seasoned vegetables and potatoes the creamy pepper sauce was divine and the perfect accompaniment to the meat. Perhaps one that is thought of even more fondly due to the amount of beer and wine that had been consumed prior but either way was memorable.
I’m including this despite not being 100% sure exactly what the dish is called or what was in it. We ate breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant on Monday and alongside the eggs, bacon, cheese, fruit, bread, pastries, pancakes and yoghurt was this. Carrots, peas, beans, courgettes, mangetout and potatoes cooked so well that I had to go back for seconds.
There was no way I was leaving Nice without eating this local dish. I know that, depending on who’s making it, there are many variations and this is something that I have even attempted a version myself before. This one, eaten on the beach accompanied by a glass of wine whilst being allowed to pick at Jimmy’s fruits de mer frits platter, was pure bliss. The tuna was so fresh and the flavours all went together very well, next time I assemble a Nicoise salad I have a lot to live up to.
I haven’t drunk Rosé wine in years after consuming a fair amount of it in my early years of living in London. This weekend in Nice I noticed that a lot of people were drinking it, including distinguished older French gentleman. As I was eating seafood I didn’t feel like drinking red wine and I am quite fussy about white so I opted to try the Provence Rosé. What a discovery! This was nothing like the bright pink, overly sweet version I was drinking all those years ago, this is Rosé done by those who invented it. and I think I will be drinking it again.
It was a fantastic weekend, and not just because of the food, although obviously it was delicious. I am now back in London, eating steak & ale pie, mash and green veg and planning what Nicoise food I’m going to attempt versions of for the blog!