I had half a large round yellow courgette left over after cooking my pasta dish yesterday. I wanted to do something special with this home-grown vegetable, given to me by my daughter who’d grown it in her garden. To stuff it seemed such an obvious choice because once you’ve cut it in half and removed the seeds from the middle, there’s a wonderful cavity just crying out to be filled with something gorgeous.
I loved stuffed vegetables. They make me think of Greece primarily – lovely stuffed tomatoes and peppers – but then in Istanbul I enjoyed wonderful stuffed aubergines, while recently in Nice, I sampled their speciality of little stuffed vegetables – Petit farcies. I usually stuff vegetables with a rice mix but I saw in Sunday’s Observer Magazine a Nigel Slater recipe for stuffed tomatoes using orzo instead of rice, and thought this a great idea. Orzo is rice-shaped pasta but of course being pasta it’s much softer in texture.
It is not, however, the same as making an orzotto – which is a risotto made with pearl barley. It is small pasta and cooks and tastes like pasta and is usually used in soups and salads. I cooked this first so it could cool. I put half a cup in some boiling salted water and cooked according to packet instructions – about 11 minutes. I drained and then cooled by running cold water through it so it didn’t ‘cook’ anymore and stick together.
Next I scooped out the seeds of the courgette and threw them away. Then I cut away a little of the flesh of the courgettes with a spoon, leaving a margin of flesh to skin of about 1cm (you can see in 2nd photo). I chopped the flesh into small cubes. I also chopped 1 medium tomato, finely sliced 2 salad onions and roughly sliced a few fresh basil leaves.
I gently cooked the onion and courgette flesh in some olive oil to soften. Then I added the tomato and basil and cooked for just a short time more and turned off the heat.
I’d decided to add some Taleggio to the mix. I love taleggio – it’s one of my very favourite cheeses. It comes from Lombardy in Italy and although I mainly eat it ‘raw’, I’ve discovered it’s wonderful cooked. I sometimes put it in risotto. It melts beautifully, a little like mozzarella, slightly stringy but with a fabulous flavour that enhances dishes wonderfully. I have to admit I chose it today because I had a large piece left over from the weekend when I’d bought lots of cheeses for a family light lunch of bread and cheese and some dips and olives.
Putting the Taleggio in my stuffing seems a great way of using it up. I liked the idea of it melting into the orzo and vegetables. I cut two thick slices and cubed them and added them to the orzo. I then added the vegetables, scraping all the lovely juices from the pan. I mixed it well together and then stuffed the courgettes. I grated some Parmesan over the top and drizzled over some extra virgin olive oil before putting it into a 200C/180 Fan oven for an hour.
Stuffed vegetables are better served warm rather than hot; that’s the way the Greeks always serve them and it’s also better for digestion – warm rather than hot food. I actually cooked the courgette at lunchtime as I was going out early evening to my book club and have to eat quite early – about 5.45-6.00 – and then I heated it through to a nice warmth just before eating.
I was really pleased with it. I loved the orzo stuffing – thank you Nigel Slater! – as it was gorgeously soft but took up all the lovely flavours of the courgette and tomato and basil and that gorgeous gooey Taleggio. Of course, if you don’t happen to have a lovely home-grown yellow courgette, the stuffing will work well with marrow, ordinary courgettes, peppers and tomatoes.
Nicola and Rachael had a bumper crop of yellow courgettes in their garden this year and brought a lovely large round one with them for me when they visited at the weekend.
I wanted to do something special with this beauty. Nicola said they were good roasted so I considered cooking it as a side dish but then decided to make it the star of a pasta dish for my supper. I stayed with the roasting idea but added some lovely extra flavours to really enhance the courgette and cooked my favourite orecchiette pasta as the base. Orecchiette is made from hard durum wheat and has a firmer, rougher texture and contains more protein than most other pastas. It comes from Puglia, right in the southernmost part of Italy, and being peasant food is traditionally served with vegetables, most commonly broccoli or cimi di rapa. It therefore seemed perfect for the courgette.
Following the Puglian theme, I decided to add some chilli. This southern part of Italy has over centuries been dominated by the Greeks, Lebanese, Turks, Normans and Spaniards and the cooking reflects these influences. When I decided to add sumac too – that wonderful middle eastern spice with its touch of lemon to the flavour – it wasn’t because I knew of it being added to any Italian dish but certainly with the influences on the cooking, it didn’t seem too wild an idea.
I cut the courgette in half – I only needed a half for one portion so can do something else with the other half tomorrow. I scooped out the seeds in the middle – it was so large, I thought they needed to be removed like from a squash or marrow. Then I cut the courgette into bite-sized chunks and put them in an ovenproof dish. Next I prepared some flavoured oil to pour over for the cooking. I put a good glug of extra virgin olive oil in a small dish. I added ½ teaspoon sumac, a pinch of dried chilli flakes, some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Then I added some lemon zest.
I whisked it all together and poured over the courgette chunks, then mixed it gently with my hands so all the chunks were covered in the flavoured oil. Then I put them in a 200C/180 Fan oven for about half an hour until nicely browned (I turned the oven up to 220C/200 Fan for the last 10 minutes to brown the courgettes more).
While the courgettes were cooking I prepared the hazelnuts. I put a handful in a pan over a high heat to brown enough to remove the skins. Once hot and browning, I removed from the pan and allowed to cool enough to rub the skins off. You could, of course, buy ready skinned nuts but you’ll find the flavour is always better when you do the skinning yourself.
Don’t worry about getting every little bit of skin off but as much as you can. Then return to the pan for a couple of minutes over a high heat to brown slightly. Remove and then chop roughly and set aside to use at the end as a garnish. I often add toasted pine nuts to this kind of pasta dish but decided to go with hazelnuts today, thinking they’d match the courgette well.
About halfway through the cooking time for the courgettes, start cooking the pasta in salted boiling water. Orecchiette usually takes about 13-15 minutes. Drain, reserving a little of the water, and return to the pan. When the courgettes are ready, remove from the oven and scoop them into the pan on top of the pasta.
Mix the pasta and courgettes together as you cook gently for just another minute or two, adding a very small amount of the pasta water. Italians always mix their sauce and pasta together. Unlike the English who seem to think you just plop the sauce on top! Now transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle over some of the chopped pan-roasted hazelnuts and a good grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano and finally a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
It was a lovely supper: the slightly rough bite of the orecchiette and the soft courgettes, but with another bite of its skin. (I think a bigger tougher courgette might need to be peeled, but this one was fine.) There was a slight heat from the chilli, a lemony tang from the sumac and lemon zest, and of course a creamy nutty crunch from the nuts. It all came together brilliantly. I served it with a simple rocket salad on the side and it was a perfect Monday evening supper. And I think I did my daughter’s homemade yellow courgette proud!
It’s been such a busy month with my daughter’s wedding and then my holiday in Nice, that I was running out of time to visit Kew Gardens for this month’s post in the Year in Kew series. However, today I had a ticket to hear Melvyn Bragg speak at Kew’s ‘Write on Kew’ Literary Festival (24-27 September) and so it seemed a good idea to combine going to the talk with a walk round Kew for the blog.
Write on Kew is London’s new literary festival and there’s a fantastic list of speakers, covering areas such as fiction & poetry, non-fiction, science, nature & gardening and children’s literature. The speakers include Raymond Blanc, Andrew Marr, Michael Morpurgo, Bill Bryson, James Wong, Louis de Bernières, Richard E. Grant, Michael Frayn and many more famous names. I got the tickets to listen to Melvyn Bragg to go with my son who is currently reading Bragg’s The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011. Bragg however was there to talk about his latest historical novel, Now is Our Time, which is just about to be published. We arrived at the Gardens in time to make our way straight to the Nash Conservatory where the talk was to take place.
We really enjoyed the talk. Bragg’s knowledge and understanding of our history is immense but he manages to combine intellectual vigour with an easy, approachable style that makes him an entertaining speaker to listen to. We had to buy the book, of course, and after waiting to get it signed and have a brief word with Bragg, we decided we were in need of a bite to eat. It was 1.25pm. Definitely time for a bit of lunch. The Orangery Restaurant was so crowded I suggested we went back to the café at Victoria Gate as we only wanted a snack.
There were some rather splendid looking cakes but we stuck to savoury, choosing pots of salads, a savoury muffin and a chicken pie and then found a table outside in the sun. After that, Jonathan had to head home but I took the chance for a short walk to see what’s happening in Kew at the moment.
It’s very much a crossover time between summer and autumn. The colours of summer were fading, petals dropping off flowers, while on the trees there were the beginnings of the change to autumn colours and the falling of leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs.
There was colour to be found still though. Kew are so great at planting out the beds near the Palm House and pots around the pond.
Perhaps more exciting were the gorgeous autumn crocuses that were in the woodland area.
In the rose garden behind the Palm House, the roses were past their best, but one could still find a perfect rose and the perfume was still magnificent.
In the Kew on a Plate kitchen garden, it was looking quite autumnal too, with plants grown huge and starting to fail. But there were still plenty of tomatoes waiting to ripen. Let’s hope the sun is willing to cooperate and shine long enough for them.
It is, of course, the season for pumpkins and they were looking ripe and ready to eat.
And if you want to take some colour home, there was a wonderful display of orchids in the Kew shop.
And even some Kew beer made by the local brewers, Twickenham Fine Ales.
I couldn’t help noticing a lot of people were wandering around wearing England rugby shirts. Locally, it’s hard to escape evidence of the Rugby World Cup tournament that’s been running for a week and goes on until 31 October, but I was slightly surprised to see it in Kew too! It reminded me that it might be a bit of a nightmare getting home if I left it late. I was also due at my lovely neighbours Sally and Simon’s wedding party … so it was time to go. Not quite the long walk I usually manage but I’m hoping that come October, the Gardens will be full of brilliant autumnal colours and I’m really looking forward to that.
I arrived home from Nice last night and thought it would be a nice idea to put together all my suggestions about what to do there in one convenient post. Of course, one can only do so much in a 5-night stay and thus the suggestions are limited, obviously subjective because they’re based on my preferences, and can only really be a starting point if you’re planning a trip to Nice. But if you are – and if you’re not do think about it! – hopefully the following will give you a good start.
I flew with British Airways and used some air miles I had to pay for the flight, but I always find their prices very competitive and living near Heathrow and just a 490 bus ride away from their home at Terminal 5, it’s a very easy option for me; they’re always my preferred airline (no horrid hidden costs!). Once at Nice airport it’s incredibly quick and easy to get to the centre by the 98 bus which services both Terminal 1 and 2. The airport lies at one end of the 4km Promenade des Anglais and the 98 bus follows the coast road so is a pretty ride too and costs just €6. The journey to the heart of Nice, near the Old Town, takes only about 15-20 minutes.
I stayed at the 3* Hotel Gounod. I booked this through BA and it was very conveniently situated just off the Promenade des Anglais and about a 20-minute walk to Cours Saleya and the Old Town. It’s a pretty 1920 building of the Belle Epoque style. The inside is rather faded, however. My room unfortunately had a window opening onto a narrow interior ‘courtyard’ which was ugly and the room had little natural light. There was no minibar or safe and the free wifi’s efficiency was variable depending on what time of day you wanted to use it. The people were quite friendly but didn’t particularly engage. I asked if they could recommend a typical Niçoise restaurant they might go to rather than the touristy ones but only got directions to perhaps the most touristy area in town! Some engagement is important for the single traveller – as I found at Hotel Mocenigo in Venice, or at Hotel Porta Mamolo in Bologna, where people in reception would ask me about my plans, my day and be ready to give tips of things I might like to do. So, Hotel Gounod was OK; not actually bad – it was perfectly clean, the bed comfortable etc. – but not somewhere I’d automatically return to on my next trip to Nice.
… things to look for when booking a hotel in Nice …
Really I just want to point out the importance of location here. As the Promenade des Anglais is so long at 4km, being near it isn’t necessarily a guarantee of being close to where you’re most like to spend your time. You’ll probably – like me – want to be near the Old Town so check the distance to Vieux Nice and Cours Saleya and that it’s walkable.
Breakfast wasn’t included in my hotel deal (though available for €14) so I always went out. I prefer that anyway – to find a nice local café. I’m not a cooked breakfast person and only want a continental breakfast. Pain & Cie at one end of Cours Saleya was a café I knew as a Pain Quotidien the last time I was in Nice. Although the name had changed everything else – the decor, the menu, the food – was just like a Pain Quotidien. Their Continental Breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, a generous bread basket, croissant and coffee or tea wasn’t cheap at €10.50 compared to other cafes but excellent.
I ended up going there each morning, enjoying the walk along the Promenade early before it was too crowded and then watching the stallholders set up in the market in Cours Saleya as I ate breakfast. I found that generally coffee wasn’t great anywhere – I am so used to my artisan coffee in London – and Pain & Cie’s was OK but on the last day I found the best café au lait of the trip at Bar Lou Pastrouil on Rue de la Préfecture by Place du Palais.
Nice is a fantastic place to snack (I always prefer to snack at lunchtime and eat a main meal in the evening). Some of their most famous traditional dishes are made for snacking: socca (a kind of pancake made from chickpea flour), petit farcies (small stuffed vegetables), pissaladière (gorgeous onion tart topped with olives and anchovies).
I loved the food at Bella Socca (13 rue du Collet) which does all the traditional Niçoise snacks. I had a Salade Niçoise at Le Safari in Cours Saleya, which was in my guide books. It was OK but a little touristy. One day I had a good ratatouille at a simple brasserie – Le Pass’Port at 8 Quai des Docks – overlooking the port; they also did crêpes.
On my last day – when I was flying home in the evening and wanted something reasonably substantial – I had a lovely pasta dish at Cose Cosi, a small Italian place in Rue Saint Gaetan.
Nice is so close to Italy, and indeed was part of Italy until 1860, that you will find a lot of Italian food and restaurants. The local Niçoise dialect is a cross between French and Italian and some of the food makes this crossover too.
When I’m on my own I tend to just order an aperitif in a restaurant to drink while I choose my food but if you like bars there are lots to choose from in Nice as people sit – even in the morning! – drinking Provençal rosé wine, beer or Aperol spritzers. I’m not keen on noisy bars but found this lovely little one – BolyBar – just up rue Rossetti with Place Rossetti in sight but away from the crowds. A good size glass of prosecco was just €3.50 and came with some nibbles of tortilla chips and dip. It was nice place to sit for a while, sipping my fizz, early evening before going in search of food.
I was very much on the lookout for typical Niçoise food. When I was in Aix-en-Provence a couple of years ago, I was hugely disappointed to find it almost impossible to find local Provençal dishes. In Nice it was wonderful that I could sit down and enjoy something as simple as some socca or pissaladière at lunchtime and some Niçoise food in the evening too, although many restaurants offer more traditional French dishes. The first night I went to L’Escalinada (22 rue Pairolière)which was highly recommended by Lonely Planet and ate a simple meal of petit farcies.
It was a nice meal and I was given a welcome of complimentary kir and some pissaladière. I was happy with it on my first night, a little tired from travelling, and the service was nice and friendly, but it wasn’t an exceptional meal. The following evening I went to La Voglia, an Italian restaurant on Cours Saleya.
This had been recommended on a food tour I did (see below) and, as said above, there’s a lot of good Italian food in Nice. By chance I met three Canadian women who’d been on the tour and joined them, which was great. I had an excellent seafood pasta – a huge portion which I couldn’t finish!
The next night I discovered Le Bistro du Fromager at 29 rue Benoît Bunico.
Again recommended by the tour guide Megan as her favourite restaurant, this didn’t fit my ‘eating local food’ intention at all and, as the name suggests, the menu was heavily based on cheese dishes – so if you don’t like cheese, you probably won’t want to go! However, I loved the place. I had a great meal (read earlier post) and the inside, just like a wine bar in a wine cellar, was the kind of friendly, informal place I like best. The service was wonderful: friendly, very efficient and informative. The food was great and I booked immediately for my last night. I’d not had cheese the first time but the second time had a gorgeous baked Camembert with honey and hazelnuts.
It was really really good and a bit like my own little fondue; piping hot, gorgeously gooey. It came with crisp roasted potato slices that I dipped into the hot melted cheese, a basket of their brilliant bread, which I also used for dipping, and a green salad. I’ll definitely be going here again when I’m next in Nice.
Lou Pistou was a chance find; a place I’d looked at and then finally just went in one evening (see full review here). This satisfied my desire to experience good local Niçoise food as I had a brilliant Daube de Boeuf here.
Being so close to Italy it’s not surprising that there are a lot of good gelaterias in Nice. In Place Rossetti you’ll find Fenocchio which is in the guide books, sells gelati with flavours like black olive and tomato & basil. I went for the more conventional rhubarb and it was very good.
The next day I was introduced to Roberto 1er by the food tour guide and this was truly excellent gelato. You’ll find them at 2 Place Centrale and also 10 rue du Marché. They make their own waffles cones too which you can see them doing at the rear of the gelateria.
I had another ice cream one day at Amorino which is a chain of artisanal gelateria but serving good gelato. You’ll find one at 33 rue Massena. A bonus is they have seats outside if you want to sit down.
Photos of Nice:
It had been 9 years since my last visit to Nice and that time I brought back a frame of three wonderful photos by local photographer, Jean-Louis Martinetti.
That picture is still on one of my walls! I was delighted to find his shop again at 17 rue de la Prefecture and bought postcards there. I had a chat with Monsieur Martinetti too, who told me about good local places to eat. Unfortunately it was the last morning so I promised that next time I’m in Nice I’ll go back to him at the beginning for some suggestions. Take a look at his website: www.martinetti.fr. If you’re ever in Nice, these are the photos you’ll want to bring back home.
Do – Excursions, What to see, etc.:
Well of course the first thing you must do is take a walk along the legendary Promenade des Anglais. It epitomises Nice’s elegance with its palm trees and fabulous hotels, most notably the Hotel Negresco.
Nice was a poor town before the English came in the late 19th century seeking its health benefits, due to its mild climate with little rain. It was a favourite haunt of Queen Victoria. The beautiful sweeping bay has been celebrated in the joyful paintings of Raoul Dufy and if you want to see some of his paintings, go along to the Musée des Beaux Arts (see this post). Another iconic thing to see on the Promenade are the blue chairs. They first appeared in 1900; the current ones date from 1997. They are painted blue to reflect the blue of the Mediterranean in the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels).
Two rows back onto each other. You can either look out to sea or at the Promenade. They’re free to sit on. You’ll also find very comfortable benches in the arches of the white pergolas, also backing on to each other with a choice of views.
On Saturday morning the pergolas filled up with artists selling their paintings.
In the evening you might buskers along the Promenade, like these two young musicians playing their cello and violin.
… slightly further afield …
The photo above is from my 2006 visit to Nice with my daughter Nicola – and that’s her standing under an olive tree right outside the Musée Matisse. I didn’t visit this time but it should definitely be on your list of places to see. It’s located 2km north of the centre in Cimiez.
The place I did get to is Villefrance-sur-Mer. I’d planned to visit this pretty village before arriving in Nice and when the weather turned cloudy and rain forecast over two days, I almost didn’t go. I’m so glad I did and it’s really just a very short journey by bus 100 from the Port; costs only €1.50 and takes only about 10 minutes to get there, giving you a great view of the magnificent coast along the way. I’d also planned to go to Èze which is a little village in the hills with apparently marvellous views, but I didn’t make it in the end. I felt it would be best to go on a truly sunny day if I was to enjoy views but when the sun finally arrived in full splendour at the end of my trip, I didn’t want to go anywhere other than the Promenade des Anglais and enjoy the view there. For the more adventurous, or if your stay is longer, it’s easy to get to places like Cannes, Antibes, Menton, Monaco and even into Italy by train or bus.
Whatever you do or don’t do, don’t miss the view from the 15th century Tour Bellanda at the top of Castle Hill for a fabulous view over Nice all the way along the Promenade des Anglais. I climbed this on the first day (there is a lift too) but when the sun eventually made an appearance on Friday I just had to go up there again.
Do – For the foodies:
Foodies of course love food markets so you’ll want to head straight away to Cours Saleya‘s vegetable, fruit and flower market that’s held every day except Monday – when there’s an antiques market. There’s a fish market in Place Francois and I found a book and poster market in Place du Palais on Saturday morning.
I did a great food tour with A Taste of Nice tours on my first morning. This of course is the best time to do it so you’re better informed about where to eat and food shop for the rest of your trip. It was also great fun. Not too big a group – just 12 of us – and a great guide in the form of Megan who really knew her stuff. That’s us near the end having lunch at Bella Socca. For more info read this post: click here.
I could go on writing for a lot longer but I think that’s probably enough for one post! I really loved Nice and can’t understand why I waited 9 years to return. I shall definitely be going back soon.
Serendipity was at play again last night. I’d had a restaurant in mind for supper but it was closed. I’d looked at Lou Pistou in a Rue Raoul Bosio a few times. It wasn’t in my guide books or on the food tour’s restaurant list but its small intimacy and a menu consisting of mainly Specialities Nicoises appealed. And it did have a Trip Advisor badge of Excellence so that was some kind of guide. It’s nice to think you could just walk into the first restaurant that looks good and find a wonderful meal; the reality is that in a busy city like Nice, full of tourists and restaurants, it doesn’t easily work that way. Not if you’re looking for something special. So, with just five nights here, I was looking for some kind of assurance that my choice was good. I decided to just go into Lou Pistou. It was just after 7.00 and empty. A woman greeted me and said that yes, I could have a table but they didn’t open until 7.30. I filled in some time on the Promenade des Anglais, enjoying the improving weather and warm evening. Then, at 7.30 I returned to Lou Pistou.
It’s a small restaurant that seems to be run by a couple – the woman front of house, the man busy cooking in the tiny kitchen at the back. They’re closed on Saturdays and Sundays. A menu was brought and two small blackboards with the day’s specials.
I decided to have the Beignets de Fleur de Courgettes to begin. The woman explained that they weren’t stuffed – as is often the case – but fried in a light tempura-type batter.
Courgette flowers have a subtle courgette flavour and sometimes I find stuffings overpower the delicate taste. These lightly battered ones were wonderful, allowing the flower’s taste to shine. For my main course I’d gone very Nicoise with a very typical dish of Daube de Boeuf.
As is common here, the beef stew was served with fresh pasta – tagliatelle in this case – rather than potatoes. It was absolutely gorgeous! A daube has a lighter, fresher taste than a Boeuf Bourguignon (which I often cook at home) and this one had the typical Nicoise addition of some orange, which was easily picked out but perfectly balanced with the other flavours. The meat was meltingly soft and tender. It was a marvellous dish. I’d been wanting to have a daube while in Nice and I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to have it. I drank a very good local-ish red wine from the Var area with it.
I was told that the only really local red wine came from the Bellet producers but their wines are very expensive. I’d been asked to choose my dessert – if I wanted one – at the beginning if I wanted a tart or profiteroles for they were cooked to order. I chose a fig tart.
How amazing to experience such attention to the cooking in such a small place with just one person in the kitchen! The tart – obviously as freshly baked as is possible – was delicious. The pastry gorgeously light but with a slightly cake affect – maybe some ground almonds in it? The figs were warmed through but not overcooked; they’d clearly been perfectly ripe.
I finished with a coffee. The woman, although busy looking after other diners as they arrived, was wonderfully attentive, making sure everything was OK, answering my questions about the cooking. It was a fabulous little place and I loved being able to have a typical Nicoise meal cooked so well. I felt fortunate to have found two excellent meals two nights in a row. My meal with wine and bottled water was €45.
Anyone who knows Raoul Dufy’s (1877-1953) joyous paintings of Nice won’t be surprised to hear that when in Nice and walking along the Promenade des Anglais, they frequently come to mind. There is the beautiful curve of the Baie des Angers (Bay of Angels) that he captured, the tall palm trees that line the edge of the Promenade and, of course, the glorious blue of the Mediterranean. A little sadly the gorgeous blue has been a bit lacking in the days I’ve been here due to cloudy weather but I’m hopeful that with the full sun predicted tomorrow and Saturday I may yet see the Mediterranean at its best. Of course it’s never really the deep and bright blue seen in Dufy’s paintings but it’s pretty wonderful and was his inspiration.
Thunderstorms and rain were predicted for today (though fortunately neither came) so I decided this morning that a trip to the Musee des Beaux Arts in search of some Dufy paintings would be just the thing to do as I might need to be based indoors. I consulted my map and decided to walk. It wasn’t far. I had to go in the opposite direction to my usual route, away from Vieux Nice and back towards the airport, past the famous Hotel Negresco.
The Promenade des Anglais is 4km long and the airport lies at one end. When you look out to sea you can see the planes take off: when you land it’s almost like landing on water. I cut up from the seafront by Negresco and onto the Rue de France. The route eventually took me into a residential area and finally I found the Musee which is housed in a magnificent building.
It cost €10 to get in and I was directed upstairs to the Dufy exhibition (where of course I couldn’t take photos). It’s quite a small exhibition with only a small number of his bright and joyful paintings of Nice, but there were drawings and some of his textiles and ceramics too so I enjoyed what I saw. There was some explanation in English and I learned that his favourite thing to paint – the casino at the end of the pier – was destroyed in 1944 when the Germans bombed the pier. Dufy continued to paint it from memory. He apparently painted a lot from memory and that made sense because when I walked round to the port yesterday and looked back from Quai Rauba Capeu expecting my Dufy view, the perspective was wrong. Dufy’s bay is smaller than the real thing. But that doesn’t take anything away from his glorious paintings that so wonderfully capture the colour and spirit of Nice. Weirdly, the Musee sell no postcards or prints of Dufy’s works so I’ll have to settle for memory too!
When I came out and made my way back down to the seafront, instead of a thunderstorm I found the weather had improved and the sun was shining. People were settling on the beach and there were some wonderful sailing boats in full sail in the distance. I stopped at a seafront cafe, ordered a late morning coffee and stopped to people and boat watch for a while.
At about 6.00 I set off from the hotel to make my way to Vieux Nice – about a mile and 20 minutes away. It’s a 5-minute walk from the hotel down to the seafront and then a straightforward walk along the promenade. On the map it looks as if it would be quicker to cut through the back streets but I’m not sure it is, as there’s so much weaving in and out of winding streets and alleyways to do. Anyway, it’s so much nicer walking by the sea!
At regular intervals you find rows of Nice’s iconic blue chairs that are free for anyone to sit on and either look out to sea or inwards towards life on and beyond the promenade. There are also white pergolas with white benches in the gaps. They’re really comfortable and I spent some time in the afternoon sitting quietly on one.
Just before I turned off into Vieux Nice and Cours Saleya, I saw two buskers – playing cello and violin. It was delightful – I wondered if they were music students – and I stopped to listen for a while.
The sky was clearing and blue was appearing through the earlier clouds. There was a hint of pink promising a good day tomorrow. It was beginning to look more like Dufy’s Baie des Anges. I went through an archway into Cours Saleya. The daytime market stalls had been stacked away making room for the restaurants to spill out and put up more tables for diners.
I made my way through to Place Rossetti and up Rue Rossetti to a nice bar I found yesterday. It’s quieter than the ones a little further down in or near the square.
I ordered a prosecco (€3.50) as an aperitif, which comes with complimentary tortilla chips and dip.
It was a nice place to sit for a while and sip my drink. Then I went in search of supper. The better restaurants tend not to open until 7.00 or even 7.30. I found a great place but that can have its own post next time. Meanwhile down on the promenade the sun was setting on a lovely day.
The photographers amongst you might be interested to know I used my iPhone 6 camera for every photo in this post. I was discussing cameras with one of the Canadian Kathys on Tuesday at supper. She’s an enthusiastic and serious photographer and was surprised by the little Canon digital camera I use. I said I was too lazy to use an SLR, that the little camera was very convenient and also I like to be discreet in restaurants if I’m photographing food. I know the quality isn’t as great as some bloggers I know who use serious cameras but I guess although I like taking photos, I’m just not serious enough. When I decide to blog about something on th spur of the moment and have no camera with me, the iPhone is a good substitute. It doesn’t however do dark and dim lighting well. Once in the restaurant this evening I changed back to my Canon digital.
The decision of where to eat the main meal of the day is a very important one for a food blogger on holiday. With two guides books and a list of recommended restaurants from the food tour yesterday, it shouldn’t be too difficult a task to accomplish. However, finding anywhere in the maze of narrow alleyways which is Vieux Nice is a big challenge in itself, then finding some of the restaurants are closed, or full, or the menu doesn’t appeal, complicates the issue. I wasn’t sure about Le Bistro du Fromager in Rue Benoit Bunico. As the name suggests, there’s a strong emphasis on cheese and much as I love cheese, generally, I like it pure and uncooked and on its own. But Megan, our food tour guide yesterday, had said it was her favourite restaurant in Nice and I did like the look of the inside – more wine bar than restaurant. So that’s where I went.
The tables are downstairs in a wine cellar. It’s quite dark but cosily done. The service was excellent: attentive, friendly and informed. I’d been trying to eat Nicoise food all the time but this was more ‘modern French’ with that Nicoise touch of Italian too, and of course lots of cheese dishes, like baked Camembert and fondue. However, although the cheese dishes sounded good I went for the non-cheesy local home smoked sea trout with pickled cucumber and goats’ yogurt as a starter.
I could see it was good as soon as it was put before me; in fact, it was superb. This is the kind of food that stops you in your tracks and you slow down to savour. This is the kind of food that makes eating on your own a bonus because you don’t have to make conversation, you don’t have to listen, you just have to eat and enjoy. If the fish was good, the homemade bread was magnificent.
Now I’m a great lover of bread; I have a passion for good bread and I’m lucky enough to be able to buy wonderful bread where I live. But this bread, with its dark flavourful crispy crust and gorgeous moist middle was some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten. They make it themselves. It took all my willpower not to eat the whole basket! But I had a main course to come so was restrained. I’d chosen a Bresse chicken with a yellow wine sauce and roasted pumpkin, onion and potatoes.
This was superb too: moist flavourful chicken (Bresse being some of France’s best), lovely caramelised vegetables and a gorgeous creamy sauce but not too rich. I drank red wine with the meal. I’m definitely a red wine person and having drunk local rose since arriving here, I felt it was time for red. Withdrawal symptoms were setting in. I was only planning to drink one glass (though ended up having two: they were quite small) and really, red is fine with fish; it’s the choice of which red wine that’s important. And I was having chicken too. The waiter suggested a local organic red from Cannes; nice and light to go with my food choices.
I didn’t need a dessert. Of course I didn’t. But when a meal has been so good, how does one resist? I chose Tarte au Citron, one of my very favourite desserts.
It was such a large slice, my first thought was that I had made a mistake – I’d never finish it. But then I tasted it. Ambrosia! Gorgeous. Incredibly light; a perfect balance of sweetness and tart lemon. It was one of the most wonderful lemon tarts I’d ever had. I’m very fussy about them. I make a pretty mean one myself – an old senior Roux brothers very classic recipe. I don’t like a filling that’s really lemon curd. I like a wobbly softness to the filling; a sure touch of lemon flavour. This one was different – so light – but so very good. Later, as I was paying, I remarked on it and was told they make a lemon sabayon, thus the whisking had given it the lightness.
I do like a coffee at the end of a good meal and I like that when you order a coffee at the end of a meal in France that a long discussion doesn’t have to ensue about exactly how you’d like it. ‘Un cafe’ is understood; it’s basically an espresso. What else would you want but a nice short sharp shot of a good strong coffee to end a perfect meal?
I had to go upstairs to pay and the ground floor entrance is both a reception and a shop. A large open hatch looks through to the kitchen. It’s a really great place. My bill was €53 (about £40). Not cheap – but there’s not really cheap in Nice – but by London standards excellent value for what I’d had. I’d enjoyed it so much, I booked a table for Friday – my last night. So, thanks to Megan who said it was her favourite restaurant in Nice; it’s mine too now. And perhaps on Friday I’ll try something with cheese.