We’ve settled into a bit of a routine here in Saint Jean de Luz. We rise late and head out for breakfast at one of the two main Basque patisseries, Paries, which we’ve discovered has the best breakfast in town and excellent coffee.
After breakfast we potter around the town and then walk back along the beach in the surf. Since neither of us is moving particularly fast, this takes quite a while! Once back at the hotel we enjoy a spot of Thalassotheraphy and exercise in the gym to work up some appetite for lunch. I generally prefer to eat at lunchtime then have a tapas or two in the evening with a glass of wine.
While we’ve never before stayed in Saint Jean de Luz, we’ve stayed nearby and visited many times. It’s nice to revisit restaurants and equally good to find new ones. Typically, I look for those with short seasonal menus. We’ve found a couple of new ones to add to our list. We’ve also located a bar that does an excellent Aperol Spritz. This is the type of research I enjoy undertaking. Maybe I should’ve been a restaurant critic?
Saint Jean de Luz also has an excellent market and we’re not above buying stuff from the various traiteurs and market stalls to enjoy as a picnic lunch. Of course, I never travel anywhere without my wine bottle opener and two sets of cutlery. And no, in case you were wondering, I was never a girl guide.
I might like to say that I’m happy to embrace change but when it comes to restaurants I like the familiar and find myself returning time and time again to old favourites where I love both the ambience, service, setting and, of course, the food. A bit like when I was a kid where I always ate the same dishes at certain restaurants thereby saving my parents from ever having to ask me what I wanted. Yeah, I know it’s a bit boring but you have to remember I don’t like surprises.
When we first moved to the Cote d’Azur, we visited loads of restaurants which I dutifully listed for family, friends and visitors. I still keep the list up-to-date with a bit of help from my friends. Some old favourites have come and gone, chefs have moved restaurants while others still prevail. Even with such a wide choice, we still find ourselves regularly patronising old haunts.
Unfortunately, certain restaurants, because they only do tasting menus, are now out of the question with my new regime. However, most restaurants with an a la carte menu are happy to adapt dishes to meet my particular dietary requirements.
When my beloved travelled most weeks, he much preferred to eat at home at the week-end and we kind of got out of the habit of regularly eating out. His more recent assignments mean he’s home much more and we’ve been able to reintroduce going out for dinner, to a concert or just to a football match. Now, of course, we have the added challenge of my dietary requirements but we’ve yet to find the restaurant that can’t come up with something I can eat.
We recently ate Sunday lunch at what is probably our favourite restaurant on the Cote d’Azur. We’ve patronised it since it first opened and have been fans of the chef-owner at his previous restaurants. In 2002 we had a rare family Christmas in Nice and ate a memorable Christmas Day luncheon in The Negresco’s two-Michelin starred Chantecler restaurant where the chef was Alain Llorca. In 2004, Llorca moved onto another of our preferred establishments, taking over the reins of Moulin de Mougins from the legendary Roger Vergé, where we’ve eaten some outstanding meals in fabulous surroundings.
Finally, in 2009, he opened the restaurant (and now hotel) that bears his name, and which is our go to place for any celebratory meal. Despite the Michelin star, the place isn’t at all pretentious. His staff are all long-serving, his wife is in charge of front-of-house, his brother is in charge of patisserie and it won’t be long before his eldest daughter lends him a helping hand in the kitchen. And what a kitchen! I’ve been fortunate to partake in some very instructive cooking lessons there. It’s amazing just how many great tips and recipes you can pick up from a chef of his calibre.
It’s also a restaurant that my late father much enjoyed and we ate one of our last meals together there and, consequently, eating there always brings him to mind. Of course, the greatest accolade any restaurant can receive in our eyes is knowing that my father would have approved. Whenever we find a new gem we smile knowingly and say to one another: “Dad would’ve liked this!” However, we’re probably a little more adventurous that my late father and have sometimes enjoyed magnificent meals in the unlikeliest of places. Proving that you can’t always judge a restaurant from its exterior or décor.
We recently ate at a restaurant in Paris that wouldn’t have initially appealed to my father. It’s the L’as du Fallafel, a Jewish restaurant in Le Marais, in rue des Rosiers. Along this narrow, ancient street you’ll find kosher and Jewish style restaurants cheek by jowl with Jewish bookshops, small synagogues, prayer rooms, and kosher boulangeries and charcuteries. We ate there simply because every time we passed, day or night, there were people queuing for the restaurant and for the takeaway. It’s a veritable goldmine where they turn the tables (110 seats) every 45 minutes. During busy periods, ie. all the time, they don’t serve either desserts or coffee so there’s no excuse to linger. What they do serve is freshly cooked, delicious home-made Jewish food which is lapped up by pretty much everyone. Oh, and they also do home deliveries. There’s another couple of similar restaurants in the same street but they don’t do the same amount of business. I should add that if I could’ve tempted my Dad inside, he’d have enjoyed the meal.
Maybe it’s because I come from a family of cooks and foodies that so many of my memories are bound up in the tastes and flavours of dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants the world over. Even though I enjoy trying new restaurants, I find myself longing to return to old favourites and mourn their passing when they’re no longer there.