A great eating experience doesn’t have to be all about Michelin stars or exotic locations. Sometimes the perfect eatery can be a tiny family run affair, or a simple menu made from locally sourced produce. The Cote d’Azur has no shortage of great places to indulge your love of food – in some ways maybe almost too much choice. So, we’ve put together a guide to some of our favourite places to eat with our ’10 fabulous restaurants between Nice and Monaco’ list – taking in a variety of establishments to suit every mood. Of course, there are many more mouth-watering menus in this incredible gastronomic region – but here’s a few to get you started…
Restaurant Cauvin Chez Nana, Peille
The word authentic was never more appropriate than for this little gem, sitting quietly in one of the pretty squares in the small village of Peille, which nestles in the hills just behind the coast a short drive from the hustle and bustle of Monaco. The matriarch of the extended family sits regally in the kitchen, overseeing the operation which is now run by her daughter and other relatives. You get the feeling this place has been here for ever, and Nana may even regale you with stories of the freak weather conditions back in 1926. The famous Sunday buffet draws in locals from all the surrounding towns and villages, but Chez Nana seems largely undiscovered by tourists. The interior is warm and resembles a Grandma’s parlour – which it more or less is – and gives you the feeling of being from a simpler, bygone age. Tasty traditional dishes such as rabbit give off the irresistible perfume of home cooked food – with wine by the jug and many courses to indulge in – including delicious home- made deserts – make for a truly satisfying eating experience. The tables are simply set and close together – you’ll likely as not find yourself next to an old French couple, and at the end of the meal the bills are presented on Post-It notes. But the real treat is the view. Both restaurant rooms downstairs have windows out over the hills (although the locals seem not to notice) and a large upstairs terrace – not always open – offers breath-taking views across a calm valley, through the green hills to the sea beyond. Keep this one a secret…
Restaurant du Club Nautique, Nice
You could be forgiven for thinking the Club Nautique was a members-only private establishment, so well hidden and so understated is the entrance. Pass by the little beach, where locals dive from the rocks and swim in the lagoon, up a few flights of stairs – with doors leading to various club offices or mystery rooms, you’ll arrive in bar and dining area, to be welcomed by busy but friendly staff. But as you step into the main room, the real joy of the place becomes apparent. The curved outer walls of the restaurant are all glass, and ringed by terraces looking straight out across the edge of Port de Nice to the glistening sea of the Bai des Anges. Sitting outside in the sunshine with that view feels like the most lovely place in Nice, but at the same time surprisingly accessible and down to earth. The food is very much traditional Nicoise – petits farcis, freshly caught fish cooked with Pastis and Provencal herbs – and the service good, if a little brusque. The wine is just right, not expensive, and the deserts – on first glance the usual fayre like tiramisu – have a refreshing twist, making the whole experience something really special without overly worrying your wallet. The predominance of French speaking clients around you, and the obvious lack of tourists lets you know you’ve discovered something special. You’ll need to book, and check their hours – they vary with the seasons – but there’s nothing quite like the Club Nautique.
Restaurant Capitaine Cook, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
The pride with which the owners have run this restaurant for decades is evident as soon as you arrive. This tiny restaurant finds itself in one of the most glamorous locations in the world – Port St Jean – and is located next to one of the most exclusive hotels on the coast, the 5* Voile d’Or. But despite this, there’s a quirky, strange – but reassuringly old school – tacky feeling about the décor. It’s as if the original idea was for a themed restaurant – the bill comes in a faux treasure map kind of book – but the reputation and quality have long since rendered the idea as pointless. The ample figure of Madame – looms large over the diners, like a reassuringly efficient ward matron, making sure nobody steps out of line. But at the Capitain Cook you will find a dining experience that does not disappoint. Modern cooking fads and trendy dishes are not on the menu. Instead you’ll be treated to loup, daurade royale, salmon ravioli, strawberry soup and other lovely buttery homecooked dishes. In the summer you can eat on the vine covered terrace, and end the meal with a traditional glass of home brewed spirits the recipe a closely guarded secret. Restaurants like this used to be the norm in France, but now are more like a dying breed. Try this one before its gone forever.
Bar Restaurant du Port, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
The Bar du Port has been here for a long time, and it shows. Relaxed and confident, simple but tasty, the food, service and atmosphere make for a perfect place to while away an hour or two in this dreamy Riviera setting. Sitting at the bottom of the high street in the little fishing village of Saint Jean, overlooking the port, you can enjoy mouthwatering local specialities such as deep fried fleur de courgettes, black inky squid in pasta or a selection of locally caught fish. The wine is good, the tables are well laid out with comfy seating, and the clientele is a good mix of locals and well healed tourists. In both winter and summer, you can sit either in the main restaurant, with tall windows looking out over the port and the Baie des Fourmis beyond or in the outside section, sheltered against the elements. They serve food until late – and sometimes all day, although its best to check, as it seems to be somewhat random – and even outside of service you can enjoy a plate of charcuterie and a glass of wine. What the Bar du Port may lack in finesse, it certainly makes up for with tasty dishes. A great place to feel like a local.
African Queen, Beaulieu-sur-Mer
This pretty part of the coast between Nice and Monaco – just on the edge of Bealieu – is known as Petit Afrique, with its unusual cliff face and golden sandy beach resembling the deserts of North Africa. There are many restaurants along the marina, but there is only one African Queen. As soon as you arrive, the feeling of quiet glamour and being in ‘the place to be’ pervades, from the décor to the smartly dressed waiters. You can take a simple snack or indulge for hours from an extensive and exclusive menu, dishes such as ravioli and freshly caught fish, or comfort food such as lasagne or pizza. Lunch times are more relaxed, but you’ll feel equally at home whether you decide to dress up or come straight from the beach. They have a valet parking service, and much fun can be had watching the fancy cars and their occupants arrive, with a smattering of celebrities mixing in with Russian mafia types. The African Queen has become a legend, but still earns its reputation rather than resting on their laurels or trading off past glories. They serve food all day, and the ambience soon lulls you into that Riviera state of mind, the yachts bobbing gently in their moorings, and the quietly confident buzz of a well-oiled restaurant machine going on all around you. The French do this type of brasserie-style restaurant like nobody else – dining at the African Queen always feels that little bit special.
Les Perles de Monte-Carlo, Monaco
If you think Monaco is all glitz and over priced dining, then this little pearl will be a pleasant surprise. Located at the end of the mole that forms the entrance to the Port de Fontvieille, the rustic feel of the benches, the simple menu and the friendly service provide the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of this busy town. The oysters are superb – they know a thing or two about how to find a good one, having been oyster suppliers prior to being in the restaurant trade – and they even have their own ‘brand’. Wonderfully simple but tasty fresh fish, delicious but reasonably priced wine and homely service, all in a great setting – watch the local pleasure craft and small working boats come and go from the port, and admire the majestic splendour of the Monaco Aquarium high up on the cliff above. A real oasis. But remember to book (the previous day will usually do) as the locals know and treasure this place, so they are always busy. One of the best kept secrets in the principality.
La Mère Germaine, Villefranche-sur-Mer
During the immediate post-war years, the US 6th Fleet were based in Villefranche-sur-Mer, turning the town into a place of seedy bars and seedier back alleys. But the officers adopted this quayside refuge as their own, and the Mere Germain soon became a legend on this part of the coast. When President de Gaulle threw the US Navy unceremoniously out of France, Villefranche regained its dignity. But the Mere Germain continued to thrive, and was patronised by the Jet Set and their imitators, continuing the restaurant’s reputation and spreading the word. The actual Mere Germaine may have passed on some years back, but the next generation continue the tradition with plenty of enthusiasm. Thierry and his wife and family knock the competition into a cocked hat, with elegant service and superb dishes of beautifully cooked food, all presented with a confident flourish beside the transparent waters of the Meditteranian. Lobster salad with citrus fruit garnish, freshly cooked fish expertly filleted by waiting staff that really know their trade and perfect souffles. No wonder the Mere Germaine is famous around the world.
Le Serre, Villefranche-sur-Mer
The Restaurant Le Serre should really be called Chez Sylvie. Describing it as a formula might sound like a disservice, if the formula wasn’t so tried and tested – and spot on. Pizza, doube de boeuf (a great Nicois speciality), veal forestiere (cream and mushroom sauce), perfect pasta – comfort food cooked as if you had a French Grandma. With simple table settings in a convivial atmosphere, Sylvie welcomes locals, regulars who may be foreign but keep coming back, and even a smattering of local dignitaries – the mayor knows good food when he sees it. No wonder the place is always full – but somehow they always manage to fit you in. Even the prices are exceptional – where else can you find three courses for 18 Euros in a place like Villefranche-sur-Mer Old Town? The dish of the day is always something wonderfully simple and fresh, and always delicious. Make sure you leave space for the home-made chocolate mousse. When you’re away from home, you’ve had enough of eating out, and long for your own kitchen – it can happen to you even when you’re on holiday – Sylvie provides the perfect antidote. Comfort food par exellence.
Restaurant Les Remparts, Èze
Its rare to find a restaurant where the view is so breathtaking that you struggle to focus on the food, but Restaurant Les Remparts is a bit of a one off. Serving a sophisticated menu based on Italian cuisine, the Les Remparts is the more modest of the two restaurants in the legendary Chevre d’Or Hotel, perched high up on the cliff edge in Eze. As you approach the entrance, its hard to keep walking and ignore the stunning views from the terrace. But inside the dining room a treat awaits. The view stretches from St Tropez to the west, to Italy in the east, and behind you the mist drifts over the hills as the day fades and the lights come up on the Grand Corniche. Modest by comparison to the Michelin starred main restaurant, the food at the Les Remparts is by no means dull. Most hotels would be happy with these standards at their main eatery, with beautifully presented mouth-watering dishes and a good selection of wines. Make sure you book a table in front of the windows and arrive before sunset. Its possible you’ll never eat in a better setting.
Paloma Beach, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Beach restaurants in France have a dubious reputation, much of which is richly deserved. But this little place, found nestling in a small cove to the east side of Cap Ferrat, will surely put a smile on your face. The restaurant offers a shuttle service in an old tuk-tuk, as parking is limited in front and access can be difficult on busy beach days, which sort of sums up the whole feel of Paloma. Its hard to know whether to eat here at lunchtime – and enjoy the sun and clear azur sea – or to take in the sunset and admire the spectacular view as the evening lights twinkle on the shore. The usual beach fare of burgers and cocktails is replaced by more stylish dishes – seafood salads, regional specialities and sharing pates, followed by fresh fish or mouthwatering meats – all well presented and nicely served. The waiting staff are surprisingly friendly, and the food is very tasty. Although the prices are by no means cheap, its worth it to hear the sea gently lap over the pebbles as you sip your appero and soak up the view. And the view – or setting – is most certainly why you are here. It’s hard not to stare at the sheer beauty of the vista, as you look back from the presquile of Cap Ferrat to the shore, with the cliffs behind Petit Afrique and the medieval village of Eze perched high above, and higher still the famous Tete de Chien behind Monaco, with the majestic mountains of the Alps-Maritimes rising high in the far distance. We have to say it – treat yourself to an eating experience you won’t forget.