Le Nid Restaurant, Flayosc

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Once upon a time, when I first started visiting Provence seriously, back in the mid 1980s, Flayosc was a rural medieval hilltop village, some 7km west of the sleepy town of Draguignan. Then the by-pass was built, which saved the village from the horrors of cars snarling up its tiny main road, but it suddenly become quiet and nearly died. Cars whizzed by – going on to Salernes, Lorgues, Aups…

The hills around Flayosc

The hills around Flayosc

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The Six Vineyards of St Antonin du Var

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st antonin postcardWine writers and wine buyers so often only see a region briefly when visiting a specific vineyard, two or three vineyards in a region, sometimes a local restaurant. Invariably we see small snapshots of an area, out of context of its history, people and dynamics.

For thirty years I have toured the vineyards of the Var. In the beginning there was a greater sense of adventure as vineyards were often reached down windy country lanes, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In other places the little villages we drove through tempted us with cafés and village bistros. The roads have slowly been straightened and widened, avoiding many of the villages with by-passes. Provence has speeded up.

Sometimes serendipity plays an important role. Last week, at short notice, I planned a weekend in the central Var. Everywhere was full, but I managed to find a cancellation for the weekend in the small village of St Antonin du Var. Continue reading

Chez Bruno of Lorgues

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outdoor-chez-brunoThe restaurant Bruno, familiarly known as Chez Bruno, is a Michelin starred restaurant, specialising in truffles, in the centre of Var department, just outside the old market town of Lorgues.

I first went to Bruno’s a few years after it opened, in the late 1980s. I was guiding a press and wine buyer’s trip round Provence and the Committee Interprofessionel de Vins de Cotes de Provence had organised the dinner at the restaurant. Continue reading

Wining and Dining in Budapest

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One of the perks of judging at international wine competitions, such as VinAgora, is that the hosts put on a programme for the judges to showcase local wine, gastronomy and culture. This has several purposes.

The judges get to know each other – which in an international competition is an achievement in itself. The languages amongst the judges included: Hungarian, Romanian, Czech, Croat, Bulgarian, French, German, English, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese, Italian, Polish… Between us, most managed in French or English, with the few polyglots translating for those without a common language.

Vinagora judges

The judges and organisers of Vinagora 2015

The gastronomic and cultural programme also acts as a form of promotion for the host country. When the competition is based in a wine producing area, this involves visits to vineyards. As Christine Collins, organiser of five varietal competitions in Alsace, said, her competitions are structured to encourage judges to stay in the region either before or after the competition, with the aim of promoting local tourism. Continue reading

Le Barbecue, Nice

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3 Rue du Four, 06000 Nice. Tel.: 04 93 53 02 59

I know, it seems daft to write up a review of a Portuguese restaurant when in Nice – but that is one of the joys of city dining, the wide range of world cuisines crowded together. The old town of Nice boasts Irish pubs, Niçois restaurants, Turkish, Japanese, seafood, vegetarian, Swedish, Italian…. and Portuguese.

We first discovered Le Barbecue restaurant when searching for a restaurant not over-run by tourists, not charging crazy prices, with an interesting menu which would keep all of us happy.

Le Barbecue is situated off rue Pairolière, one of the main streets in old Nice, up a small alleyway; so quiet and calm. The interior is decorated in a rustic old-fashioned style – giving an authentic, family feel to the restaurant – no hint of a designer makeover. The restaurant is indeed family-run, and over the past few years, every time we return we are greeted warmly as friends – no mean feat in a city heaving with tourists.

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Restaurant St Roch, Roquebrune-sur-Argens

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That this restaurant has ended up with its own review is a bit of a surprise. In the past, visiting vineyards in the Fréjus region has lacked the charm of visiting other regions. Admittedly to the north is the very expensive restaurant Hostellerie de la Pennafort in the Gorges de la Pennafort, with a scenic drive to get there, but the rest of the region is not the most scenic in Provence.

To start with, much of the area covers the plains and low hills of the wide Argens river valley between the Esterel and les Maures. South of the A8 motorway, on the way down to Fréjus and St Raphael is less picturesque than north where the gently sloping hills are covered in copses, vines and grassland.

It is hardly a surprise to discover that many of the vineyards of this appellation are located within a network of roads and commercial centres. What is a surprise, with all of this business activity, is the difficulty in finding anywhere good to eat, with as cafeterias in supermarket malls, fast food chains and American-style places abound – to the extent that I considered an autumn picnic on the beach. I asked, without much hope at Domaine Vaucoulers where they would recommend. The lady said almost apologetically that the restaurant St Roch was good – traditional French, as if that were a fault.

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