France

Great Eating in France outside Paris

Great Eating in France

France is a very large country. It is not a good idea to randomly choose to drive around this diverse country. Rather it is better to choose some places where you definitely want to visit for the food and wine experiences and then decide whether you want to drive the entire time or hire cars locally and use the excellent train network to do the “heavy lifting” of getting you from one side of the country to the other.

We haven’t included any restaurants or bars in Paris because you can find them in our summary of dining and drinking in Paris.

A word of warning here. If you do decide to drive the entire time, you could end up covering a lot of kilometres and spending a lot of money on tolls and fuel. We often, on our many trips to visit our wine producers, cover between 5000 and 10000 kilometres on both the extensive freeway network and on narrow, twisting back roads!

And another word of warning and a vital tip if you want to travel around France whether it be by train or car or both. Work out what your “must-visit” venues are – the restaurants that you just have to try or the bars and wine shops that you think are high priority for you to drop into.

Many of the most popular restaurants you will need to book rather than just turning up. And there is another reason why booking is a very good idea. Many of the restaurants are not open every night or every lunch hour so booking ensures that you have planned to be in the area when they are open.

Sunday and Monday are days when many restaurants are closed so you need to find places that are open on these days and arrange your trip accordingly. However there are some restaurants that might close on Wednesday or Thursday for local reasons (some schools in regional areas close on Wednesday, for example), so you need to check every place you want to visit and plan accordingly.

We will first mention four cities that are essential for a visit – with each having a unique offering that makes the visit worthwhile. We have not included any information about opening hours/days as these are best checked on the venue’s Web site closer to the time of visiting as they can change without warning.

Marseille

We love Marseille! It is a gritty, rambunctious city with unpredictable traffic and unpredictable experiences, but if you stick close to the “edges” of the city near the port and the sea you will find plenty to enthrall you.

We love the work that has been done by an enterprising trio in setting up a range of eating experiences in the centre of the city. The trio involved are chef Harry Cummins, sommelier Laura Vidal and manager Julia Mitton (who is responsible for their Arles restaurant). Every time we visit Marseille, lunch at La Mercerie is a compulsory first stop for us. The food here is always first class and the wine selection satisfying. On our most recent visit we also loved our meal at the gritty Livingston where Valentin Raffali, who was previously Harry’s assistant at La Mercerie, is turning out stunning dishes to accompany the selection of macerated “orange” wines that they have assembled.

Another food experience not to be missed in this southern city is L’Idéal which falls into the category of an Epicerie where you can select from a large range of high quality food items to make up a meal to have in your accommodation if you want to stay in. They also serve light meals and coffee at this site and they have a full scale restaurant directly over the narrow street outside.

And speaking of coffee in France. In a country where coffee experiences are only just starting to improve, you can get an excellent coffee at the conveniently located Deep just near the Vieux Port.

Nice

And while you are in Provence, a visit to Nice is compulsory because there are many dining and drinking treasures here. For many, many years we have been dropping into Nice to dine at one of the smallest restaurants in France, namely La Merenda. The food here is authentic local cuisine prepared by a former Michelin-starred chef from the Negresco Hotel, Dominique Le Stanc. Until recently you could only book by turning up, as there is no phone, but we notice that they now accept bookings via Instagram!

There is also a higher end, Michelin starred restaurant that we really love in Nice. Pure & V is under the watchful eye of owner Vanessa Massé. Both of the meals we have had here have been exceptional and the wine matches were perfect. We are looking forward to returning this year (2023).

Another compulsory stop for us is the lovely Le Canon run by Sébastien Perinetti along with his very talented chef Elmahdi Mobarik. Together they source amazingly good produce from local suppliers whether it be vegetables or incredibly fresh fish, and match their dishes to the selection of France’s best natural wines.

Lyon

Lyon is a large, sprawling city with many dining treasures. One place that we haven’t visited yet in its new incarnation is Micro Sillon.

Micro Sillon Outside View

We thoroughly enjoyed our visits to the owners former restaurant Café Sillon. He then moved to the west coast in a town below Bordeaux before returning to the more central location in Lyon. The new venture is both a restaurant and an Epicerie.

Beaune

We have been enjoying seeing the transformation of this previously staid town on our many visits over the past twenty years. For the first ten or fifteen years the restaurants and bars were serving very “safe” food to match the clientele who came to Burgundy for “safe” wine experiences. More recently, however, we have seen the emergence of more modern dining experiences, bars where you can enjoy natural wines, an organic epicerie where they sell very good vegetables and even a very exciting coffee roaster who sources the best beans directly from Ethiopia.

A visit to Beaune should start with dining at Caves Madeleine. The food here is very, very good and the wine selection is amazing. There is also a great wine experience to be had at La Dilettante where you will also find an amazing selection of natural wines, including some rare examples from the Jura. Out of town, but well-worth the short drive, is the organic farm restaurant called La Ferme de La Ruchotte. There is both serious produce and serious cooking here.

There is another out-of-town experience that is a compulsory visit for us. It is a great place to dine and it is also emblematic of much that can be said about the natural wine movement. The town to visit is Savigny-les-Beaune which is very close to Beaune – just a few kilometres away. The venue is a restaurant called Le Soleil.

The restaurant and accommodation here is owned by Lola Taboury-Bize who also acts as sommelier for the restaurant. The chefs are our friends Laila Aouba and Svante Forstorp who, between them, have cooked in a number of our favourite restaurants in France. Our recent meal was a triumph of vegetable-centric dishes of perfect precision in the execution of each component and the depth of flavour that they were able to coax out of each vegetable.

And while you are in the area all coffee lovers should take the short drive to the tiny village of Saint Romaine where you will find one of the most interesting coffee venues in France (called Saint Romaine Coffee). It is both a serious coffee roaster and a place where you can go for a perfectly made filter coffee (check their Web site for opening times – they only open on a couple of days each week). The coffee is made from organic Ethiopian beans selected by the proprietor Matt McClune.

A random selection of favourite places

Outside the cities mentioned above we have some favourite places that we are constantly drawn back to on every visit.

Perhaps the place we visit most regularly, sometimes two or three times in one trip, is the Auberge de Chassignolles, hidden away in the hills south of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne. The food and wine experience here is wonderful and just so relaxing. We have a routine on arrival here. Before we take our bags to our rooms we order a bottle of local winemaker Patrick Bouju’s delicious pale pink Festejar Pet Nat and sit on the balcony in front of the dining room and relax while the bottle slowly disappears!

Another must-visit eating experience at lunch time is a small bar cum restaurant in the Jura town of Arbois. The food here is simple yet delicious. You serve yourself for the first course where you select some vegetables and a slice of terrine as an entree. You are then served a main course and a dessert of the day with no choice. It never matters that there are no choices as everything is simple and very tasty.

This venue, called Bistrot des Claquets, also has the advantage of having a great selection of local Jura wines and that most of the people having lunch here will be local winemakers who pack the place out by a few minutes after 12 noon, so make sure you book a table if you want to eat here.

Another favourite is eating under the trees in Tavel at La Courtille. The food here has good provenance as the chef has previously worked at one of the longest running natural wine restaurants in Paris, namely Le Baratin in the 10th. Every time we go here we walk away with a feeling of satisfaction.

Tucked away in the hillside town of Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt is the delightful hotel called Le Saint Hubert. Here they serve great lunches on the open balcony overlooking the hills of the Luberon. The food is expertly prepared and the wine selection is interesting with a good range for those of us who prefer natural wines. We make a point of returning here on every visit to France.

Another perennial favourite is the on-point cooking at Le Saint Eutrope in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and the associated bar next door called La Quillosque. This restaurant has been run by widely admired chef, Harry Lester for a long time and we never tire of his perfectly-cooked food which is accompanied by one of the best selections of Auvergne wines you are likely to find.

We often visit Normandy on our visits to France as we have a cider producer who makes delicious natural apple and pear ciders using the same techniques as his family has been using for hundreds of years. This now means that we get a chance to visit the restaurant called Oiseau Oiseau which has been established in the small village of Perche-en-Nocé.

We go here because it is run by the famous former owner of Saturne in Paris, Sven Chartier who has moved to this remote location. He only opens three days a week (Thursday to Saturday) but it is well worth a visit to enjoy what he does with the very best local produce and, of course, a clever selection of natural wines.

The Loire Valley offers some great dining and drinking experiences with Angers being a particularly fertile area for interesting experiences.

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