Shaded by the low parasols of mulberry trees, Le Cabanon epitomises the bon vivant lifestyle in the Mediterranean. Not just in the summer, but after the berries ripen into their darkest, sweetest selves and when the leaves fall off, the sunny and calm winter days breeze in the leisure of the Azure Coast. A short coastal stroll from Monaco, this rocky peninsula reminisces of the Côté d’Azur long gone, when tourism did not feel so suffocating.
At le Cabanon, the outdoor rustic setup is open on most days when the mild coastal mood of the Mediterranean weather permits. Otherwise, a cosy beach shed provides shelter for the needy foodies strolling or running by.
You are in for a hearty Southern meal, strong French coffee, tisane, a glass or bottle of something vivacious to lift up your social skills. Authenticity was killed elsewhere, but this beach-side café on Pointe des Dounaiers keeps the beach bohemian nourished.
Teasing you in, the smell of fresh French bread and the casual jolly vibe – conversing, sipping, patting their dogs or playing the boules – you cannot resist. Spread like a French village carpet, the petanque field is open to the public, so come early on weekends.
On warm days, we swarm in with the joyous bon-vivants on the al-fresco terrace (December and January may surprise you with 14-16 degree days as in 2020 the winters warm up above average also in the Mediterranean). The inside of the restaurant, cosy it may look, seems as an emergency seating, for even on the cool days, people wrapped in shawls sip their drinks outside. Without a meal, enjoy a refreshment on the wooden benches set on the side as a bar.
Once you order an aperitif, a pissaladiére, the Niçoise-style focaccia topped with stewed onions, olives and anchovies is served. In their full hedonistic glory, spread by the outside kitchen counter, the pastries seduce for a glutenous feast.
The page-long wine ‘carte‘ includes organic wines from all over France, with the Southern regions more prominent. We usually go for a rosé by Domaine de Léoube with one lunch, Château Sainte Marguerite on another day or a bottle of white Loire Sancerre.
Le Cabanon was taken over by the restaurant group that also manages La Resèrve du Mala, the Tahitian-style cove restaurant further on the seaside path towards Cap Ferrat. Ever since, the food and consistency have both improved.
Plenty of vegetables (order the bowl of cruditès, raw veggies with dips), but also hearty meat stews, pasta, burrata and other Franco-Italian bounty changes seasonally on the menu. In the fall, we love the Rabbit stuffed pasta with artichokes, carrots, olives and tomatoes. The local, fresh, fish and seafood are usually just perfectly grilled and served with potatoes and seasonal veggies. There is always either lamb or French beef on the carte and on special days even a tender veal.
The ‘bistro a la plage’ always offers a daily catch – grilled à la plancha served with lemon, potatoes and southern vegetables. On special occasions such as the Christmas Day or New Years’ lunch a fixed multi-course menu smoothens the service, that can be otherwise quite laid back (this is not a quick business lunch caffetteria). To finish, the dessert manu always includes some home cake, but also more fancy sweets, but we prefer the French cheese platter as purists.
The schmoozing resident cats (Buvette + friends) bring even more homey touch. Their shiny furs halo how well-fed these domesticated pets are at Le Cabanon. Throwing them a bit of fish skin or a crumble of bread, pleases both the feeder and the fed.
Beware, the few parking spots next to the restaurant became a thorn in the eye of the local police. Better leave your car either at the nearby hillside, tricky to find Parking des Douaniers or a less than a 10 minute stroll at the end of Plage Marquet parking (either is free on Sundays, public holidays and from 12noon-2pm every day).
We have a tendency to relive the positive memories, and often I revisit these happy moments I shared with others at Le Cabanon in Cap d’Ail. Still, the magic is in our own attitudes, and if you are open to be happy, you will be anywhere and at any time. Although I carry this image of the perfect meal at Côté d’Azur in my mind, I also enjoy other places on this marvellous coast or away from it. Nevertheless, I am always looking forward to my next meal at Le Cabanon!