L’Anse de Port Cros: drop the anchor in Mediterranean paradise to eat locally and hike with the humming cigales

Natural gem in the French Mediterranean waters, L’Anse de Port Cros requires a sea-bound journey worth the trip. From the Michelin Guide perspective the effort to travel to this sparsely inhabited protected island just for the meal would spark a star, yet at this leisurely set restaurant it is all about authenticity, not pomp, personality and wild creativity. Only the best local ingredients served at their most delectable flavours are served comfortably al fresco overlooking the charming port of Port Cros.

South of France

Yacht owners, moor at L’Anse de Port Cros to eat authentically and well, then hike the shaded rolling trails in the lush, well preserved National Park, to honour a free day well spent. Wear whatever is most comfortable, keep the glitz for La Gueritte, here the food is better and the space vast. We have been returning for years, our little secret we kept hidden from curious foodies in the virtual sphere. But, I feel like being generous this summer. Still strained by the dire global situation of increasing violence and death within our reach, we shall all savour every day, each precious holiday, and every meal out with a grand appetite before change swipes it all into the deep waters of unpredictability.

secret MediterraneanSouthern fried seafood

The name of the restaurant L’Anse de Port Cros means ‘Anchor of the Crossing Port’. Its location at the crossroads between the busy, car-free Porquerolles, the French military outpost and nudist enclave of Levant and the coastal towns and cities from Hyeres, Toulon, east to St Tropez, naturally lends itself to something appealing, luring the boats in for something simple but worth stopping by.

L’Anse de Port Cros offers nothing complicated, just delicious local bounty delivered every morning by the fishermen passing by the protected port of this lush Mediterranean island.

To start, ideally to share, my recommendations are: the fresh sea bream carpaccio sprinkled over with diced pickled onions and peppers; the marinated red pepper with roasted pepper dip and bread coins typically served in the south with rouille or aioli sauce next to a bouillabaisse; as well as the more substantial hot, fried baby squids (known in French as calamars, chipirons, encornets), here served au nature, not breaded, but instead with mixed greens and herbs.
Summer Mediterranean starters
Don’t eat much of the bread, get Baba (au rhum) instead! Well, later if you can wait. The baguette served at L’Anse de Port Cros  used to be superb, sourced from the mainland artisan baker, but around Covid the source changed to a lesser provider. With a positive attitude this means more space for the dessert après.
With your aperitif or alcoholic drink such as bottle of local wine, you get a bowl of delicious minuscule dark provencal olives. We usually order a half bottle of rosé or white by Château Margilliere that we once visited, but once we also enjoyed a full blush bottle of Clos Réal grown and made biodynamically in Provence. More punchy and not as cheap as most of the wine card.
French rose wineChâteau Margilliere
We always get the whole grilled fresh fish, usually white fleshed sea bream or bass. I recommend 800 g to one kilo for two people if you get large starters as we do. Presented to the table before being deboned perfectly, the filleted fish is accompanied by purple, Cabernet Franc scented salt and with herbs infused (thyme grows all over the island) olive oil on the table. Swishes in a complimentary duet of a sublime creamy risotto (as hedonistic as Joel Robuchon’s legendary mashed potatoes when the proportion of buttery fat far exceeds the carbs) and southern, grilled vegetable tian. The later usually an eggplant, tomato, courgette or red pepper generously doused in greenish herbal olive oil. Everything is just every single time cooked perfect!
Mediterranean fish at L'Anse de Port CrosMediterranean fishMediterranean fishauthentic food
Spiny lobsters parade in the live aquariums at L’Anse de Port Cros, but we dream about this perfection of a Mediterranean fish plate for the entire year before revisiting our beloved South of France, so we never switch to other mains. Côte de beauf glances at the frequenting locals, who do not mind the summer heat to eat as if there was nothing to do in the afternoon. Diving, snorkelling, kayaking, swimming, hiking, trail running if you desire, I have seen it all on and around the island. I keep the beef before the bed!

Mediterranean gemsRadka Beach

I wrote a poem inspired by Port-Cros:

All I see is blue joy

The clear sky of promises 

Of undisturbed simplicity 

Calm, straightforward reality 

Turbulence far gone from my awareness 

 

Fly, you and me in a liberated company

Set free the native imagination that was bound

By the complex constructs of culture in the rear

Of the mind seeking pain, restlessness and irrational fear

All I want is simplicity, what was lost in a city, here is found

~RB

iles du Levant

L’Anse de Port Cros: Nothing complicated, just delicious local bounty delivered every morning by the fishermen passing by the protected port of the lush national park on this Mediterranean island.

light summer dessertsauthentic restaurant

For a light sweet finale, the summer red berry compote with whipped Chantilly cream and cinnamon at L’Anse de Port-Cros is best if you intend to be active after the lunch.

A hospitable tradition across the Mediterranean, here, each meal concludes with a shot or a sip, if you prefer, of rum, orange and pineapple juice blend with secret spices the chef keeps to himself.

Crossing by private boat from Hyeres, the Porquerolles island or Cavalaire-sur-Mer in the Var department takes only about 30 minutes to an hour. Boarding one of the seasonally scheduled ferries stretches the sail up to two hours, but if you hang around it pays off. We avoid the core of summer, rather sailing in May, June and September as the temperatures for outdoor activities are more balmy.


Strawberries: false fruit with many secrets that will enrapture your senses

There are more than 600 varieties of strawberries and they are botanically not berries at all, while eggplants, tomatoes and avocados are berries, gotcha! The sheer diversity popping around me from Denmark though France, Germany, Israel, California, Switzerland, as far as to Japan rose my curiosity. My studious research yielded quite shocking revelations of our communally shared ignorance. The fibre-rich, multiple fruit according to the Carnegie Science Center researchers reveals: “The brownish or whitish specks, which are commonly considered seeds, are the true fruits, called achenes, and each of them surrounds a tiny seed.” Since the seeds are placed outside, it cannot be classified a berry as a blueberry is for example. Each strawberry has about 200 fruits on it. And this is only the start, I gasped at my further findings.

Japanese wagashi

Human creativity meets natural selection though questions

What you probably did not know about strawberries beyond their Wimbledon fame, whipped cream pairing, milkshake and frozen treats, is that it is not just where they are grown or on which farm but as with apples, there are many different taste profiles and colours to show. While it is unlikely that you will ever taste all the hybrids and cultivars (Wikipedia incompletely lists only the US&UK), each tastes slightly different.

Tinted by sun exposure or the lack of it from off-white, through Valentino red, to inky violet. I tried the rainbow of this jolly pseudo-fruit (allow me to refer to it a ‘berry’ further on as per familiar, while incorrect linguistic labelling) except for the almost blackish Chinese breed (China unsurprisingly also produces the largest quantity of 草莓 read: Cǎoméi).The so called black strawberry is actually of a very deep dark violet hue. It is remarkable that no genetic modifications were used in creating this breed. The ochre, yellowish variants I had in Munich (imported from Belgium) and Stockholm (imported from Netherlands) called “pineberry” is actually a light-hued, red seeded strawberry found recently in South Africa that tastes like pineapple. Dutch farmers saved this breed, which was on the brink of extinction.

Heart-shaped (is human heart indeed two joined mirroring question marks??), but also conical, oval or indefinably shaped like the most recent claimer of the Guinness World record for heaviest strawberry Ilan (named charmingly after the farmer’s son) at 289 grams!! (an average strawberry weighs 15 grams) grown in Israel in February 2022.

white strawberry

Rainbow of strawberries celebrated around the world

My globe-spanning travels include countless strawberry stories. From picking them in the wild anywhere from the Swiss Alps (German: Erdbeeren) and Zurich hills (again this morning on my way from yoga), French gas stations (fraises), sampling the previously world’s heaviest ‘King of Strawberry’ and the priciest white in Japan (苺 read: ichigo) to the world’s best chefs’ creative recipes at the fine tables.

This time of the year I would be driving through the Mediterranean Eze village, seduced to stop my car for a giant basketful of sexy red Naiad strawberries driven from Provence fresh daily by the roadside vendor. Buy a kilo or go to a supermarket. This large quantity would stir creativity once one was overfed by the pure fruit. The assembled deliciousness at home from countless cookbooks, as I did once with a giant white truffle, I would add them into anything (best recipe suggestions further down).

While the Italian fragola can sing a libretto according to the Pinocchios of that well-heeled land, the strawberries in Italy as well as from Spain have not impressed me so far. Even from the Southernmost Sicily, they do not taste as complex as those grown in France or further North. No matter how South the berry was grown, the Italians could not measure up to the Provencal specimens when in season.

In Denmark I tasted Favori, the first harvest of the year mid May (Danish jordbær). Chef Christian Baumann now at the superb Koan Copenhagen, where local bounty meets Nordic and Korean culinary heritage, worked as a teenager on a berry farm each summer learning about the subtle differences between strawberries and serves others like Rumba as the season progresses.

June strawberry

Always seasonal superfood

Forget June, there is always peak ripeness somewhere in the world. Heralds of early spring sunshine in the Middle East, later in Europe and Northern America, strawberries sweeten the year with juicy Vitamin C brightness, yet in some places it is the winter when they are at their best and cooler weather also favours more intense flavour. Mountain berries taste the most concentrated.

Plus, a bowlful has more fibre than a slice whole grain bread, so do not hesitate to eat plenty, sans gluten. More, the not always red juicy rascal turned out a relative with rose hanging out botanically in the same Rosaceae family.

These are the first ripe fruits rouges, to use the deceitful French term for all berries including black, blue, purple, yellow, beige, white, opal, or whatever colour a surface acquires as the sunshine warms its pigmented skin, ripe in the mild climate of four-seasons variability.

Burgundy strawberries

Made in France, literally

These edible roses grew from only a few original wild strawberry species into many breeds. The garden strawberries were first bred in Brittany, France in the 1750s from fragaria virginiana (American wild strawberry) hybridized with Chilean Fragaria chiloensis. This became the Fragaria ananassa species (there are about 20 now) resistant to diseases that ripens earlier and is the most used variety in commercial strawberry production. Hundreds of other crossbred species are available around the world throughout the year.

wild strawberrieswild strawberries

It is also the French who honour the distinctions of these not always red berries most beyond the garden shops also on the food marketplace. I love the bloody juicy and bright Anaïs from the Loire valley, sweet Burgundy-deep Cirafine from Brittany, reliable Cléry from Ille de France, and while the Provençal Dream candy, marmalade processed sugar flavour is not for me, Joly and Murano — both  straightforward bursts of sunshine in your mouth are delightful. Most distinguished in Provence are strawberries from Carpentras, Pertruis and Vaucluse. The Gariguette are perhaps most farmed in France and they are reliably sweet.

At Septime in Paris we ended a birthday meal with brick pale, juicy and balanced sweet Diamante. Most French Michelin chefs favour the cross of Mara des Bois for their wild forest fragrance resembling Alpine strawberries (fraises des bois in French).

Their bright acidity qualitatively sets apart Mara de Bois, with an intense, instantly recognisable strawberry perfume. It is more like an 80 percent dark chocolate in terms of sweetness and the pure taste of the place it grows. I can smell and taste the leaves, the bushes on the sun-warmed hedges where they like to grow. It is a luxury product of savvy breeding. These are one of my favourites, but it really depends on the day or how I want to eat them. The former chef to the designer Kenzo, Nakayama Toyomitsu serves mara de bois with caviar or shaved feta cheese at his Michelin star counter in Paris. 

French strawberry

The success of any strawberry plant is about location. In the US different varieties dominate than in Europe or Asia. In America, the hard worker Honeoye, forerunner Earliglow, giant Allstar and the pretty red Jewel, not to be confused with the rare Japanese white Jewel. It is getting rather confusing in the strawberry world, doesn’t it?

While the low-yielding breed white Jewel strawberries in the Saga prefecture of Japan are very difficult to find, the most expensive there are the Kokota breed, priced at around $22 for just a single berry this is indeed a jewel, not your regular milkshake friend. The giants in Japan may look suspiciously oversized, but far from a watered down inferiority. The Amaou strawberries from Fukuoka Prefecture are widely considered to be the best, and so called the King of Strawberries. Grown inside temperature-controlled vinyl greenhouses from December to May, the first picks are generally considered the sweetest.

rare strawberries

How to savvily buy strawberries

Often imported from earlier ripening warm lands like Spain (fresas), Morocco (friz – the peak seasons are between December and January), Portugal (morangos), California to our impatient Northern palates  before the local, often very short growing season kicks off.

Farmy, my Swiss delivery platform focusing on more sustainable, local produce even dares to claim that the Swiss strawberries are more sweet than from other countries because of their slower ripening. Well, with global warming we get the red garden berries from late May as other parts of Europe, yet if you compare with the imported produce to Switzerland, often inferior to what I eat in France, Oregon and the Nordic countries, locally farmed Erdbeeren indeed tend to be sweeter since they can be picked perfectly ripe.

Like all berries, they are fragile to handle so they are often gathered, transported and even sold in punnets, a small, usually paper or wooden box. Best, pluck your own and eat them the same day. Not just their antioxidant potency is diminished, but their flavour is muted by refrigeration, and since they are susceptible to moisture, mold easily develops so eat that punnet rapidly.

While strawberries are included in the dirty dozen list having often the highest residues of pesticides, here organic does not mean necessarily better taste. Eating a few samples I got around the markets in Paris next to the conventional varietal ones, I was struck how inferior the “bio” tasted. Too often, the flavour is watery, diluted, bland, sour, rarely you get to know the exact variety. Most organic shops around Europe stock them from the vast plantations in Spain.

perfect strawberry bodySwiss strawberries

Wild joy of the colour red in nature

Searching through strawberry photos in my library, yielded unexpected discoveries. The quirkiest were my favourite strawberry bikini travelling with me from Italy through Asia in my early 20s. While I am working on getting that strawberry body back, my fascination with strawberries has grown. Well, if I subsided on a diet of strawberries only for a month, I would probably get there with a flash of those ripped abs, but anything too much is just not fun.

Driving through France last July, I spotted plentiful red sparks in the grassland and picked a box-full of wild joy around a gas station set in the countryside. Cycling in my native Czechia (Jahoda in my native Czech even graces some families with the strawberry namesake, greetings to all of the Mr and Mrs Jahoda!) often seduces me into the roadside hedges and hiking in the Alps each summer often turns into slow strolling as my face and fingers turn red with all that juicy bounty. Have you wondered which variety is the sweetest? It seems that the tiny Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) is one of the sweetest fruits you can grow.

Usually the first crop is best. High in the mountains, the wild Alpine variety ripens later, I usually pick them mid to late August, while down in altitude around Zurich I can forage around early in July, our backyard beset by usually haloes the ripening season.

wild strawberriesstrawberry recipes

How to eat the not-berries and some palate-opening recipes

Chefs keep the admired fruit going as well on their bold menus including lobster, black pepper (in Copenhagen) and other savoury ingredients in their strawberry recipes. In Vienna at Tian, I had them dressed with verbena leaves, poppy seed crackers, topped by their sorbet. Alain Ducasse marinated fraises de bois in sweet juice and in Monaco served them simply (even a three star restaurant can do things in uncomplicated way, bravo!) with vanilla ice cream. Just this weekend in Zurich at Maison Manesse, they pureed unripe Swiss green strawberries into a refreshing desert with cucumber, pistachios and sorrel sorbet. Superbly light for an unusually hot first June Saturday!

I would also add strawberries into a chilled gazpacho. Blend them in with the sweet n’sour tomatoes, bell peppers, even a cucumber, season well with spicy sauce and white pepper. In Europe usually crossing path with the tail of asparagus season, mixing them together in a salad is not a bad idea, add feta cheese or some string beans. Sage surprisingly pairs well. Herbs like basil or mint, heating spices such as cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, and chili also enhance the flavour of the pure fruit. A ripe strawberry does not need any sugar in my opinion. Once a sweetener is added, the breadth of the taste is diminished.

traditional strawberry recipes

Honestly, I love them mostly bare, not in cakes, perhaps with a drizzle of olive oil and fleur du sel or aged Modena balsamic vinegar. 

My grandmother used to make me a milkshake in June, she had no blenders or electric equipment back then. Just ripe strawberries picked from her garden minutes before were mashed with a spoon, easily (not with a fork as that would break the flesh chasing the texture) adding the icing sugar powder to it ground it a bit, then little by little she would pour some whole milk from her dairy cow into it. This tastes like no milkshake I have ever had anywhere ever since.

The most famous strawberry recipes include a Pavlova, pies, jams and marmalade in the West, Far East Fukuoka’s most famous wagashi ichigo daifuku, a strawberry enveloped in azuki red bean paste, mochi (sticky rice cake) and rolled into a ball is a must.

In Amsterdam, strawberries (aardbeien in Dutch) are marinated in rose sirup to be served alongside verbena ice cream and fresh almonds (also in season with the strawberries). At the Restaurant de Kas the chef Gert Jan Hageman profits from his organic greenhouses dating back to 1926.

At Brae in Australia’s countryside the pairing with green fresh almonds finds refreshing rendering with fig leaf oil and yogurt whey in a broth of broad (fava) beans. The chef Dan Hunter prefers the sweet Japanese specimens and the wild and rather rare white “fraises des bois”.

In cocktails, especially frozen or blended smooth beyond daiquiris (cask-aged rum), they work well with gin, neutral vodka, sparkling wine (as in Hugo), in France there is even a liquor made with the wild fraises de bois with countless blending options (in French). My local Swiss farm also makes a strawberry liquor from their superset crop. You can of course make a mocktail or that indulgent frozen strawberry daiquiri.

Raw or smoked fish like salmon pair well and so do vegetables like fennel. Mix in other fruits like mango in a spicy fresh salsa:

  • 3/4 cup diced strawberries
  • 3/4 cup diced mango
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons diced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 teaspoons honey, or more to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime

June fruitsFrench strawberriesNew Nordic cuisineJapanese strawberry

I like them as they are, like a kaiseki restaurant would serve these treats plain at the end of a long meal. I enjoy the Chinese and Japanese tradition of enjoying the highest quality fruit plain, showing their natural perfection, without adornments, dough, cream and other desserty companions we like in the West. My Japanese friend says: “I had them with some herbs like mint and shiso, white chocolate injected and so on, but  still like them most as they are.” Anyway creativity knows no borders and the Western influence on either culinary culture infiltrated the Far-Eastern markets with layered sponge cakes, trifles, chocolate fountains, waffles and other sugary accompaniments to strawberries.

Some no brainers, so obvious generalisations of our seasonal experience just automatically escape our closer examination. Yet, when one pays attention to details, and in spring reads the labels above or bellow the “fraises” at markets in France. While being one of the most popular western spring heralds of ripeness, strawberries are one of the most qualitatively stretched fruits I know. The greatest of these berries stand alone strong!


Dining at Le Cap Estel: La Table de Patrick Raingeard as a romantic retreat in Eze sur Mer

The soothing view from Cap d'Estel

La Table de Patrick Raingeard is a Michelin starred restaurant in the exclusive Le Cap Estel hotel. Crowned by its lush garden around a curvy private road driving you in and out the property. The outdoor seating starts from the warm months (usually June-mid September), unless it rains or blasts gales. The chequered indoor part of the restaurant also serves as the breakfast room for the checked in guests. There are only a few suites and smaller rooms in the main villa and in a new building on its side.

Michelin restaurant in EzeMediterranean

Cap Estel like a head of an eagle reaches out into the Mediterranean between two wide-spanning wings – Cap Ferrat and Cap d’Ail. A short ride from Monaco, this is one of the most relaxing and romantic spots to dine in the area (like the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat now a Four Seasons managed property).

One feels so close to nature here — the murmur of the sea waves, the verdant pines and refreshing coastal breeze are disturbed only by the gentle voices of the waiting staff serving you. As the ducks and cute ducklings wander around your table outside, you might not resist to throw them at least a small slice of the warm bread. The giant sourdough loaf comes from our favourite bakery in the area, the Ma Premiere Boulangerie up in La Turbie. The country bread is served with Huilerie St Michel olive oil from Menton flavoured for the chef with verbena. Mauro Collagreco also uses their oils at Mirazur.
Cap d'Estel pool bar viewMichelin Ezeartisan French breadartisan bread

The boutique luxury of Le Cap Estel is a peaceful retreat for Monaco residents. This ultra luxurious villa hotel through all its facilities is a sanctuary of calm and elegance. It is a very romantic spot for couples, but also a place where one can focus on work or creativity as well as making it a family escape from all the duties at home. The pool bar and garden are one of my favourite aperitif spots on the Riviera. Undisturbed by tourists, over-excited kids and car noise, this is what I call an oasis of calm. One needs it when living in the nearby buzzing Monaco, where traffic and construction steal all the romance the tiny principality used to posses over a century ago when Apollinaire grew up there.
Dress as you would to a dinner at an elegant five-star hotel, yet there is no need for a tie or a formal dress. Wearing a comfortable long silk dress or light pants could tune you to the fresh and relaxed atmosphere at Cap Estel.
Amuse bouche of raviolo with meat & chorizo filling
The food at La Table de Patrick Raingeard feels fresh in the mouth, is locally sourced and so light that the m meal won’t disrupt anyone’s ‘regime‘. This is one of the rare gastronomic restaurants where after a multi-course menu you will not feel like you have just eaten for two. You feel pampered rather than driven over by a truck as at most high-dining establishments. Each plate is meticulously described and the exact provenance of the ingredients is disclosed if you are curious. If you like the sweet and fragrant lemon or the wild strawberries, then you know where to get them!
Asparagus Michelin star appetizer at Cap EstelMichelin Eze
After a complimentery amuse bouche of a giant one-pieace ‘raviolo’ with meat & chorizo filling, I ordered the Asparagus bunch with radish, mouse of candied lemon from Menton and smoked verbena. Cooked just right – still crisp yet mellow, the asparagus tips were flawless. The flavours of the mousse brought up fond memories of the Riviera – the lemon gardens in Menton and the verbena leafs in digestif tisanes. A decade later, I had to order also a white asparagus dish, its form as delicious as the first impression. Such an incredible starter raised my expectations about the upcoming dishes.

For seafood, the Blue lobster salad with strawberries from Carros, eggplant with balsamic vinegar aged for 8 years by Leonardi would not only satisfy cravings, but also it offers the opportunity to try one the La Table de Patrick Raingeard signature dishes. Who would think of eating lobster with strawberries? The only weakness was the quality of the lobster. This crustacean is often offered but rarely excellent in France. Only the right season and location secure the most tender catch! US diners used to the melting-texture of Maine lobster might be disappointed.
Blue lobster salad
Moving to the main acts, first with a Monkfish roasted in purple artichoke, corn and Ibérique chorizo cream with roquette foam, my palate was in the food heaven. There were so many unique flavors on my plate that I could not decide which I liked the most. The artichokes as well as the fish were tastier when dipped in the green roquette foam. The yellow corn sauce enriched the otherwise light monkfish and the Ibérique chorizo cream added a bit of rich and spicy notes.
Monk fish roasted in purple artichoke
Another sea-sourced main course recommended by the waiter at La Table de Patrick Raingeard, the Wild turbot with chanterelles, stew of white beans and raisin, yuzu mousse, was also excellent. As I dipped my fork into my husband’s plate, I found the delicate texture of the fish elevated by the soft Japanese yuzu citrus mousse with the juicy raisins.
Wild turbot with chanterelles stew
If you prefer land to the sea, then meats like the Charolais beef, local provençal lamb or a guinea fowl from Bresse (Burgundy) widen your choices. Of course there are tasting menus with multiple courses and also some vegetarian, even vegan options. This spring, I tried the vegetarian tasting inclusive of two desserts and a cheese plate, and adding the sublime bread, I felt I had just the perfect amount of food.

Michelin EzeMichelin Eze

You can round up your meal with a plate of cheese or (and as you will get some without ordering it) dessert. The French cheese selection is wide, and the desserts innovative including local and exotic fruits such as yuzu and combava. The Wild strawberries, crispy verbena and lemon sorbet, accompanied by a foam of combava represents a perfect friendship of the French cuisine with exotic ingredients. Citrus, fruits, chocolate and even vegetables circulate in the sweet plates.

patisserieMichelin Eze
The cheese selectionpatisserie
Drinks: Start you special evening with a glass of champagne or a cocktail at the attic-themed pool house or at the lobby terrace. The view and the sizzling sea transfer you into timeless realms. You might even forget that you came here for a meal. Skimming the wine list at La Table de Patrick Raingeard though brought me back to the Earth. The pocket-deep prices for the mostly top Bordeaux and Burgundies may challenge some diners.

wine from Nicerare Rhone wineThe bar

There were also reasonably priced ‘bargains’ on the list and the sommelier was very helpful with choosing the right wine for us. The Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru la Pousse d’Or from Burgundy was an ideal refreshing Chardonnay with our delicate dishes. Even more affordable is the local white by Clos St Vincent of AOC Bellet, this was after all the wine served at the princely wedding in Monaco, so quite a royal pour. Most recently we were pleased to find a still fair-priced Rayas, so we splurged on.

Cuisine: Mediterranean, gastronomic
Visits: June 2012 and April 2022
Chef: Patrick Raingeard is a well-established Michelin-stared French chef creating light, fresh and locally sourced dishes in the Riviera spirit.
Contact:+33 0 493762929
Address: 1312 Avenue Raimond-Poncare, Eze-Bord-de-mer 06360, France

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Chez Davia: cuisine Niçoise elevated from rustic tradition to sophisticated perfection

Chez Davia is one of these rare family-owned restaurants today still handed down through generations. Born of Italian emigrants to the Riviera, first their daughter took over, and currently in the third hands of the impressive grandson Pierre Altobelli, the meal at this classic Niçoise restaurant might be the best you will savour in Nice.

Mother, son, plus a friendly and authentically sharp Niçoise workforce chez Davia create a familial ambience. The Japanese wife of the chef also sometimes helps out, while during lunch service his son hops around. Finesse and a sophisticated touch on cuisine Nissarde shows in his elegant handling and seasoning of the local, carefully selected ingredients. Even the floral arrangements like an artichoke bouquet in spring and sunflowers in summer feel like Southern fields blossoming with edible beauty.

Nicoise bistroChez Davia

Riviera bounty transformed with precision

Sometimes the Bib Gourmand by Michelin guides to a greater satisfaction from a meal than any starred experience. Davia is the one restaurant in Nice we always return to when in the region. In the nearby pompous Monaco, one could only dream about such an authentically elevated, local, quality dining and Cannes is either bling bling or not worth the trip. No tasting menus, caviar, gold, lobsters and wagyu beef from distant lands arrive in the tiny kitchen chez Davia.

After gaining experience at the legendary restaurants in the region, chef Pierre gathered further skills and knowledge around the world — from the truffled cuisine at Bruno (Lorgues), Ducasse (Louis XV in Monaco), Maximin (Vence), Morisset, Gagnaire (Paris), Yannick Alleno, with brothers Pourcel he traveled to work in Shanghai, then moved to Hong Kong (Amber), Troisgros in Tokyo and finally at the Intercontinental in Osaka he met his current wife. Back in Nice, the chef with his passionate team elevate what they are given by the Mediterranean fisherman and Alpes Maritimes farmers into still authentic plates, yet better.

Cuisine NissardeTarte du Citron

Fresh lemon tart Tart du lemon in South of France

Sweet homey delights chez Davia

On our recent visit, the adorable mother of the chef took the orders with her broken English (my basic French mended all holes) and dedicatedly sat behind the desert counter, counting the receipt slips with such seriousness, that she must have recounted each at least three times. Chef Pierre Altobelli often ventures out from the kitchen later in the service, aiding the floor staff such as assuring that a proper grate of the sanguine-hued lemon zest is snowed over the exquisite lemon tart. The fragrant home-made tart is a must. A thin, buttery crust crumbles wholesomely under your spoon and the citrus fresh custard swishes through the mouth so lightly and puissant! Since I got carried away by the end of the meal, the crème brûlée is torched prior to serving, and while the ice cream is only vanilla flavour, it is made by a regional artisan for those who just must have it. The compact, open kitchen is just too small to add a gelato machine in.

Chez DaviaNicoise bistro cuisine

Seasonal gems on the weekly changing menu

In spring fava beans and green pea pods make it into homemade tagliatelle pasta au pistou (herbs and olive oil pesto) cooked perfectly al dente (in summer the delicate white coco beans take reign). A firm bite with fresh spring flavours. Also with young sugar-snap peas and sheep’s curd, the young favettes beans shine as much as on the raw artichoke salad.

We always order the signature marinated anchovies spiced up with pimment d’espelette generously drizzled over with olive oil. This is perhaps the best anchovy preparation we have ever put into our mouths, that perfectly pairs with the locally sourced bread, soaking all that perfection like a sponge. Delicately melting on your tongue with the sweet, slow roasted, skinned red pepper, topped with fresh basil leaves and a scant rosemary seasoning for some mouthfuls’ brightness of herbal flare.

Also a staple chez Davia are the stuffed sardines with the green leaves of chard. Crisply breaded, not greasy, the stuffed deep fried fish is accompanied as most sea bounty here with a slice of lemon.

Riviera cuisineCuisine Nissarde

Cold served ratatouille with Moroccan curry spice in summer. Aubergine and zucchini pickles add vinegary kick and a petal of courgette flower like a boat delivered the most sublime mouthfuls into my needy lips. In the heat, also the perfect rendition of Salade Niçoise or cold rabbit terrine with fragrant sage, a generous minestrone or soup with pistou (French version of pesto, without nuts, just herbs, garlic and oil). Aioli provencal also mades it into the menu. Basically, Riviera meets provencal cookbook with Italian influences (Nice used to belong to Italy), voila Niçoise cuisine! San Remo tender shrimps were served raw with a drizzle of olive and the lemon gold. Stockfish was cooked in San Remo style.

Nice bistroMediterranean CuisineFresh peas, lava beans, sheep's curdNicoise cuisine

With minced veal stuffed little local vegetables cannot be omitted on the traditional menu in Nice, and they also can make the main course. Still, in chef Pierre’s rendering they are delicately handled, not overcooked as elsewhere and light. The fish changes according to the daily catch. The Fennel fried line-caught rouget fish (red mullet) served with lemon and spicy rocket salad from Ventimiglia market was extraordinary. We know the farmers on this Italian border market very well. Only there we could find the best quality vegetables, seafood and fish on the entire Riviera. The daily-changing cheese plate is also from this market, but curated selectively from small local producers around the border between France and Italy.

Daube de beuf comme l’arriere pays Nicoise chez Davia is cooked slowly to mount-melting tenderness of the beef and topped with cooked beetroot and black Nicoise olives.

Mediterranean line-caught fishNicoise cuisine

The wine list chez Davia are mostly Southern bottles ranging from very affordable to rare finds. Many biodynamic or organically farmed. We like the local Clos St Vincent Blanc Le Clos from the whites if on the list (it slightly changes almost daily). Designated AOC Vin de Bellet, the winery spreads across the Niçoise hilly back country. Another time, a glass of Languedoc rosé to start was fresh yet floral deep like a blooming hibiscus. A characterful Rhone Syrah (photo far bellow) took us by our tails, so returning for second time that same week, we had to get another bottle.

wine from NiceMediterranean cheesefromageFrench wine

The menu chez Davia is handwritten entirely in French, but during the most touristy summer they pen up an additional English version. The sharp and helpful sommelier or the other waiters are eager to help with translation.

The only other family run restaurant with a similar style in Nice is the much smaller La Merenda in the old town. We like them both, but found the cuisine now chez Davia more refined, even sophisticated, while still satisfying with abundant, balanced flavours.

Address: 1bis Rue Grimaldi, 06000 Nice

Open for lunch Wednesday-Sunday 12:30-2pm & dinner 7:30-10pm

Closed all day Monday and Tuesday for lunch.


THE KNOWN UNKNOWN

THE KNOWN UNKNOWN is a poem I wrote while climbing one of my favourite trails in Côte d’Azur this spring. The flimsy April weather brings an abundance of clouds and fog hovering over the coastal Alpes Maritimes. While the Mediterranean blue brightens the low seaside, the rising rocky Alps shovel in a cape of veiled mystery. Add some spring wind, that pushing steady force, rather than the Mistral’s stormy disorder, and you get a moving scene of darkness and light.

Like the human soul, nature, which is within us, shows its dichotomy blending in, painting over light with cloudy darkness, shady glimpses of duality that don’t rest. Never the same, constantly changing. Like our emotions, like who we show that we are depending on the situation and perhaps the others, who are considered safe to accept our vulnerability.

THE KNOWN UNKNOWN

THE KNOWN UNKNOWN in the creative process

Nature has always inspired poets, painters, novelists, scientists, even powerful, millions of lives influencing politicians like Winston Churchill, who holidayed painting on Côte d’Azur. Since we are nature, naturally, we are moved by her swells. And some of these undulating waves breathe inside us the muses’ whispers or crash en force a storm of creativity. My own experience attests that all one needs is to accept the call of the muses and to be openly listening to the flow of this unexplainable joy that takes all over you. This is when one accesses the known unknown, the personal and collective unconscious meeting at once on the level of consciousness. Therefore, one cannot understand the words in some poems literally but metaphorically, and that is the puzzle to be riddled with a relishing poise of a player.

Forget reason, that comes later when you reflect on what intuitively was given to you and the poet. At the opening exhibition curated from the history of art at The Louvre Abu Dhabi arresting quotes accompanied the visual experience. A few touched my heart, some stirred the reason, others spoked united to my heart, reason and the soul.

Like this one: “The ignorant affirms, the leaned doubts, the wise reflects.”

THE KNOWN UNKNOWNTHE KNOWN UNKNOWNspirit898 meaning

THE KNOWN UNKNOWN in poetry

Often, I only understand what I wrote in the poetic swell, days, weeks, even years after I reread it. Able to connect the content with some further experience, the poem becomes the whole, self-sustaining entity more ready to be appreciated by the reader. Yet, as readers some poems we don’t understand until the ripe time in our eventful lives ushers clarity shaded by ignorance or the lack of cues. I could only get Shakespeare’s sonnets past my mid-thirties. Before then, I was a drowning swimmer in the whitewater of cluelessness. Then I saw a live performance By Heart in Brooklyn by a Portuguese director, well it was a one man show, plus the voluntary audience called to the stage, whose task was to memorise a part each of Shakespeare’s Sonnet number 30. Over the two hours we were all taken into the unknown depths of these magic fourteen lines, accompanied by the director’s insights and readings from other authors such as Boris Pasternak touched by this particular prodigious work. So, once I got this raft to paddle through, I was mesmerised by their universal, time-defying depth.

the musecoexistence

I gave you the raft by drawing the scenery that inspired me above, the skilful paddling is in your hands.

THE KNOWN UNKNOWN

Innocent beginning clothed blue

Bathing in the seaside morning 

I set to climb the unknown truth

A veil of dark fog hovering

In a weighed down ghastly mood, blown

Like a flying carpet of grey glue

Down is up, up is down, change is true

 

A poetic realm thrones high above

The noise of sunken humanity

Into a thick fog of vanity.

 

But here, the apian song grooves

My soul along its flawless notes

I feel so free diving in whole

While flying jolly through high and low

The verdant treasure throve of life

~RB

THE KNOWN UNKNOWN has an intuitive rhythm of 8-9-8. I’ve just googled the number and what showed up in the search results took my spirit by its tail. I am vaguely familiar with tarot, and only once was introduced to the so called Angel Cards. Pulling a symbolic card from the deck after a sound meditation session, I was rather amused than assured, yet this call from 898 rang a divine clue: “you are worthy of greatness. It means that you must detoxify your thoughts and environment. Get rid of all the negative reviews, toxic people, and situations in your life.”

New ZealandMountain lake

I shared this poem with a friend, adding: “Poems have hidden messages in them that we can only see in a certain stare of mind.” Of course I meant “state”, but one indeed has to pay close attention, literally, to stare at the content sometimes to decipher the meaning. She had to “let it sit for a few days” before getting it to “sink in”, meaning to grasp the details and the wholeness of it. Hopefully, she did.

The Nietzsche path up to Eze inspired a few of my poems. Some, I published on La Muse Blue previously. Depending on the season, my state of mind and the alignment of my heart and soul in that moment of strenuous climbing up, ideas flow, words pour out. I hope, they will guide you too for whatever fruitful purpose it may be.


Le Clown Bar: neo-parisien bistro historically and naturally seduces

Until very late hours after shows, Le Clown Bar used to entertain the artists and clowns from the nearby winter circus (Cirque d’Hiver), the first and grandest of its kind in Paris. The colorful ceiling and tiles, the fresco of Pierrots Lunaires and lively decorations V-shape from the half-moon bar set in the heart of this tiny canteen that jollies now the Parisiennes. Classified as one of the monuments historiques in France in 1995, the space reopened in 2013 as a refreshingly simple yet sophisticated bistro. Today, Clown bar is one of the best bistros in Paris because of the team’s mastery of that culinary dichotomy.

Clown Bar ParisParis circus

The kitchen team is now headed by ex-Saturne (also natural wines favouring bistro) chef Axel Gallart, who took over the acclaimed, Japan-born chef Sota Atsumi after he opened his new restaurant in town called Maison.

A lot plays in the nearby Septime phenomenon, yet now the reservations are easier to make at Clown Bar and I find the place more inviting and sans the mission impossible of snapping a table less of a headache.

Sitting inside or out on the rue during the warm months, packed tight, the tiny bistro tables snug everyone neatly. Kind of a pandemic nightmare and post-pandemic salvation. We came in three seasons. In a hot summer sitting at the wide open window we could savour a bit of breeze and the hip street action. In autumn one packed inside in the beautiful painterly interior and this winter, bolstered by the strict restaurant rules in Paris, we returned comfortably into a corner table. Cosily wrapped into this lively chapel of honest, seasonal and utterly reliably delectable food, we indulged.

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

First lands a hearty sourdough bread sourced from an excellent baker who works with top Parisian restaurants. Perfectly generous wholesome Brittany butter always stirs emotions for us. Set for a warm up glass of some vin naturel.

A three course lunch menu includes a dessert and a choice from one of the two starters (seasonal and regular menu features) and main courses, usually one meat and another seasonal fish/seafood. We usually just walk in during the lunch hours if around the 11th arrondissement. For dinner it is necessary to reserve a table ahead since the indoor dining area is tiny like the authentic bistros from the old times.

Clown Bar ParisSouthern French snacks

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

The chickpea fried panisses with rosemary and spicy harissa dip are a staple on the menu. Oh la la! That texture, creamy hot centre as you bite into the crunchy cylindric sphere fills your mouth with ecstasy. Decadently indulgent as the best in the South of France!

Girolle mushrooms tartine with fresh almonds in July was a gourmand’s heaven on a plate. If I were a Michelin inspector, a star would land with a light speed. A gently cooked octopus salad was less sophisticated, but the tentacled creature was honoured with some fresh parsley and olive oil to a purists’ delight.

Clown Bar always includes some main dish with fish like the tender Cod with carrot soubise sauce I had in February. The holy grail of Atlantic fish, my turbot was delicately cooked with wild spinach and turnips in autumn and so was the seafood bouillon with shiitake mushrooms.

Unless you dine outside at the open street terrace, you find cutlery in a small drawer inside each table. One needs a sturdier knife for the beef. This is a French bistro after all so meat plates halo the menu, from a tartare to veal brain and sweetbreads with white coco beans, the omnivores find their rainbow at the Clown Bar.

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

At dinner, a choice from two cheeses such as aged (18months) Comtè or Picodon d’Ardeche change seasonally. The quality is best you can get in Paris, which is a high stake!

Seasonal fruit, chocolate, popular sweets and some French classics inspire the deserts. The desserts are more contemporary, think chocolate and pecan cookies, granola with stewed apricots with fragrant sauces or French choux pastry with a generous vanilla cream filling.

Clown Bar bistro naturally seduces foodies and lovers of casually sophisticated atmosphere. Now that most of the city’s art has moved North-east beyond the Republique, current creatives fuel their bodies with the small plates around Marais and this sliver of the 11th arrondissement as once St Germain’s Café Flore did. The contemporary food is closer in style to Semilla, but more consistent.

Clown Bar ParisClown Bar Paris

Natural wines not only from France, but other European sustainable winemakers like Foradori made by Northern Italian biodynamic queen Elisabeta Foradori and the Sicilian Frank Cornelissen, whose vineyards around the Etna volcano produce powerful fruit whose authenticity is being preserved by the winemaker up to the point that each vintage can differ in its alcohol level by two abV points. In summer we went for a lighter Beaujolais red. With our dinner, the French producer Philippe Jambon in Chasselas, about midway between Lyon and Beaune in Burgundy, charmed out late harvest from a difficult 2017 vintage when hails damaged the stems of his vines. Clown Bar prides itself in its vast cellar and offers some bottles on their online shop.

I appreciate the nice tea selection for a zero-roof lunchtime. A tie guan yin oolong paired lovely with the seafood and fish dishes. For a post-meal energy boost, coffee by our favourite Parisian roaster L’Arbre À Cafe on Rue du Nil where hedonism thrives, picks even the pickiest coffee connoisseurs up from their chair.

Le Clown Bar is closed on weekends. Open for lunch Mon-Fri: 12:30-2pm and dinner starts at 7pm.

114 Rue Amelot, Paris 75011

+33 (0) 1 43 55 87 35


Things Better Done Slowly: poetic Marais cafes and tea rooms

Poetry does not have to be written under your bed covers (well, sometimes I do that too) or in a rusty, with vintage posters laced bohemian poetic Marais hang out. A calm place of cosy comfort can be found anywhere you can hear the muse whispering the stanzas into your mind. Le Marais was once the hangout of poets, but now it is more a bundle of loud hipster shops, cafes and bars. Still, there are niches in the tight stack of the narrow streets, and I found them. So crawl in with a notebook and a pen. Laptops, well, and ‘smart’phones are not as romantic companions as the old ink and paper.

Japanese notebooks

I have just attended my first poetry workshop in Paris. Organised by the Paris Institute of Critical Thinking in the heart of the Marais, the cards were drawn for an intensive creative feast. All of us, budding or mature female poets in our small group were curious to explore the depths of our creative wells. And while many prompts stirred a focused outpour of creative writing, one stroke me most: the tutor, a poet herself, asked us to write down Things Better Done Slowly. A wonderful idea! I thought, penning down a few activities that slipped out of my mind in the time-constrained exercise of mindful association.

Tahiti by Gauguin

Eau Delicieuse: Gauguin

Here are my ideas plus one I identified with most from our collective list:

  • baking bread (sourdough culture)
  • brushing my long hair (first thing in the morning and the last at night)
  • eating a hot soup and Chinese soup dumplings (burned tongues!?)
  • food shopping at markets (it took long to grow, let’s talk how shall I cook it?)
  • kissing the beloved (no comment)

letting a morsel of chocolate melt on my tongue

  • the entire a day (like in Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings; photo above)
  • swimming alone in a safe pool (wholesome sensuality)
  • sharing tea with a friend (alone the pot of tea gets cold fast)
  • sipping fine wine (too precious)
  • walking in a great architectural city or a park (the details)

I highly advise to pen down such a list yourself. Then use it at least during the weekend to switch onto a low gear. As the parks around the City of Lights abundantly showed me — the leaves will eventually fall.

Paris autumn Ob-La-Di Marais

Bringing these wholesome blurbs and wishes to life, next came a coffee break, later a lunch break, and then another break, … We had time to put into practice what we preached in the heart of the poetic Marais. Aware of this opportunity, I used all three pauses for mindful slowness.

First, a morning pause. Not taking away, but sitting down with a flat white and a scone in an internationally-run coffee shop that I was randomly attracted by in the Marais. Only later did I learn that this is perhaps the most Instagrammed cafe in Paris. Excellent coffee, and that is rarity in Paris, so head to the tiny cafe Ob-La-Di until it still exists. Named for a Beatles song meaning “life goes on” (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da is a phrase by a London-based Nigerian musician that Paul McCartney borrowed for the song). The cafe is owned by two Frenchies and a Swede, but since the inspiration on the menu and the design are very global, “Let It Be”). The ephemeral nature of such places has awakened me during recent periods of lockdowns. Commercially unsustainable businesses relying on non-virtual attendance of people suffered most. So there, in this place of fragile existence, I wrote this ode to cross-cultural indulgence:

Trespassing the once raised borders

No lid to screen my lips

Dipping in like roses

Wet with juicy dew

Opening my mouth anew

Plush touch of the frothy brew

Its hot steam capped by a milky cloud

Alone not, my joy rerenders time

Between me and the wholy this

Marbled drops of the beans

Echo my caffeinated bliss

Imagine an accordion and this musical instrument’s movement — stretching wide and slowly contracting. Read the above part of my poem again. The meaning of the lines expands and narrows, one after another.

Ob La DiBest coffee in Paris in the poetic Marais

As I break rules once set to be changed

I sit down not with tea and scone

A Japanese barista in muted tone

Serves me scone aux myrtilles

I dip with my lips en abondance

Aussie flat white and a British treat

In the Paris now shuning French resistance

Allowing for this far flung feast of my papilles

~

French words: myrtilles = blueberries, en abondance = in abundance; resistance = resistence; papilles = taste buds. By now the crumbles from the scone were all over my lap and the draft.

Having a proper length of a lunch break, I could savor my day of slow being and doing indulgence in poetic Marais with an authentic poise. Next, being in the proximity of my favourite Japanese tea room in both Paris and Tokyo, I headed a few minutes down to the Sabō room in the house of Ogata. The Japanese have been fully aware of things better done slowly for centuries, invented a super prolonged tea ceremony (known as cha-do), ikebana flower arrangement and other mindful artisan expressions of zen. The founder of Sabō, designer Shinichiro Ogata intends to bring the essence of this japonisme abroad. Season was ripe for persimmons, the Japanese kaki being of a superior quality to most European specimens, and knowing this I had to indulge in another sweet delight. A blend of local French butter stuffed in the semi-sun-dried persimmon hedonistically works magic. Just try. Be open.

poetic Marais in a life of a poet

Bared honesty of a warm heart

When you realize

Feeling fully aware

This is what I love

The eyes want

To cry out

Your soul

Part by part

A butterfly out 

Flying free

From changing time

Like inhaling

The garden scent 

In a warm tea

Held by both hands

Pouring joy inside

Through wanting lips

All the way deep

Where reality and dream meet

So,suddenly all water tastes sweet

~

Ogata, Parispersimmon

The poetic Marais not left behind even once was out of the area. Further refueling with some proper food, I stopped at a Chinese dimsum house by the Hong Kong husband (who runs my favorite Chinese tea house where I chat and write near Les Halles) and Michelin French chef duo behind Lai’Cha. The warm pillows of soft pasta wrapped like a pierogi must be savored slowly, otherwise you burn your palate. They are like soup. Things better done slowly, surely. So I sat at the counter, with only the dumplings and chopsticks between me and the wall. And somewhat this intimate constrained space felt cozily mine.

Chinese tea in Paris

Our last poetic break naturally grew into a conversation, and I decided to skip running away from new people, staying in the classroom. Call it a post-Covid antisocial syndrome is you wish, but that space I suddenly had at my disposition during the last two years felt very nurturing. While I would often be the leader of the talk, asking questions, inserting anecdotes, I enjoyed slowing my mouth, and let others talk. Listening felt just so much more easy than talking does. One of the things better done slowly is engaging in a conversation, I learned after more than three decades of eloquent existence.

This post was like a journal entry of a day in a life of a poet. My creatively indulgent time well spent in poetic Marais felt like a bliss of a butterfly. Resting and sipping the sweet nectar of joy on one flower, then full of life landing on another, and again, until the night fell. Another day, I might pop for a pot of lovely oolong at nearby Artéfact where the ceramics filled tea bar usually stays calm enough to focus on creativity.

tea in Paristea room in Paris

Note that when one speaks of “maison du thé” in France the place is not a tea-focused house but basically a café offering some food and mostly non-alcoholic beverages for the day.

MY CALM ADDRESSES (mostly avoid lunch breaks):

Ob-la-di: 54 Rue Saintonge, 75003 Paris

Ogata Paris: 16 Rue Debelleyme, 75003 Paris

Artéfact: 23 Rue des Blancs Manteaux, 75004 Paris

Boutique yam’Tcha: 4 Rue Sauval, 75001 Paris


OGATA Paris: Japanese house of tea and omotenashi designed for contemporary taste

La maison OGATA Paris is the epitome of wabi rusticity where perfect simple lines of beauty merge with the old spirit of the Marais artistic zeal. There is nothing of its kind in France, perhaps in the entire Europe. Opening during perhaps the most difficult time in recent history has not defied the years-lasting project. The constant flow of refined customers swells in, and the organised blend of Japanese and French staff keeps the reservation book filled with returning names appreciative of its omotenashi hospitality seamlessness.

Japanese designmarais coolJapanese design

In sensible hands, this Marais hôtel particulier was transformed into a contemporary, minimalistic, Japanese cultural sanctuary that engages all senses. Your palate and olfactory indulgence will be baptised into the japanology that so many Westerners revere with a silent arigato. Earthly pleasures of tea, seasonal vegetables and fruits, meet in the visual feast of dining ware designed by Shinichiro Ogata, the founder of Simplicity in Tokyo. I confess, I have been a faithfully excited fan of Mr.Ogata’s design ever since I dined, shopped and sipped on tea, sake and cocktails at his tea rooms in GinzaAoyama and his first restaurant Higashiyama in the residential cherry blossom mecca in Meguro, Tokyo. All of his interior design feels as if forgotten in time, a patina that is still very present.

OGATA Paris is a natural continuation of a success story filled with passion for one’s own culture.

Japanese in ParisJapanese design

The SABO tea room underground at OGATA Paris leads you deep down into the inner world of its own mystery. Steaming water pots await your fill of freshly steeped tea. Stone walls of Le Marais combined with the walls’ monastic simplicity characteristic of Mr Ogata’s design and comfort of wooden tables and the long tea bar, may keep you in for hours. We patiently sipped four teas at one occasion. Directed by an experienced tea master, Katsuhito Imaizumi, whom we had met at Sakurai Tea Experience in Tokyo previously, this is not a sealed lips chanoyu, but a calm social encounter celebrating the grail of Japanese culture, its tea service.

Marais shopping japanese craftsbest tea in Paris

You can try additional teas from the broadly selected repertoire, just ask the master for his recommendations based on your taste preferences. From typical sencha (steamed tea, we had Kamairicha Yabukita from the Miyazaki prefecture famous for its beef), high end gyokuro (more shaded green tea), freshly roasted houjicha (over fire at the bar in front of you) to semi-oxidised oolong (Hoshucha Minamisayaka), seasonal infusion (such as ripe peaches we had over a sencha) and fermented tea in the style of Chinese pu-erh. While you can just order a la carte, matcha whisked to frothy perfection closes off most of the preset experiences at the Sabo tea room. Observing the gentle hands of the tea master as he laddles out the hot water from a pot into lidded cups, his sensibility for timing sequentially multi-brews (three is maximum for most teas), while keeping his workspace impeccably neat, is an act of meditative presence. While sharing with a friend feels nice, coming alone heightens the profundity.

Japanese tea Paris

Japanese food in Paristea in Paris

During summer, traditional Japanese kagikori, hand-shaved ice with a choice from one of the three flavours – matcha sweetened with condensed milk, houjicha with roasted buckwheat (soba) or summer peach. We tried the latte-like matcha and the even better roasted houjicha frosty mountains of icy treats. On a rainy day we felt like roasted tea. In the hands of the tea master, the earthen pot emanates roasted hay fragrance of the stems and leaves of houjicha. When we visited recently there were two types – more stems like in the Kagoshima Kuki or more leaves as we had in the Saitama Yume.

Japanese shaved ice

You can reserve a plant-based bento lunch (Hiruzen) at Sabo (Wed-Sun 12-3pm) paired with three teas or a bit more elaborate casual meal (vegetarian, fish or meat choice of the main course) at the more lively restaurant upstairs (open also for dinner). There, a large counter around the kitchen action, a long common dining table and a more private wall-side booth, offer diversity of privacy and experience. Either way, your meal starts with cold-brewed green tea, is accompanied by miso soup, japanese pickles, steamed rice and ends with wagashi. At Sabo, the choice of sweets is more extensive and the accent on the tea is more pronounced.

Japanese food in Paris

healthy lunch in Paris

The food at Ogata is good, not as impeccable as at all the Tokyo branches though, perhaps due to a struggle with ingredients in a foreign land? What shines though, next to the top quality Japanese teas, are the wagashi sweets. My favourite is the roasted sesame powder – kinako – dusted doughy ball filled with luscious balsamic-textured ganache (honwarabi). One can always go safe with adzuki beans (Mame Daifuku), a staple in the sweets selection, but seasonal specialties like persimmon in late fall, cherries and strawberries in June, peaches in July pop only for short periods on the menu, so I would recommend not missing your opportunity. I went for the sticky gluten dumpling with warabi fiddlehead fern wrapped in a bamboo leaf. At OGATA you get by far the best Japanese wagashi in Paris, but to go also the paper-thin wafers (monaka) filled with sweet paste, puffed caramelised rice (okoshi) and Japan meets the West fusions such as chocolate cake spiced with sansho pepper and cheesecake with sake lees. The locally established, traditional Japanese tea rooms serving wagashi like Toraya or Pâtisserie Tomo offer slightly less refined pieces.

wabi designJapanese tea time

wagashi in Paris

The small bar is only opened in the evenings, hence we have not tried any cocktails (count with the finest Japanese whisky and sake), but I will certainly stop by when in the vibrant area later in the day. Embodied in this design hôtel particulier, Paris finally offers an authentic yet contemporary Japanese omotenashi experience in its most wholesome shape.

The four spaces – tea room, boutique (also take away tea, wagashi and Japanese snacks in the window), bar and restaurant – cater to any whim of the day or night a fan of genuine japonisme may desire. Think of an Aesop boutique filled with edible delicacies and kitchen-centric ware instead of fragrant creams and shower gels. Yet, here beyond the design grazing, one can also learn plenty about the Japanese art of tea at regular “Ateliers” organised in-house, share an immersive experience or just escape from the city buzz in solitude.


Gastronomic ceramics chosen by the greatest chefs in France

Gastronomic ceramics at the greatest restaurants in France tend to be most locally connected in the rural regions where the artisans settle.

Like the legendary chef Georges Blanc in Vonnas, Règis Marcon transformed his village of Saint Bonnet Le Froid through his three Michelin restaurant. His family runs a casual bistro, bakery, gourmet shop, but also inspires creative talent like artists to settle in. A gastronomy lover Julie Solo moved in from Marseille in 2019 to open her first atelier that she named Á Mains Nues. Meaning literally “nude hands atelier”, it captures her minimalist approach to ceramics she learned from a parisien Emmanuelle Wittman for three years. Now in her visually comforting boutique cum studio, she creates organic natural forms so delicate that one musts take a feather grip when touching some of her pieces. Like fragile flower petals or silky as French lingerie, the finesse of her pieces is extraordinary.

Her works seduced the three starred chef so he commissioned her to create vases for the fine tables and most recently a coffee service. Working in white mainly, with some black, the contrast of rusticity against finesse in Japanese and Korean works inspires her. To add warmth to her cold colors, she likes to add a touch of gold. Increasingly, sandstone forms the base under a transparent porcelain slip enameled with vegetable ash. As she collaborates closely with the best in French gastronomy (The World Patisserie champion Marie Simon in Beaune), as well as up and coming talents (Grains de Sucres in Lyon) her ceramics also evolve.

Follow her on Instagram @nue.ceramique and you will be embalmed in the beauty of her creativity.

6 Rue du Vivarais | 43290 Saint-Bonnet-le-froid | France

Closer to the Alps in the Savoy region (Haute Savoie) near the pristine Annecy lake, Jean-Paul Bozzone spins the potters wheel with his raku and other by far-east inspired ware. On the northern side of the lake, his selected works by the three Michelin starred chef Laurent Petit, harmoniously accompany the experience at the eponymously locavore lake-meets-land restaurant Le Clos des Sens. Decorative vases, vast plates, cosy bowls and tiny guinomi reverted upside down to serve some amouse-bouches of the chef’s cuisine vegetale. Some of the earthly pieces are custom-made, but often the chef and his welcoming wife drive over to La Poterie du Grand Pont to see what was just fired in the oven. The greatest Japanese potters, contemporary as well as the legends like late Shoji Hamada (Mingei folk-style pottery), would bow their heads over the masterworks made in France. One of his bowls (pictured below at Le Clos des Sens) reminded me of Roquefort (the French AOC blue cheese).

74210 Faverges-Seythenex |  France
French potters French gastronomic pottery
French potters French gastronomic pottery

In Arles further down South Cécile Cayrol wheels pottery classes in the heart of the ancient cobbled town of toreadors and Van Gogh. Her studio La Main Qui Pense can be translated as The Thinking Hand. I am particularly fond of her use of the nearby Mediterranean sand on her frosted series. In one word I would capture her work as la terre, the soil. Sunset tones on her vases and bowls, sun bleached hues on cups, but also glazed plates.

Arles artArles dogs

natural ceramics

Her collaboration with the great chef Glenn Viel at the nearby L’Oustau de Baumaniere yielded practical pebble-shaped plates, sanded olive oil and vinegar jars, salt and pepper dispensers, and surely more is to come. This mutual project is rooted entirely in the Southern soil. As much as three three starred chef sources from the bountiful Provence region, natural geolocation inspires the works of C. Cayrol (her signature on the bottoms). Her dog welcomes you calmly at her very Provençal atelier, so each time I stop by to check out what new she created. I adore her bowls, vases and tea service that are glazed only inside and left to the withering environmental elements on the outside. Intriguingly, I wish that we were like them. Protected in our psyche and did not care as much about the outward appearance as we usually do.

Arles | 15 rue Tour de Fabre |  France

In my Gastronomic ceramics series, check further out how wild the Best Restaurant in the World goes in working with designers in Spain, how the Japanese tableware changes with the seasons or who in America employed an architect of his building to insert some vessels into the restaurant’s repertoire.


Beaune: in the heart of the wines of Burgundy on foot or bicycle

Burgundy, with its joyous attitude towards life and wine making on a small scale, is perhaps the most historically significant wine region in France. Its sequestred vineyards contrast the 50ha average of Bordeaux. Between Lyon and Dijon dwell countless tiny estates split between farming French families, not as much insurance and luxury brands as in Bordeaux. The Burgundians have made wine mainly by respect of the terroir. vineyards behind Vosné Romaneé

Burgundy versus Bordeaux

As my friend, a wine connoisseur, said over a decade ago: “In this economically challenging time it is Burgundy which caught my attention. It offers high quality wines while the prices are kept much lower compared to Bordeaux.”
How times have changed since then! As Burgundy prices exploded, some vicious man-made damage to the vines scandals ramped up, so fences had to be added to the most precious vineyards around Vosne-Romanée.

Already during my first visit in 2009, I found valleys of price differences. Value in Mâcon and other southern appellations mounted in the Everest of wine – La Tâche and DRC around Vosne-Romanée. Visiting some of the top estates is virtually impossible, unless you have the right contacts of the major importers. We knew someone from Berry Brothers in London who got a tasting at Domaine de La Vougeraie by Clos Vougeot. What’s is unique about them, is they have the monopole (the only ones growing specific grape or wine on a cru vineyard) of Chardonnay, Clos Vougeot. This deep, complex wine wonderfully accompanies fish and seafood meals, including Japanese omakase tasting.

best Burgundy Pinot Noirbuying wine in Burgundy

The most desirable wine aging barrels are made in Burgundy, not in Bordeaux. Each cooper has a distinct level of toasting of the wood, which imparts a specific taste to the aging wine. Taransaud in Beaune is one of the well-known ones.

On the opposite spectrum of vinous tourism elsewhere though are the tastings, literally, in the homes of the producers. Authenticity still rules in this region, over the plush tasting rooms. There are some grander chateaux, such as Château Meursault and some négotiants, wine producers who buy grapes rather than grow themselves, and market them well, but overall it feels lovely rural. If I throw the ball, I can compare the farming-oriented Sonoma with Burgundy and the spectacle of Napa in California with Bordeaux style.

Prevailingly two grapes are grown. The technique expressive Chardonnay in whites and the sensitive and for most wine connoisseurs the most impressive red varietal – Pinot Noir. No blending, single grape varietals express that celebrated French term, terroir, best. For everyday simple pleasure there is Aligoté, that unlike the jewels of Burgundy have not found much of their way out of the region, so it is consumed locally.

Natural Beauty

While landing I observed the astonishingly colourful landscape of autumnal Burgundy, wondering if one can eschew cars and cycle or walk instead. As I learned soon, one can do either. Cycling paths between the villages are well signposted and so are the walking trails. We returned another year in June with our bicycles and enjoyed the Veloroute des Grands Crus very much. A lunch stop over with a wine tasting broke the 42km ride with some buttery escargots (snails), plenty of butter and homemade terrine.

Beaune is surrounded by villages with pompous names in the wine parlance like Aloxe-Corton, Pommard, Savigny Les Beaune, Meursault, Volnay, Vosne-Romaneé, Puligny – and Chassagne-Montrachet. If we judge by wine, than Beaune is the king of Burgundy.

Dijon is famous for its luscious mustard and Lyon for its outnumbered Michelin star restaurants (in 2009, there are 37 of which three have three Michelin stars!). But if we talk wine, it is Beaune and the villages around bursting with the most spectacular vineyards.

Famous producers around Beaune

The town itself is located in Côte de Beaune just below the Côte de Nuits. The later a home of Domaine Louis Jadot, Madam Leroy and the most bang for the bank Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC). All within 20 minutes by car from Beaune. In Côte de Beaune, some great négotiants and producers like Bouchard Pére & Fils, Domaine des Comtes Lafon and Domaine Dujac figure on the labels of the world famous crus.

Beaune architectureHospices de Beaune

French townsChristian wine region

Bouchard Pére & Fils is located right in the centre of Beaune at Rue du Château. Its best wines are Chevalier-Montrachet and the long named Beaune Gréves Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus. Joseph Drouhin is also very well established in town. They have a superb cave with very old bottles, and an exciting tour!

Bouchard Burgundy wine Joseph Drouhin cellar
A stone throw from the town is Domaine des Comtes Lafon producing Meursault from the outstanding terroir Perriéres where the premier cru quality chardonnay is planted. It is a much better choice than the touristy Château de Meursault that has vineyards at Perriéres as well. I have tasted a couple of wines from this 11th century property and was disappointed by their lack of complexity. Still, as an experience, I really enjoyed sipping from the freely available open bottles while touring the 800,000 bottles cellar under the castle.

Our favorite Burgundy producers are:

Armand Rousseau – anything, maestro, family-owned

Domaine de Lambrays – has monopole over Clos de Lambrays Grand Cru, now owned by LVHM

Domaine Dujac – their Grand Cru Clos de La Roche is sublime complexity, family-owned

Domaine de La Vougeraie – for their wonderful white Clos Vougeot, family-owned

DRC – for a very rare treat, only had the Echezeaux and La Tâche

Groffier – Les Amoureuses Cru, family-owned

A detour from Beaune, but must be mentioned:

Ravennau – the best and most distinct Premier Cru Chardonnays in Chablis, family-owned

Burgundy PinotBurgundy Pinot

Best Burgundy producerbest Burgundy producers

Where to eat

Eat at the ultra-casual and superb daily-changing menu of Caves Madeleine. The more upscale Bistro de L’Hotel offers not only typical Burgundian food, and its Gratin truffles will blow your mind (the local Chicken of Bresse is also a must try), but also a wide choice of local wines. The Beaune 1er Gréves 2006 –  De Montille was so tender and fruity, that we drunk the bottle before the cheese tray arrived! The wines by the glass on the award-winning list are also interesting to sip on to broaden one’s palate.

Burgundy cuisinebest Burgundy producers

What is amazing about Beaune’s wines is that they can be enjoyed young – tasting gentle with a refreshing zing of acidity, but not as much as in the more age-worthy crus further away. Even though there is not a single Grand Cru in the area, the wines won’t disappoint you. We all have different preferences and if your taste buds similar to mine, the fresh juicy reds from Savigny-lés-Beaunes will make you very happy.

The best annual event in the town of Beaune is the charitable wine auction by Hospices de Beaune, about which I wrote in another article.

Further info about the region: www.terroir-france.com/wine/bourgogne


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