Beautiful hidden gem
There’s more to Nice than sun lounges and umbrellas
IT’S not often you feel smug watching a travel presenter on television. Envious is more the emotion.
But there was the delightful Luke Nguyen in Nice for his series Luke Nguyen’s France, wandering around the jewel of the French Riviera, gushing about its charms as everyone who visits Nice is inclined to do.
When he visited a tiny, hidden restaurant of humble appearance yet exalted acclaim, my smugness kicked in. I’d been to that little restaurant. Discovered it a few good years before the television program.
It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall, a place you could easily walk right by, even giving a little sneer at the unassuming curtain of beads at the door, the only indication that it was in fact a door, and no indication of the gastronomic glory inside.
“We’ve been there,” I pointed to the telly and shouted to the husband who struggled to remember it. He does not have the same zest for a food memory as I do.
We’d been told about La Merenda in Nice, owned and operated by chef Dominique Le Stanc. We had trawled the narrow back streets of the Old Town in search of this place, because it had no telephone. You had to first find it, then go in, make a reservation on the spot, go away and finally come back at a mutually agreed time.
We finally found it on the rue Raoul Bosio, leading down to the Promenade des Anglais.
It was miniscule, seating just 20 people. You had to pull out a table from the wall before you could squeeze into its seats. Once bottoms were in place you were so close to other diners you brushed elbows, touched knees, murmured embarrassed apologies. A small blackboard menu was plonked on the table with just a few choices – tripe a la nicoise, a daube, stuffed zucchini flowers – all of them featuring food bought at the market that morning. We went back to La Merenda twice more during that Nice visit.
And to Nice itself? Many more times.
On our first visit we strolled the sweeping loveliness of the Promenade des Anglais, the gorgeous art deco architecture on one side, the blazing blue Med on the other. We walked the promenade with other tourists, with roller-blading youths and heavily made-up ladies and their lap dogs. We looked down to the beach, to the sun lounges, aware it would cost a great deal to sit on them beneath their jaunty striped umbrellas.
Instead we walked all the way around to the large harbour with its impressive force of mega yachts, the smell of garlic and mussels wafting from every restaurant door.
On another Nice visit we spent most of our time in the Old Town, rising early from our elegant apartment on the Boulevarde Gambetta to walk in the cool to the flower market on the Cours Saleya.