EAT OUT IN PERPIGNAN
Sample the fruits of the Mediterranean and the Pyrénées in our dining guide.
1 Le Divil
Looking up from Le Divil’s menu, I notice a multi-coloured bull’s head mounted on one wall, and the forequarters of a second bull – this one black – emerging from another. Surreal, but appropriate for a restaurant famed for patiently matured beef, which shares space on the menu with free-range pork from Cerdagne and jambon noir de Bigorre, and seafood including octopus and anchovies from Collioure.
The big treat is selecting your own cut of meat to be grilled on the flaming cheminée. You could pay €30 for a 220g filet de boeuf, or €18 for a brochette de boeuf, but I decide to push the boat out with the €45 menu en confiance.
My terrine de jarré de boeuf comes with very thinly sliced carrot, endive, pickled red onion and gherkin. It is followed by tarragon-aged beef carpaccio, accompanied by cheese shavings. Next up is pork confit, crispy-skinned and with layered tender fat, on a plate scattered with fresh peas and their pods including a hint of mint that cuts through the pork’s melting fattiness.
Finally, the steak: six thin slices of dry-aged rump steak, crusted with sea salt and black pepper, presented with a streak of potato puree. And for dessert? Tarte au citron, presented under a shell of meringue.
Inspecting the wine list, I find a local rosé, Château Valmy, at €18 – perfect for summer, but not robust enough, I feel, to do justice to Le Divil’s meat. But there are reds from Roussillon vineyards such as Domaine Sol Payré and Domaine La Casenove starting at €24, up to €48 for a formidable 2012 Roussillon Villages Caramany from Domaine Modat.
Friendly and professional service, a fun, funky space, and great value for money: in this price range, Le Divil has few rivals in Perpignan.
Open: Tues-sat lunch and dinner. Three-course lunch menu €18, à la carte mains from €16. 9 Rue Fabriques d’en Nabot, 66000 Perpignan Tel: (Fr) 4 68 34 57 73 restaurant-le-divil-66.com
Hotel restaurants do not always enchant me, but this one is different. Even if the Île de la Lagune were not already a fabulous hotel, l’almandin would make it so. The hotel’s Roussillon-pink exterior gives little hint of the treats within. To reach the restaurant’s outdoor tables (there is an indoor space too), I pass through an atrium dotted with oddball art including a vintage motorbike that has been transformed into a steam-punk sculpture.
I have opted for the four-course menu de saison, which begins with an amusebouche: a dab of marine curry served on a smooth pebble, a single gamba encased in perfectly crunchy spring-roll pastry, and a cup of verdant soup riddled with seafood. The first course, a balade of prawns, sea snail and squid, comes with a freshly baked loaf and two kinds of dipping oil. This is followed by red mullet accompanied by artichokes, braised fennel, anchovies and a green olive jus. The delicate fish is perfectly firm, quite a trick with rouget. The third course is pigeon with courgette flowers, apricots and spiralled courgette, an explosion of pink, orange, yellow and green that is
3 La Galinette
Yes, this is a Michelin-starred restaurant: Christophe Comes holds Perpignan’s only star. No, it is not budget-bustingly expensive. From Tuesday to Friday, you can lunch here for €25, with a récolte du jour that might include a starter of striped bonito with heritage tomatoes, tataki-grilled Norway salmon with shiso, and stuffed apple with caramelised dried fruits.
But plan to spoil yourselves: the six- and eight-course Saveurs de Saison dinner menus are tremendous value, too. Comes clearly likes his heritage tomatoes (most of which, as well as many of the other vegetables, come from the restaurant’s potager) which pop up here in several forms. He is fond of Japanese influences and techniques, too, with dishes such as white tuna sashimi in Okinawa shoyu marinade. one of the prettiest plates I have seen. It is almost a shame to eat it; almost.
Seafood dominates chef Christophe Schmitt’s carte, but meat-lovers will find, as well as pigeon, outstanding Hereford beef and Pyrenean pork. Unlike some tasting menus, this one delivers satisfying quantity as well as superb quality.
If you are not staying at Île de la Lagune, it is a 25-minute cab ride from central Perpignan. Or you could drop in for lunch, then spend the afternoon on Saint-cyprien’s magnificent beach.
Open daily midday-1.30pm and 7.30pm-9.30pm. Menus from €49, formule du midi €30. Boulevard de l’almandin, 66750 Saint-cyprien Tel: (Fr) 4 68 21 01 02 hotel-ile-lagune.com Slow-cooked Catalan lamb with rosemary and aubergines pays homage to local flavours, as do desserts such as a sweet-sour Pyrenean nectarine and peach soup. A daily pop-up menu inspired by ‘rare and noble’ seasonal products features dishes that Comes may prepare just once: a unique experience for the curious gourmet. Open Tues-sat lunch and dinner; closed Sun-mon and all July. Six-course menu €48, eight-course menu €54. 23 Rue Jean Payra, 66000 Perpignan Tel: (Fr) 4 68 35 00 90 restaurant-galinette.com
A shady square next to Le Castillet, gateway to the historic centre of Perpignan