I’m sitting next to a black and white photograph of Alain Llorca, his white chef’s tunic stretched tight over his pot belly. He’s got a smile on his face (or is he laughing?) and he’s looking straight into the restaurant. He’s unmistakably confident – or certainly confident enough to assume you know who he is. His photo is hung on a bare 16C limestone wall, over a stripped wooden floor, next to a transparent glass wine ‘cellar’ into which curious diners regularly disappear with the mâitre d’. Designed by architect Paul Valet, the restaurant is open, pared-down and breezy: from where I’m sitting on the upper floor, I can see everyone else in the restaurant – the balustrades are made of glass and there are no dividing walls – and straight into the kitchen, where Spanish chef Gabriella Stockler Martinez, who spent two years training under Llorca at his three-star restaurant in La Colle sur Loup, is overseeing my fresh ravioli in a warm courgette soup with crunchy courgettes and feisty local olives, followed by a delicately poached turbot, seasoned to perfection, with charcoal grilled asparagus and chorizo. My dessert, a gooseberry flan, like everything on the dessert tray, was made by patissier Jean-Michel Llorca, brother of Alain Llorca. We chose a “slow fuse” white Provençal selected by Llorca himself: slightly sour and water-light before we started the meal, its sharpness mellowed into fruity, chalky tones with a mineral aftertaste as the meal went on. At 7 to 9 euros for a starter, 12 to 16 euros for a main, and dessert at a staggering €5.50, it’s the same price as a tourist trap on the Cours Saleya. And the locals know it, so book if you can.
Liked: friendly, highly-professional and knowledgeable staff
Didn’t like: noisy when full
3 rue de la Préfecture, 06300, Nice
Tel. 04 93 92 95 86
One of a couple of bistro-style restaurants recently opened by Michelin-starred chefs in Nice, Ecole de Nice serves quality Niçois food – farcis, grilled fish, baked southern vegetables and lashings of olive oil – for people without a yacht-sized budget. The fact that it was opened by one-star Japanese chef Keisuke Matsushima (owner of Saison and the eponymous Keisuke Matsushima) only adds to the intrigue. I chose farcis – southern vegetables stuffed with veal and pork mixed with breadcrumbs – which came in a Miso-like cloud of vegetable stock, followed by roast duck with a balsamic cherry sauce, with all the punch and texture of traditional Chinese hoisin sauce, without the heavy starchiness. Paired with feathery tempura-style courgette flower beignets and finished with a torte de blette, a traditional sweet Swiss chard tart, which was surprisingly light and crumbly, this is fusion food with a reserved and respectful edge. The only thing I don’t like is the art gallery lighting, although in the restaurant’s defence, it is co-owned by an art collector who has generously displayed some of his collection – all by members of the Ecole de Nice art movement (Ben, Arman, etc.) – around the room. Located in the residential Musiciens neighbourhood, it has struggled to attract custom and dropped its prices to €18 for two courses and €25 for three. A bargain. However, recent coverage in the Wall Street Journal and local word of mouth has made it tough to get a table, so it’s advisable to book.
Upside: Matsushima often waits the tables on busy nights. A rare opportunity to meet the man himself before he climbs too far up the ladder.
Downside: Tripadvisor gives a thumbs down to the regular Savoie-born waiter, but this isn’t the States. He knows his stockfish from his socca. And if you’re visiting from Tokyo, he speaks Japanese.
16, rue de la Buffa, Nice
Tel. 04 93 81 39 30