The cuisine of the south of France is famous, flavoursome and fabulous – Lucy Pitts tries a soupҫon of southern French cuisine in two of the best restaurants in Montpellier. Elegant and cool Le Petit Jardin and colourful, vibrant Burger et Blanquette. Like chalk and cheese you might think but they have one thing in common – great tasting food in the lovely town of Montpellier…
There’s no better way to top and tail a day spent exploring Montpellier than by dipping a toe or more accurately a fork, into some of the city’s tantalising cuisine. As with so many French cities, you’re really tortured for choice here but I started my recent day’s explorations with an early lunch in the city’s stylish Esplanade Charles de Gaulle on the east side of the historic old quarter.
Colourful café cuisine of Montpellier
With its brightly coloured array of sun drenched cafés, eclectic street musicians, pretty gardens nestled in the shade of the plane trees and stunning views over the city, the Esplanade is, according to Arnaud Bongarzone owner of the Burger et Blanquette, the perfect spot to eat. Apart from being a cool and quiet respite from the sizzling Place de la Comedie, come July and August the Esplanade is also home to a weekly Friday night “Estivale”, a celebration of local produce and wine accompanied by music, dance, crafts and even book readings and you can buy a wine glass here with three top ups for just €5.
So if you’ve spent the morning whiling away a few hours in quiet contemplation of some of the city’s great master pieces or meandered round some of the more contemporary exhibitions at either the Musée Fabre, the Pavillon Poulaire or the Espace Dominique Bagouet, why not collapse into a nearby bistro for some light hearted refreshment and a large, chilled glass of the city’s atmosphere.
Café cuisine in Montpellier is as colourful and artistic as its people and wine with lunch is almost compulsory. I’d settled on the Burger et Blanquette not least because it had the front half of a 2CV as its menu board but also because I’m easily seduced by the thought of a goat’s cheese salad or a really decent burger. And with Arnaud having worked his way up through the likes of Mayfair’s Boudin Blanc, it’s no surprise then that my salad arrived with more than a touch of flair and I could easily have been tempted to idly dream away the rest of the afternoon enjoying the light breeze and chilled remains of the bottle.
Mediterranean rhythm and flavours
Come the evening, when you’re foot weary from exploring the city and the streets start to ebb and flow with the hedonistic crowds of the evening, it’s well worth slipping into the quiet, narrow backstreets of the historic old quarter to seek out some of the city’s really stellar restaurants.
If it’s Michelin stars you’re after, you’ll find them at Le Jardin des Sens in the Avenue St. Lazaire further outside the centre but I couldn’t resist the seductive courtyard of Le Petit Jardin, just off the Rue Jacques Rousseau. From here you can just see the 14th century walls of the cathedral St. Pierre through the leaves of hundred year old trees and lanterns strung from the branches of cool, calm shades of green sooth you into a salacious 3 course meal.
Their serene interpretation of vichyssoise as an amuse bouche, followed by soft and melting salmon mi-cuit (part or lightly cooked) with a lightly vanillary confit and veal dripping in tender, buttered vegetables served with those most irresistible of beasts, pommes boulangères, in my opinion, has to be the perfect end to a truly self-indulgent day. Round it off if you can, with a delightfully light framboisier (raspberries wrapped in a creamy tunic and snuggled in a light sponge) and while you may not be able to skip back to your hotel, you’ll have had a taste of some of the real talents of Montpellier.
Wherever you eat in Montpellier, the food seems to be delicate and subtle and yet still evocative of all the sensuality of this delicious city. Burgers at the Burger et Blanquette start at just €8.90 and put to shame anything you may have tried by that name before. The three course seasonal menu at Le Petit Jardin starts at €36.
You can find out more about Montpellier at www.montpellier-france.com