so... Nice. in happier times.

A couple of years ago we found ourselves in Nice, somewhere on the blog there are pictures from that trip, I'm sure, and unsurprisingly one of my most vivid memories of that trip is one of the silliest. And of course, one related to food.

While we were planning the trip I came across a magazine article by a well-known food journalist. It was the annoying kind of travel article, elitist, smug, "you'll never be worthy of the kinds of experiences I can have" but the writer did mention some discoveries in or near Nice. One of these mentions in particular, as my mom would say, got my Irish up.

we know who you are and why noone reads your stuff any more
It seems that with the help of an admiring local contact, our hero made his way through narrow, confusing and possibly even dangerous streets in the old town to a tiny restaurant known only to a few. The restaurant had no phone and didn't take reservations, and when asked, staff were quite "shirty" about it. Travelers found the place by accident or were led there by local friends, with whom they stood in the street until a place or places opened up. The food was the purest and most authentic of local specialties, etc etc. You, O lowly reader, will never find it, never achieve admission, never live as I have lived.


So we got to Nice and the first night it was pouring and we ate at the hotel and the next morning the sky was blue and the sun was shining and we decided to try to find the mysterious tiny restaurant by  daylight. We walked from our hotel in the direction of the Cours Saleya (where the markets are). As in many cities smaller streets "T" into the pedestrian-only zone, and we decided to walk up and down a few of these.

Did I mention that I travel with a man who can find food anywhere? I'm not so bad at that myself, but my ability is instinctive and hasn't changed since I was a kid (as in, follow that man, he looks like he likes a good meal - and yes, that really was Orson Welles), while Himself's talent has been carefully and lovingly honed over years of practice.

We walked right to the restaurant. Far from dangerous-looking, the street had some little shops of the "cute" variety and a small branch of Sonia Rykiel. Merchandise - well, not the Rykiel sweaters, but a lot of everything else - was out in barrels to be picked over by strollers. You don't see this in dangerous areas. In dangerous areas, you see bars on windows. Hey, I'm from New York. I know stuff like this. So anyway, I bought my sister a set of ceramic house numbers, and I bought some lavender to freshen my carry-on, and we looked around.

A door was open, we peeked, saw a long bar with stools, a few tables with benches. Marvelous aromas - garlic, spices (cardamom? toasted coriander seed? garlic garlic garlic) dive-bombed our noses. I stepped inside, greeted the nice young man behind the bar, and asked if they were open for lunch. "We start lunch service at noon," he said. "If you don't mind leaving your name, I'll be happy to hold a table for you." I nodded, then remembered I was in France, and said 'Yes please, that's very kind of you." After I was introduced to his wife and to a lady in the kitchen who looked like she enjoyed food, he gave me a card with his mobile number on it and asked that we call if we changed our minds about lunch. Thank-yous and handshakes all around, and I rejoined Himself outside.
"We have a reservation for lunch, it starts at 12, and they'll hold a table for us. We just have to call if we change our minds."

"I thought they don't take reservations."

I shrugged. "We can call if we're not going to make it back for lunch."

"Call? I thought they don't have a phone."

I flashed the little card at him. "He gave me his mobile number."

We walked around, came back for a very good and filling lunch, everyone seemed to know everyone else, local merchants and politicians are the same the whole world over....

And as we left, I asked Himself how he knew the direction to start our explorations.

"Oh, the place is listed in the Michelin."

On the Top Secret--Eyes Only page, no doubt, because otherwise a responsible journalist (or at least a sober one) would have done some basic fact-checking, no?

"Now I have a question for you. How did you get the phone number?"

I smiled as mysteriously as one can when Food Coma is about to set in. "Your tax dollars at work," I murmured.

So the restaurant is called La Merenda, it's still there, I checked, and above I've included some pictures from its website.  The food is local specialities, and if they have zucchini blossoms when you're there, you should beg for them.


  1. Love this story. I haven't been to Nice since 1999, but when I do next go, I will be sure to try this "secret" restaurant out. Love your description of the smug travel/food writer. So true the world over. And I'm sure the food was amazing if it was all local and fresh. It's been very sad hearing the news from Nice, I enjoyed reading your happy memories of it.
    When we were in Nice we went to -supposedly- the best Seafood restaurant according to the guide books of the time. We made our booking for 8.30pm, knowing that the French eat later, so thinking we'd be in just before the rush at around 9. We walked into an empty restaurant. The owner came to chat to us, showed us his photo albums of all the famous people who had eaten there - Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant.... yes, people from the 1960s. We were concerned that the review we'd based our restaurant choice on perhaps dated from 30 years ago. But the food was excellent! We were given stellar service! But still the restaurant remained empty. Up until around 10.30 when suddenly the floodgates opened, and just as we were leaving the place was heaving with diners. So we were correct - the French do indeed eat later.

    1. and the further south you go, the later is "later!"

      I love finding classic restaurants that impressed me when I was a kid and are still good! One of our favorite spots in Lyon has a picture of Jean Moulin above the table he insisted on - because with the help of a mirror he could see if anyone he didn't want to encounter was coming down the street. Or so they say.

  2. Well your story is though much better than my Nice story. i was dropping my husband off at the train station for his choo choo ride back to London while I was going off to the airport so we decided on a quick croque madame for the road. I cut into it and thought it was funny that Nice must put spinach or herbs in their version. Until I saw mould on the ham and realised that the green was fungus. Needless to say we left but the owners started to ask us to pay for it. Drama ensued bc I said fine I will pay for it and I will called the local authority to which they said it was on the house. Moral of the story is do not eat croque madame or any other sauce laden food that might cover food dangers near train stations.

  3. Love this story so much, guess the smug food writer thought he could get away with sounding superior, maybe he thought he'd make the place sound so dangerous and mysterious no one would check? He hadn't met you! My hubs also has an energetic nose for a great restaurant (or beautiful shop for that matter) when we travel. We're taking a big trip in a couple of weeks and I've been resting up, working out, taking my vitamins and my protein shakes so I can be in fine form to keep up with him!
    Well they sound perfectly nice and accommodating at your restaurant in Nice and as for the food in France, well they just do everything so well. Terrible this week was with the news from Nice so thank you for sharing your good story with us. xo

    1. Oh, to travel with a man who recognizes the importance of lovely shops! Himself's idea of browsing and window-shopping (leche-vitrine?) is to drive down a street of shops at midnight at 40 MPH, just before the economical shopkeepers turn the lights off. Grrr.

  4. Love this story! Whenever M and I travel, we always say to each other, "It's all about the food!" The news about the attack in Nice is almost too difficult to bear watching, but glad to hear your fond memories of the city.

    1. Nice is such a welcoming town, with such a mix of cultures. I couldn't bear watching the news.

  5. I am happy to read about your food adventure today; looks like such a lovely place, vibrant and delicious. Such fun to find a restaurant worth visiting on the road.

    1. Well, there are times when you just want to grab a quick hamburger and keep moving, and then there are times why a burger's the last thing you want to even think of. The creatures served at la Merenda would be forbidden in many cultures, or at least many of the parts that turn up on the table would be, but unless I'm offered something like woodchuck or hedgehog, I'll try a tiny nibble.

  6. HI WFF,
    It is so nice to hear your lovely Nice story. That reporter was a smug jerk. I love to hear about your restaurant adventures. You should write a book.

    1. Hi, KnitYarns, thank you! I've decided that if I stay gloomy it's a victory for the bad guys. Aiming for something better.


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