It is unfortunately true that, gastronomically speaking, the beautiful town of Uzès offers nothing which is “worth a detour”, and certainly has no establishment which is “worth a special journey”. Our Michelin-starred restaurants lie a few kilometres away: Le Castellas in Collias, a two star where we ate probably our best meal in the region in the year it gained its second star and initiated a price hike which put it out of our league, and Le Vieux Castillon in Castillon-du-Gard, a Relais-et-Chateau hotel, which says it all. (Actually, the best restaurant in Castillon by some distance is Amphytrion, run by the warm, welcoming, multi-lingual and extremely knowledgeable Mario: I commend it to you.)
All of which is not to say that there are no good places to eat in Uzès itself. But there are none which will prompt the gourmet to write home. The best food in Uzès is to be found in the market on Wednesdays and Saturdays: it is to be bought fresh, taken home and cooked simply or not at all: the restaurants which Jill and I favour do exactly that. The majority do not.
In England, we know what to think when we see a Brakes truck pull up outside a restaurant or so-called ‘gastropub’. It means lowest-common-denominator food and massive marks-up. I had always thought that Brakes was a particularly English phenomenon, so imagine my surprise when I saw a French Brakes truck pull up outside a restaurant in Uzès which is consistently in the top rankings on TripAdvisor and is a favourite of many of our ex-pat friends. In 10 years, we have eaten here once (as guests of ex-pats): we thought it ok but expensive. Which proves the point. There are too many like this in the region: not bad, but not good, either.
So where do we eat? Well, I wanted to compile a top ten, and failed; then a top five, and failed; so here is our top three. Not everyone will agree, but we have eaten often in these establishments and on no occasion have we been served anything which was less than excellent and occasionally they have produced something exceptional. And they have, coincidentally or perhaps not, something else in common: service is always with a friendly smile. They are in alphabetical rather than hierarchical order: we would be happy to eat at any of these at any time.
Au fil de l’eau (10 place Dampmartin, 04 66 22 70 08): Paola and Olivier have their detractors, but we have always been made extremely welcome, always eaten well and occasionally quite superbly. As the name suggests, they specialise in fish, which suits Jill, but Olivier also knows how to cook meat, especially foie de veau, which suits me. His Vietnamese origins means he adds a little spice and fusion to well-known dishes, but he also understands the fundamentals of French cuisine, and knows when not to mess around with it. Paola is a delight as front of house, and heads a professional and courteous équipe.
Du Chai d'Uzès (Passage Marchand off Boulevard Gambetta, 04 66 20 20 66): Thierry and Valérie used to run Cote Jardin, which is now Au fil de l’eau, and I remember eating roast rognon de veau there three nights running many years ago. Their latest enterprise is a lively, bustling wine bar – attached to a wine shop – which serves wines by the glass and by the bottle for retail plus a small corkage fee. Food is simple and good: charcuterie, patés and tapas. But best of all, on Saturdays, they serve oysters, mussels and prawns fresh from the market. Washed down by a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet, this is the perfect Saturday lunch.
Le P'tit Coffee, 24 Place aux Herbes ( 04 66 58 24 16): Two Parisian guys opened this lovely place in the corner of the place when they came on holiday to Uzès and decided not to go back to Paris. Again, this is about good, fresh ingredients simply and sympathetically handled: great salads, particularly, the salade gourmande; elegantly composed fish dishes, particularly the Saint Jacques and the Thon; plus a steak tartare to die for. Lovely food, lovely people.
All the above are in Uzès. There are others in the surrounding villages which are worthy of note and to which I may return, both physically and on this blog: Lisa M, Le Tracteur, L’Athentique for example. You will however allow me one exception to my Uzès-only rule, and it is in our home village of St Quentin la Poterie. It is, of course, Le Marina (Place du Monuments aux Morts, +33 4 66 03 17 29): Momo’s is a traditional village pizzeria and restaurant, and is sans pretension, but no welcome (from Momo) is warmer and no menu rapide (from chef Xavier) is cooked better. We love it.
Any other suggestions gratefully received ...
Today’s listening: Jill’s iPod on Shuffle! A revelation.