Hot on the Highstreet Week 271

Earlier this week I visited Marseille for a weekend, and was delighted to find a few unique little shops that I wanted to tell you about. This southern French city is big and particularly popular with tourists during the summer months. The Eurostar has recently introduced a direct service from London and so I predict the destination will see a lot more British tourists in the coming years.

chez lucas

Chez Lucas – this den of salvaged French vintage items is great fun to explore. From 1950s school maps to retro glassware, you will find everything you could need to make a perfectly old-fashioned French home. Prices are reasonable and the owner may even let you bargain him down.

Manufactures Françaises – this is a new boutique outpost of Maison Empereur, the popular French concept store in Marseille. The shop is found in Panier, the oldest district of the city and is instantly alluring from the street. This little treasure trove only opened in April stocking a range of traditional, design-focussed products including colognes, soaps, homeware, straw hats, smocks and old games.

Marseille shop

La Grande Savonnerie – The city of Marseille is famous for its soap, though only a few authentic shops remain.  La Grande Savonnerie is one of the best, and customers are able to personalise their bars of soap with their own message. Opt for the traditional flavour, Savon de Marseille made from olive oil and other natural ingredients.

Le Relais des Moines, Provence

I have never had much need to visit restaurants in Provence. The fresh market produce and my family’s culinary enthusiasm mean a great meal is never far away. However on my last trip to the South of France I did a bit of exploring, keen to discover what Michelin star eateries offer in this part of the world.

Le Relais des Moines ticked a lot of boxes: close to home, good value lunch menu and very appealing sounding dishes. Head chef Sebastien Sanjou cooks passionately but meticulously with the vibrant flavours of Provence, preparing thoughtful dishes that are clever yet uncomplicated. This simplicity emphasises the quality of the ingredients used.

Located on the route to St Roseline in a quiet corner of the Var countryside, the restaurant is set in a beautiful preserved 16th century stone house overlooking the lush Cote D’Azur, illuminated by the southern sunshine. We sat at a calm table near the window, so we could admire the views while enjoying our food and drinking wine from nearby vineyards.

The lunch menu costs 39 euros a head and includes three courses, two glasses of wine and half a bottle of water, coffee and petit fours, and numerous little extra amuse-bouches throughout. Immediately unusual and delicious tiny tasters arrived to perk up our palates… cauliflower jelly, crispy bread-crumbed beef, and a glass vessel of mushroom soup. For starter we loved the small but rich bowl of chestnut veloute, lightly grilled foie gras, crunchy croutons, slivers of bacon and green cabbage. Despite the rich ingredients, the dish was delicate, thanks to the airy recipe and careful seasoning.

The main course was bold and brilliant, and I couldn’t believe our luck, as it was the only option on the set lunch menu – fine lean pieces of gorgeous beef dressed with braised mushroom and a foam with an intriguing woody flavour. The meat, though very pink for me, was so tender and tasty that I didn’t notice its rareness. The jus had clearly been given all the chef’s attention and had a real depth of flavour. After the waitress drizzled a little over our plates I asked her sweetly if she could leave the little jug of steaming sauce on the table, needless to say when she came to pick up the empty plates the jug was also empty.

Dessert was a more extravagant version of my favourite breakfast recipe. Pain Perdu (similar to French toast) with pear sorbet, caramel, sugary nuts and nougatine was a delight of different textures and flavours: soft warm cooked bread surrounded by a pool of sticky caramel sauce and topped with cooling fruity sorbet and vanilla bean silky cream. I scraped up every last bit with barely a breath between mouthfuls. If you are going for the more luxurious a la carte menu, I’ve heard the mandarin dessert is unmissable.

Hidden away in the hills of Provence this restaurant showcases the flavours and captures the atmosphere of the area perfectly. I can’t think of anywhere in London where a Michelin starred lunch offers such masterful food, special wine and value for your money.

More information and book a table here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 244

Fragonard is one of France’s most famous perfumery houses, located in Grasse in the south of France, an area known for its perfume making history. Fragonard makes its products in its own factory, which is one of the most interesting sights in the town of Grasse. Whilst in Provence this weekend I visited the wonderful historic museum and shop, a fragrant homage to the brand.

The house was founded by Eugene Fuchs in 1926 in Grasse. He named the company in honour of the French rococo painter Jean-Honore Fragonard who lived ion the town. Over time there have been hundreds of scents from this old perfume house. The earliest edition was created in 1928 and the newest is from 2015. The nose who worked on the fragrances most recently belongs to Jean Guichard, a true expert in the field.

The Museum offers free entry to all visitors, and is a lovely place to learn about this special company. With magnificent views over the Cote D’Azur and nearby cafes for lunch, Grasse is the perfect Provencal town to spend the day.

You can now buy a range of the Fragonard products at Marks & Spencer, one of the most familiar chains on the British highstreet. I particularly loved the Brioche-scented candle, which would make your home smell like a French bakery!

More information on Fragonard here, and buy the products from M&S here.