Cafe Nice (From France with love)

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I love French cuisine. In fact I really want to visit Paris, but my favourite hotel (the Ritz in the Palace Vendome) has closed as it’s undergoing renovations, so I have decided to wait until it reopens before returning. I fondly remember a visit back in the day when a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild was consumed at leisure along with an amazing series of Michel Roth creations at the L’Espadon.

Anyway enough reminiscing! Nothing is going to take me back to L’Espadon now, however I can still get a taste of France from Sydney by choosing a lovely French eatery with a more “South of France style rather than a Paris central style. Something a little reminiscent of my time in St Paul de Vence is on the cards (anyone who has been to this idyllic town will tell you of its love, stillness and medieval Provencal history!) so I settle on Cafe Nice.

The walk to Cafe Nice in the early evening is oh so beautiful! I am sure you agree.

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The bar is the place to be at Cafe Nice. There are views of the Harbour Bridge! It has this Day Club, French Riviera type atmosphere. When you walk in you feel like taking off your jacket and grooving to soft tunes and soaking up the view.

The waiter (with an amazing French accent to match) whips up a fantastic French Martini. I first tried the French Martini on a ski trip to Queenstown and have been hooked ever since.

It’s amazing…. its got Chambord, lovely pineapple juice and some vodka. A little cherry is placed on the base of the drink to mix it up. It looks so beautiful. The foam on the top spreads through the taste buds giving me a little tingle all over. The strength and sweetness of the Chambord cut through everything and then the fruitiness inherent in the pineapple provides a nice round out to the drink. It’s lovely.

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For the entree, the sardines are the go! Beautiful fresh fillets of Sardines stuffed with Swiss Chard and Pine Nuts. The oily nature of the sardines means this dish is oozing with natural flavours. You could almost have the sardines by themselves. The sardines are so tender (but not mushy) and flake easily with a fork and the soft swiss chard and the pine nuts provide some beautiful texture to the dish. The sardines are amazing with the crispy skin providing some excitement to the dish and I just love the pine nuts. The evening is off to the best start.

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Next the main course… I want you to think traditional French Bistro. The Rump Cap Steak with Frites. I opt for the horseradish cream which provides a little bite without overpowering the steak. The steak is medium rare, the crisp outer part of the steak is balanced with the beautiful tender rare pink centre of the steak. Its cooked oh so well that the juices are retained to provide full flavour.

I pair it first with a Nebbiolo from L’Orange (2011) and then move to a Chateau de Fesles Cabernet Franc (2011) from the Loire Valley. The Cabernet Franc is a dry, medium-bodied and fruity red which has a little bite provided by the light tannins. It’s lovely and comes alongside the steak and does a little dance.

The frites are well done with a light crunch and enough potato in between the outer crisp coating to add some additional excitement to the dish. I feel like I am back in Nice or Biarritz or Cannes (my visit to France in 2006) – roaming the streets with my beret, casting an idyllic gaze at the ocean, being served by the cute French waitresses n their checked dresses, where every second seems like an hour you just don’t want to end. It’s simple food but its done so well. Life doesn’t need to be complex… sometimes the best things in life are simple.

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Now for the dessert. I avoid a lovely creme brulee on the menu and opt for a more interesting Rum Baba. It’s a beautiful cake (like a brioche but more flaky and rich) with candied fruits (apricot and raisins) drizzled with a sweet sticky rum syrup and served on a bed of candied apricots and topped with a beautiful pear ice cream.

The sweetness of the syrup and strength of the rum provides the perfect flavour to the cake. The fruits (including the candied apricots) provide additional sweetness and some nice texture. The pear ice cream adds some balance and creamy coat to offset the dryness of the cake. It’s divine. I love it. It’s the south of France all over again (I went to a pastry house in the Hotel Negresco in Nice where I first tried the Rum Baba – this dish always reminds me of that hotel).

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Cafe Nice is beautiful, has amazing food cooked simple without pretense or fuss. It is like the South of France, idyllic, beautiful, charming and laidback… it’s holiday at home.

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