Sunday, April 17, 2011

Villas, spring garlic and the Côte d'Azur


I have spent  a considerable part of this week looking for a special family villa for my Russian clients. My clients are new to the French Riviera and its different towns and villages. This makes things a little hard in terms of settling on an area and they are relying on me to lead them. Thus, most of my time has been spent going from one end of the Côte  to the other in order to give them a decent selection - from Villefranche to Cannes.  I'm hoping this 'best of' will help them to make a decision on location and then we can narrow down the search once they are here.

As with all my searches, it is hard work in terms of the amount of preliminary research and then considerable hours of viewing.  But it is also a pleasure to rediscover parts of the Riviera I have not visited for a while. Over the winter, I realise how much I have tended to remain Nice-bound. But now the sun is out and Spring is here, I am enjoying the journeys over to the Cap d'Antibes to glimpse around the beautiful houses that normally one only admires from the road and then back again to do the same on the Monaco side. 

After a particularly productive morning spent looking at some of the best villas on the Cap d'Antibes and Cannes with my favourite agent, we decided to take a quick lunch at Juan les Pins. There is a wonderful beach restaurant in Juan where the tables tumble down to the sea and your feet rests in the sand as you sip rosé and dine on simple sea-food. Sitting there, with the sun shining down, the waves rolling in, we both had to agree that life doesn't get much better than this.

FRESH SPRING GARLIC
It is a busy time, however, with clients arriving one after the other and more arriving in less than a week. All of my clients quite rightly expect the highest level of service and attention. In this job you need to be available at all times. Sometimes it can feel like you are on stage in a particularly intense play. You are expected to perform at your best day after day with no 'off' moments.

By way of relaxing, cooking is always my escape. Going to the market, picking out the seasonal ingredients and being inspired to come home and cook is a pleasure that lets me escape from the pressure of house-hunting. This Saturday the market in Nice seemed to have come over all 'Spring'. Every stall was over-flowing with new season vegetables and fruit, from fresh green peas ready to slip out of their pods to the first vanilla-flavoured ruby strawberries from Carpentras. Each stall was also decorated with bunches of lavender lilacs, scenting the market with their elegant perfume.

But what really caught my eye was the first new season garlic. Plump, pungent and delicious. Nothing can compare to the rich green flavour of fresh garlic. The dried up stuff that we use for most of the year is a pale inferior.  The man at the stall asked if I wanted the garlic trimmed and I said 'No thanks' immediately. The green tops being as wonderful as the rose and cream bulbs.

My favourite fresh pasta shop in the Old Town (Barale, in rue Ste Reparte) yet again inspired me with their fabulous choice of pastas. In the end I settled for their ricotta, roquette and pistachio ravioli and I headed home with a basket of Spring.

The ravioli was dressed with the simplest of sauces - a glug of the best olive oil, a few torn basil leaves and a grind of black pepper. To accompany it was a green salad, with a small amount of the fresh garlic leaves chopped up and tossed in - just enough to give a garlic bite, but not to much that it over-powered the delicate meal.

Bonjour printemps!

3 comments:

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