Set in Les Halles in Nîmes, La Pie qui Couette is a lunch-only counter-dining restaurant serving delicious gastronomic meals to hungry diners.
Hunger often prompts a spontaneous list of favourite things to eat. To wit, ravenous after a transatlantic flight to Paris, I boarded a train to Nîmes, the closest main station to our house near Uzès in the south. Watching the verdant beauty of Gaul spool by, I knew exactly what I’d do when I arrived in Nîmes – make a beeline for La Pie qui Couette, a lunchtime-only counter-service restaurant in Les Halles de Nîmes, the city’s outstanding covered food market.
Chef Emmanuel Leblay shops the surrounding food stands, including Les Fromages de Sylvain for his cheese and La Ferme du Cantal butchers, and writes up a different chalkboard menu every day. Certain popular dishes are almost always offered, however, including grill-blistered Padrón peppers from Galicia – they’re a delicious hors d’oeuvres with a glass of cold dry white wine; a sublime brandade de morue (Nîmes’ signature dish of flaked salt cod, here brilliantly seasoned with tiny pieces of pickled lemon); grilled razor clams; one of the best steak tartares in France; and a pretty epic burger.
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If I arrived with my heart set on some brandade and a steak tartare, I ceded to new temptations with a gelée royale de poulpe de Méditerranée aux petits légumes, pistou de roquette (Mediterranean octopus and vegetables in a pleasantly briny aspic on a bed of baby vegetables with a pistou sauce), a dish that was as beautiful to behold as it was to eat.
Next, grilled fillets of red mullet on a saffron-yellow, puréed potato-rich bouillabaisse, an intensely satisfying and original dish. Dessert seemed unlikely, but the mille-feuille of dark chocolate and coconut had been so strenuously recommended by the woman sitting next to me that it became the sweet ending to my meal.
The quality and originality of the cooking at this wonderful place induces a joyous conviviality among diners, who chat easily about how good the food is and also Leblay’s savvy choice of local wines poured by the glass. It’s a place where I could happily eat every single day and one to which we always take house guests for a long, viniferous Saturday lunch after shopping at the market. No reservations, so get here early – they serve from 11.30am to 3pm.
Les Halles Centrale, I rue Guizot, Nîmes ; tel: +33 (0)4 66 23 59 04
From France Today Magazine
Lead photo credit : © La pie qui couette
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