In the sphere of dining, as in every other sphere, you don’t visit St Tropez to save money. I’d go further. It is my (entirely anecdotal) impression that St Tropez is the most expensive place to eat in France. I have particularly anguished memories of staggering from a bog-standard pizzeria with a very ordinary pasta dish, a glass of wine and cup of coffee under my belt – and some £30 missing from my wallet.
Few similar places in Paris, Cannes, Nice – or even Monaco – would dare such pricing audacity. Then again, in St Tropez you are paying both for the food and for the privilege of eating it where the world’s most dazzling folk have eaten. Or might be eating right now, across the restaurant. This may or may not make the cost more digestible, according to taste.
It is also true that, if you have the cash, you may eat well. The world’s dazzlers don’t generally put up with rubbish (that pasta dish aside). And, as they have so much money, so there is quite a crowd of good restaurateurs keen to take it from them. Such competition keeps standards relatively high.
Despite St Tropez’s cosmopolitanism, the most interesting food remains the regional Provençal fare – though opinions differ about St Tropez’s very own speciality. The tarte tropézienne is a sort of creamy sandwich cake with quite awesome amounts of butter cream and confectioner’s custard ladled between a top and bottom of spongy brioche.
Unusually for a French foodstuff, it was inspired by Polish cuisine. Its creator, Alexandre Micka, arrived in St Tropez from Poland in the early 1950s, bringing his grandma’s recipe with him. There are those who thank him heartily for having shared this calorie-stacked indulgence with a wider world. And there are others (me included) who think it the most pernicious thing to come out of Poland since slivovitz.
Among more general Provençal dishes is, of course, the salade niçoise which, though originating from Nice has now conquered the entire coast – and, indeed, the planet.. For a salad, it doesn’t half cause a lot of controversy. Few ever agree what should be in it. Anchovies or tuna? Anchovies and tuna? Green beans? Lettuce or not? Potatoes? On such decisions hang life-long feuds.
Pan-bagnat is salade niçoise in a bun. It’s a good light lunch on the hoof.
Other specialities you might meet:
• aioli: the word means ‘garlic mayonnaise’. As a dish, it’s warm cod with a floor-show of vegetables, and the mayonnaise as accompaniment. There’s no better Provençal lunch.
• bouillabaisse: fish stew, the world’s most full-frontal fish dish, originally from Marseille.
• petits farcis: stuffed vegetables (aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes) generally served as a starter.
• pissaladière: pizza-style tart with onions, anchovies and olives and no tomato. Very more-ish.
• socca: chick-pea flour pancake, and much better than you’d think, if well-peppered.
• daube: beef stew in wine.
• mesclun: salad mixture of young shoots like chicory, roquette, escarole and lettuce.
• stockfish (known locally as “estocaficada”): dried (not salted) cod usually prepared in a stew with olives and tomatoes.
• poutine: tiny fish fry served in salad, omelette or fritters.
• tourte de blettes: Côte-d’Azur folk are very fond of Swiss chard – and here it’s served in pie form.
• beignets de fleurs de courgette: courgette (or squash) flowers stuffed and deep-fried.
• pieds-et-paquets. Lambs’ feet and stomach simmered long in white wine. Locals claim that the dish is not only edible but delightful. They’re having us on, of course.
• Sisteron lamb. Wonderful meat from the Provençal hills, especially good when roasted with herbs.