As is true of so many people during the pandemic in France, I ended up learning a great deal about the pleasures to be found in my own backyard. Or in this case, the département of Le Gard, the leaf-shaped southern French region bound by the Cévennes mountains, the Rhône River and the Mediterranean, where we have a house in a little village just outside Uzès, one of the most beautiful towns in France.
So yearning for the sea one weekend, we decided it would be prudent to stay relatively close to home and drove an hour south to Le Grau-du-Roi, a charming little Mediterranean beach town and busy fishing port, an excellent combination of activities for any seafood lover who’s looking for a dunk in the warm waters of the Med. I had already stayed at the very pleasant and great value Hôtel Miramar here once before, so this time round we decided to try somewhere new and booked a table at L’Oustau Camarguen, which has a quieter location in private gardens surrounding a swimming pool right on the edge of town, near the Port Camargue marina.
As soon as we reached the front desk, I knew we’d made a good decision, because the welcome was so friendly, and the airy lobby, breakfast and bar were attractively furnished, as was our spacious and very comfortable room. The real surprise of the day, though, was the excellence of the hotel’s restaurant.
To be perfectly honest, we decided to eat at the hotel that night instead of going to Le Vivier, my favourite table in town and an excellent seafood restaurant, because we were tired. So I went to dinner expecting a decent meal but probably nothing memorable. It turned out I was dead wrong.
The menu is brief, but there’s a €35 prix-fixe that changes daily. Our starters were outstanding, including a flaky tartelette filled with piperade (stewed aubergines, onions, peppers and tomatoes) and garnished with local country ham, roasted mackerel fillets and a mesclun salad, a delicious little meal in itself, really. The cool velouté of courgettes had a welcome dab of brandade de morue and pickled lemon, fine slices of ewe’s milk cheese from Larzac and a truffled vinaigrette.
Mains were similarly imaginative, succulent and generously served. Grilled fillets of locally landed red mullet came with gnocchi, fresh haricots verts and an heirloom tomato condiment with green peppercorns, and was a delightful dish. Slow-roasted lamb shoulder from the Aveyron was fall-off-the-bone tender and brightened by apricots sautéed with cinnamon, spinach and pan-fried baby potatoes. Melon soup with lavender, strawberries and a lime meringue and a black cherry financier pastry with organic pistachio ice cream concluded this excellent and wonderfully Languedocien feed, and the wine list is good and reasonably priced, too.
So even if you’re not staying at the hotel, the restaurant here is very much worth a meal during a visit to Le Grau-du-Roi, but be sure to book in advance.
3 route des Marines, Port-Camargue (Le Grau-du-Roi),
Tel. (33) 04 66 51 51 65,
prix-fixe menu €35, average à la carte €50.
From France Today Magazine