With its menu full of sunshine and its South of France inspiration, a meal at The Velvet offers a holiday-like pause. This delicious restaurant, nestled in Hotel Beauchamps is led by Bistrot d’Antoine, one of the most famous addresses in the atmospheric old quartersof Nice. A must-stop if you ever visit this city. The Parisian chef, Hugo Pinto, prepares the most amazing dishes and trust me, Paris will lose all interest after this. You will want to see where it all comes from, jump in a TGV and travel all the way to the other side of the country.
The first thing you notice when stepping in is the space – finally a restaurant in touristic Paris that leaves more than 10cm between tables. You can breathe and have a quiet meal. Banquettes, armchairs, bar stool effect bring a variety of comfortable options but also help to balance the conversation level – a very clever idea.
One very welcome touch on the table that shows that taste and quality here are essential – fleur de sel ( very refined and fragrant salt) and an exquisite olive oil, Château Léoube, delicate, fruity, sublime on a piece of bread. Even before opening the menu, your senses are heightened and longing for more.
On the sommelier’s recommendation, we tried a glass of Bargemone, an excellent Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, very elegant – tangy lime and green apple, a little bit of sage. A perfect match for a refined meal while refreshing the palate – we kept it throughout the meal and never thought once of asking for anything else.
An amuse-bouche of pissaladière was also brought. Nevre heard the word before? Think of it as a Southern style pizza. No tomato sauce thought, the base is an onion marmelade. I often find it slightly bitter but this one proved me wrong: the compote was made with just a little sugar and gives it a confit texture. First the sweetness, almost melting, then the salted enchovies the fruity olives. Had it not been out of the oven and extremely hot it would not have survived more than a minute on the plate.
The descriptions of each dish is almost lyrical and are sure to tempt you. Lemon and pine nut jam, salt and sugar marinated salmon, sweet bell pepper jus… Words have been chosen carefullu, intrigue, you can almost feel the texture on your tongue. My heart will melt for the Velvety soup of forgotten vegetables (France has rediscovered parsnips) with chanterelles mushroom and chestnuts (14€). Almost a carress. And so much beauty in that plate, what a range of colours! Adorable mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, chestnut nuggets: each spoonful brings a different combination, always a new surprise, enjoyed fully, with your eyes closed.
Not a soup person? Try the fine yet ever so tasty veal slices – prepared vitello tonnato style (15€). Qite astonishing – we are so used of serving it hot but this is a wonderful alternative. The presentation is very smart too - a rectangular, narrow plate, a bed of sweet and crunchy salad, generous shaving of parmesan, pine nuts, olives, capers, parsley. After the excess of the New Year celebration, its freshness is very soothing and the portion consequent enough to make it a lone dish if time is not on your side for a longer meal. Balanced and particularly tasty.
I spent quite some time admiring those scallops à la plancha, what a picture (29€)! Celeriac mash echoes the strong character of the shell, nutty touch of the potatoes, almost caramelised baby-beetroots, chestnuts pieces here and there. A culinary waltz…
Not to be missed either - the cocotte of Iberica pork pluma (24€). This extremely tender meat (between the two shoulders of the animal) is little know but delicious indeed. Cooked in the sauce, it is heaven, satin like and you will want a spoon to finish the latter - no way you are leaving any. Violet artichokes – ah, so rarely served! – olives, tomatoes, a little black pepper, thyme - all the South of France is in the smell only… You will wish you could bottle it. Even a couple of weeks later, I still think of this with envy.
The dessert selection is also well worth a look. Since this is in season, I chose the chestnut verrine, Mont Blanc style (10€). The description is not accurate – verrine usually means a small glass but this is so generous it can easily be share with your lover. More complez than the Angelina version, it offers a wonderful range of textures - silky mousse, perfect light vanilla chantilly, ice-cream, a meringue sweet on top.
Can’t choose? Ask for the café gourmand (11€), brought with mini-versions of deserts. I imagine they vary from time to time - on that day we had the miniature chestnut treat, a unctuous panna cotta with exotic mago purée. The macaron was home made with a perfect pistachio paste. Last but not least: a crunchy hazelnut bite, perfect with the roasted note of the espresso.
Verdict: close to the Champs Elysées but nothing to do with the overprices touristic options around. Worth every penny - the quality of the products is irreproachable. Each allaince of taste has been carefully balanced to reflect the South of france terroir values yet bring a lighter more modern touch than what our grandmothers would have cooked. Veru honest, real fragrances - Hugo Pinto has some magic in him. Keep his name in mind – he is set to suprise you for a long, long time.
Teatime in Wonderland was a guest of The Velvet restaurant