Surfin’ Safari

Le Cabanon, Plage Port Issol, 83110 Sanary-sur-Mer : 04 94 74 64 17

When we discovered Le Cabanon last year we encountered a scene rarely seen around our Mediterranean coastline — some serious surfing. It was a gusty, grey autumnal day, and we were dodging the frothy breakers that were swamping the narrow wharf, depositing driftwood, seaweed and palpitating jellyfish at our feet, when three wet-suited modern mermen rose blackly out of the spume in the midst of the bay, and, cresting a magnificently tumescent wave, hurtled shorewards.

We continued to watch them from the comfort of the inside of the restaurant, through its huge picture windows giving onto the relatively deserted, pine-cladded, attractive cove that lies nicely hidden off the tourist track, just to the west of the pretty town of Sanary, in the Var.

I say “comfort”, because although this restaurant is a water’s edge, wooden-built cabanon with low ceilings and teak floors, its style is best defined as ‘cabanon-chic’. You relax into spacious rush-covered armchairs around uncramped tables, the washrooms are stylish, the kitchen — visible through sparkling glass — is modern, and the inside wall of the dining room displays wide-screen plasma footage of the bay, from the beach CCTV.

The food, from Stéphane Pigeon (great name for a chef!), is worth the trip here alone. There is a generous 15€ weekday lunchtime dish ‘du marché’, and menus at 20 and 37€ — fairly fish-based, as you’d expect. Amongst the starters we’ve had: a cheeky civet d’escargots on a bed of celeriac, and a brilliant barigoule of artichokes with crayfish, topped with the lightest quenelle of cream inspirationally whipped together with black olive tapenade, which gradually melted into the glass of vegetables and seafood. The main-course creamy parmesan risotto topped with gorilla-sized gambas is almost as delicious as the superbly fresh turbot.

But the great thing about this restaurant is that, unlike most ‘pieds dans l’eau’ restaurants, it doesn’t shut down over the winter months. Three years ago, when this then rather run-down shack was taken over and revamped, the new management decided that they wouldn’t attract the quality of chef they wanted if they didn’t promise him employment for the whole year round. The gamble worked, and word has spread (though they don’t advertise, and it’s yet not in any mainstream gastronomic guide — but watch this space…), so that even on wet Mondays in November, they welcome a roomful of diners, who, like us, having stumbled on it largely by chance, return enthusiastically, bringing friends.

It is obviously a delight to visit in summer — lounging on the sun-drenched decking and enjoying their private beach. But I think the real treat is to have this sort of seaside place also available on pitchy January days, where, after a great lunch, you can blow away the Christmas cobwebs pushing your way around the rocky cove, hunching the hood of your anorak against the hurling, unfurling wind, and watch the drama of the breaking waves knitting then unravelling before lurching and crashing against the craggy sandstone cliffs.

And a bit of California-style surfing goes so well with this Mediterranean turf, too.

Juliet Young

Revisited in Summer, and Winter 06

A lovely place in summer — sitting on the decking upstairs under white sunshades. My criticism would be that they don’t change the menu very often, but the food is good. Two sets of friends have stayed here, too, very much enjoying the ‘romantic’ atmosphere. The chef, though, needs a course in veggie cooking — he’s no idea, and a veggie friend of mine had to dictate a couple of recipes to him!!!

Copyright © 2007 Anglo-American Group of Provence