The things I do, dear reader, on your behalf. Little, though, will rival the adventure I was subjected to in August, merely to bring you a report of a simple little cabanon restaurant on the coast near Le Lavandou.
I’d been dying to try Chez Jo ever since I first heard about it … “secret hideaway in a protected bay” “difficult access” “undiscovered” “no signs” “bring your own wine” etc. It’s only open July and August, so we broke our usual rule not to go down to the coast during high season, and queued up with countless camper vans on the D559 crawling past Bormes and Le Lavandou, looking for the “grand virage” where Jo told us to park, then to scramble down the scrubby cliff to find her “seaside shack”.
First problem: Inevitably there was not a chance of parking conveniently nearby, so we had to drive the extra few hundred metres down to Cavalière. We really didn’t fancy climbing back up the steep non-pavemented hill and being mown down by yet more camper vans, so we decided, instead, to risk the more circuitous (and unadvised) route of tackling the cove on foot. From the crowded public beach near where we’d left the car, we could just make out the restaurant, around the little rocky promontory, in next calanque. Its secluded little bay couldn’t be more than half a mile away…
Second problem: climbing/crawling for about half an hour under the midday sun over sharp rocks in flip flops carrying a heavy cooler bag of wine. The rocky promontory turned out not to be so little after all.
Third problem: My informant had neglected to tell me that this isolated creek was a naturist beach.
The flesh began on the rocks. Occupying all the flat stones. Which meant bypassing the huge, bulbous (mainly male) mounds either by balancing on precarious precipices above them or splashing through slippery, spiky pools below them. Survival instinct overcame natural modesty, and I quickly learned to step over the barbecuing meat, eyes averted.
We passed even more bare-faced cheeks on the sandy beach the other side of the rocks. Hirsute men hung out together, letting it all hang out. Flabby women and lithe children frolicked all together in the altogether. The most interesting stereotype was a “medallion man” — wearing nothing but heavy gold bling the size of loo chains and a diamond earring. There were a few people who looked liked they’d swopped birthday suits by mistake — nothing quite fitted…
The small sun-shaded pontoon restaurant has no room for a proper kitchen and no electricity, so cooking is done on the barbecue. Rather to our relief, apart from the middle-aged, stilton-veined, bare-breasted waitress (125E), everyone had (vaguely) covered up to eat, which made it easier to concentrate on the simple menu. Two salads or moules to start. Then: fish of the day (line-caught dorade — absolutely brilliantly cooked), great big gambas and fantastic looking grilled langoustes, which the huge John McCrirrick-lookalike “mine host” was putting, live and squirming, on the barbie. But for the squeamish there’s always the bouillabaisse - genuinely cooked over a wood fire nested in a sheltered rocky crevasse — so it really tastes as the local fishermen first invented it. It smoked and steamed and bubbled in a huge cauldron befitting 3 witches on a blasted heath — probably containing many of the same ingredients… (Order bouillabaisse and the unfortunate lobster in advance)
The place was packed out — it was so popular that there were even 2 sittings. Unlike us, most people had rather sensibly eschewed the lugging-in of heavy wine in favour of the €8.50 rosé plonk which was the only drink on offer. Wobbly planking, no WC, plastic furniture — no frills, just, appropriately, the ‘bare’ neccessities, but everyone was loving the freshness of the food, the convivial ambiance and the bonhomie and banter of Monsieur J. McCrirrick, who regularly squeezed his sweating stomach between the tables every time his charcoal got too hot, to press the over-exposed flesh of his eager clientèle.
It’s not as cheap as you’d think. Only €7 for starters, but €30 per head for the fish. However, what you spend on the food you save on the wine, no corkage. No credit cards.
Though the view of the sea was lovely, some of the activities of the naked bathers was a little off-putting as they strutted, in that “look at me, I’m a naturist” sort of way nudists have, almost as pink and porky as the prawns we were delicately peeling. But, by the second bottle, we were taking it all in our stride, clinking our half-pint Duralex tumblers of dry white Cassis in shameless toasts and cheery choruses of …“Bottoms up”….
REVISITED? Obviously not!!!