Food & Drink - Nice - The New “Gare du Sud” Food Hall
There’s an exciting new place to eat in Nice and it’s not just one restaurant, it’s 20 restaurants! Last Saturday, 18th May, saw the eagerly anticipated (and loooong awaited) opening of the grand new food hall in the revamped Gare du Sud* in the Libération district of Nice. Until December 1991 it was the terminus of the little railway that serves inland villages all the way northeast to Digne les Bains, but about 20 years ago an appallingly ugly new station was built in the old marshaling yards, thus enabling the whole of the prime station site to be redeveloped.
[* = “railway Station of the South”]
This huge redevelopment project was launched 5 years ago and is now finally completed. It includes three new apartment buildings, a multiplex Pathé cinema, some shops (and more opening soon), a vast and sorely needed underground car park - as well as this splendid cast-iron & glass atrium that used to shelter the platforms, now redesigned and rebuilt to house a couple of dozen appetizing bistro’s, bars and food outlets on two stunning levels.
La Gare du Sud sits right next to the justly famed Libération street market which six days a week offers fabulously fresh fruit and vegetables - more and more of them organic - and also cheeses, flowers, cured meats, olives, along with a scattering of cafés, bars and small bistro-type restaurants on the adjoining streets. So, with this new Gare du Sud food hall, the Libération district becomes an even more attractive foodie Mecca. But will it harm the existing businesses? Not the street market stalls, I don't think, because people who want to cook from scratch - which is still the vast majority in France - will continue to come here several times a week to buy their produce. But it might hurt fast food or semi-fast restaurants in the vicinity, like Bagel Corner and Planet Sushi (And personally that won’t keep me awake at night)
Around the outside of the building - weather permitting, which it hardly is at the moment - are more tables and chairs. They'll be fabulous in the summer. The deal is: there are common seated dining areas inside and out that are cleared & cleaned by communal staff, and you can get an apéritif from one bar and another from a wine bar, then different plates of food from different vendors, and find a table wherever you like. This is a radically loose arrangement for France where the rituals of dining are strict and sacrosanct.
Last Saturday and Sunday the place was heaving with people - young & old, customers & the curious, locals & tourists - with the result that the queues were long and it was impossible to find a place to sit. So one couldn't properly assess the place or the foods on offer. On Monday it was closed. But yesterday I managed to get some drinks and then several different sorts of food and then even somewhere to sit and consume it. But after 6.30pm the place still became gratifyingly busy and buzzy as queues formed...
Some of the food concessions have been taken by revered old-established Niçois names, like the CAFÉ DE TURIN from the Place Garibaldi (shellfish), and Nicolas ALZIARI (olive products) and LA CAVE DU FOMAGER (cheeses & wines) from Old Nice - which illustrates how this development has caused a gravitational shift away from the traditional downtown seaside district of Old Nice. Others are newbies to Nice, like SUPER-LOBSTER - a concept franchise from New England - offering a menu based around, errrrr, lobster. And MAHATA - Lebanese cuisine - whose sharing plate of mezes we really enjoyed. With our apéritifs from the LA VIE EN ROSE bar - which included a jolly decent pint of St. Austell IPA from Cornwall - we had tasty charcuterie from the Gascon outfit J’GO [an almost witty pun on “gigot” - geddit??] including chorizo, copa and Jambon de Bayonne.
However, things then took a turn for the worse as we tried the Thai themed joint upstairs on the balcony, PITAYA. Sadly our Pad Thaï noodles looked and tasted like warmed up leftovers. The seating adjacent to PITAYA is along the glass balustrade overlooking the food court below - rather cramped and the vista was like being in an airport terminal.
LAKS : Norwegian smoked salmon & Smørrebrød (open sandwiches)
Naturally there will be teething problems for a bold new venture like this. The communal staff clearing tables and taking dishes away to be washed up were struggling through the crowds with loaded trays; in several places the queues were blocking the aisles - mind you, that's a good problem to have! Some restauranteurs’ staff seemed experienced and knowledgeable - like the Café de Turin’s and Alziari’s - but the staff at some other counters were clearly young beginners feeling their way. Nonetheless the Gare du Sud is undoubtedly an exciting new development so one won't rush to judgment; one will be patient and enjoy going regularly over the coming months to sample other mouthwatering offerings from the 28 advertised outlets (some yet to open) and watch the place settle into a routine - and I will be sure to keep you updated!
When is the Gare du Sud food hall open?
Tuesday / Wednesday / Sunday: 11am - 11pm
Thursday / Friday / Saturday: 11am - Midnight