The sea and lagoons around this Mediterranean harbour town provide a bountiful harvest of fish and seafood, says Amanda Pollard
1. La Coquerie
La Coquerie is the place to go if you’re looking for a special gastronomic experience. Perched along the road that leads to the top of Mont Saint Clair, the restaurant benefits from spectacular views of the salty étang and sea beyond. It’s a light, contemporary space with large windows so guests can enjoy the setting wherever they’re sitting. The kitchen is located in the middle of the restaurant and, behind the counter, Anne Majourel with her trademark straw hat creates dishes with her team. There are even stools at the counter for those who like to watch the chefs design their seasonally inspired dishes.
Anne is a self-taught chef who grew up in nearby Corbières and refined her craft in restaurant Le Ranquet in the Cévennes. Her passion for cooking led her to become one of the few female chefs to gain a Michelin star, an award given to La Coquerie in 2012.
Each day Anne and her staff design their signature Menu Les Yeux Fermés (eyes closed) after a morning visit to the indoor food halls and the fish market at the Corniche, as well as noting what their select group of suppliers have on offer. The result is a constantly changing menu of wonderful creations, such as courgette flower stuffed with crab and basil on a red mullet millefeuille and mussels from the Étang de Thau, or smoked bonito fillet (a type of tuna) with hazelnut oil and tomato paste, garnished with borage flowers, peas, mint and arugula from the garden. The wine menu, too, is high quality, each addition rigorously chosen by Anne’s partner Jean-Luc and predominantly sourced from the nearby vineyards of the Languedoc.
La Coquerie, 1 Chemin du Cimetière Marin, 34200 Sète
Tel: (Fr) 6 47 06 71 38, annemajourel.fr/horizon.html
2. Terre et Mer
If you’re not a lover of seafood, or you simply fancy something different, a great option is Terre et Mer. This cosy restaurant is located away from the busy canal at the west harbour and comprises a wine shop and fine-foods épicerie. Owner Tony Vives (pictured right) grew up in Aveyron and ran restaurants there and in Toulouse before coming to Sète. His idea was to work in partnership with the producers of Sète and Aveyron to marry the meaty flavours of the mountains with the salty tastes of the Mediterranean. Head chef Cyrille Guiliani and his team use high-quality ingredients to create quite traditional yet delicious dishes. Try sautéed ceps, or saddle of rabbit and breast of smoked pig with puy lentils and herbes de Provence, or alternatively choose noix de Saint Jacques with chorizo.
With only 16 tables, there’s an intimate atmosphere in the restaurant and the service is friendly and attentive. If the sun is shining the terrace is a nice spot to enjoy a meal. For inside diners the kitchen is in full view, so you can see the chefs at work. Prices are reasonable: a starter, main course and dessert costing €40, which might leave you with enough cash to browse the local products and wine that are available in the shop.
Terre et Mer, 28 Promenade Jean-Baptiste-Marty, 34200 Sète
Tel: (Fr) 4 67 74 49 43, www.restaurant-terreetmer.com
3. Chez François
The exterior of Chez François gives you a clue to what’s on the menu. Beautifully displayed buckets and platters of fresh local seafood stand outside the front entrance, alongside a terrace with a few tables. Perched right on the quayside, the restaurant is fairly small and unassuming, but as far as food goes it packs a big punch. There are no frills here, just good-quality, fresh local produce cooked simply.
The family business has produced seafood since the 1950s, and the restaurant has been established since the 1980s. In that time Chez François has built up a reputation for delicious, fresh food, prepared and presented in a simple, unpretentious way, so it’s no wonder that it’s popular with locals. The place is small with just 20 or so tables, and consequently it is almost always busy, so it’s advisable to book ahead to avoid disappointment.
The restaurant produces its own oysters in the Étang de Thau nearby, so you could try some of those, as well as mussels, clams, prawns and sea snails, or alternatively go for grilled fish, or local speciality bourride de lotte. However, if you simply can’t decide which to choose, how about opting for a shared assiette de fruits de mer? The waiter will bring you a large platter full of ice, with a selection of shellfish arranged on top. It’s a lovely way to enjoy the tastes of different seafood and sample things you might not have tried before. Don’t forget to wash it down with some crisp white wine or a light rosé, as the wine list is well stocked.
Chez François, 8 Quai Général Durand, 34200 Sète
Tel: (Fr) 4 67 74 59 69
7 Rue du 11 Novembre 1918, 34200 Sète
tel: (Fr) 4 99 02 84 86
Head to the market square, Place Aristide Briand, to the delightful art deco-style Café Lulu, which offers quality coffees from around the world, as well as an array of teas. If you don’t fancy caffeine, indulge
in one of their delicious smoothies
Halles de Sète, Rue Gambetta, 34200 Sète
Sète’s indoor market is fabulous, containing 75 stalls of every local food you could possibly imagine. Here you can wander the aisles and stock up on fruit, vegetables, olives, tapenades, charcuterie, meat and countless other goodies. And of course, don’t forget the seafood stalls where you’ll find fish and shellfish fresh from the morning’s catch. Bouzigue oysters from the Étang de Thau are some of the best in the world and razor clams, a regional speciality, are delicious cooked in butter, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs.
5 Rue Gambetta,
Tel: (Fr) 4 67 74 41 28
You can’t really come to France without tasting some cheese, and one of the best fromageries in Sète is Lou Pastrou. The business originated in Aveyron and its speciality is a tangy yet velvety Roquefort that melts in the mouth. Find it a little way from the waterside, along Rue Gambetta.
BISCUITS AND CAKES
47 Quai de Bosc
Tel: (Fr) 4 67 74 72 38
Sète might be famous for its seafood, but there are other delicacies to try as well. For something sweet head to Biscuiterie Pouget in the indoor market. In business since 1931, the stall moved to the food halls in 2007. Here you can buy madeleines, macarons and cakes as well as the famous Zézette de Sète: long, twisted biscuits flavoured with dry white wine and vanilla.
Caves Notre Dame
278 Avenue du Maréchal Juin
Tel: (Fr) 4 67 80 32 20 www.cavesnotredame.com
There are a couple of must-try wines from the area surrounding Sète, one of which is Muscat de Frontignan. This white vin doux naturel is cultivated in the vineyards around the Étang de Thau and is a popular aperitif. A perfect accompaniment to seafood is a fresh, bone-dry glass of Picpoul de Pinet. Another good wine shop is Cave de Thau along Quai Charles Lemaresquier.