Finding a good restaurant when you have no reservation is almost always a matter of luck. All too often, the temptation of every tourist is to dine at one of the very visible, very central tourist-based restaurants of a town, rather than risk wandering off into the great unknown and finding yourself walking, endlessly for hours until a restaurant is eventually found. However I learnt my lesson the hard way in Madrid when, one spring evening, clueless where to eat and with time ticking on, my family and I opted for one of the many restaurants which line the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square. And my god, some two years after the event, that meal remains the worst of my existence – lamb so chargrilled that it was all bones and ashes, fish so hopelessly dry that it bore more resemblance to a sun-dried lizard corpse which had been rotting in the desert heat for 5 months. And the prices! Now they were worthy of one if not two Michelin stars just on their own, running well into three figures for eating brick dust.
On the approach to the squares behind the vast Papal Palace…
So that lesson learnt (and my tip to any Madrid visitor would be to avoid all of the Plaza Mayor restaurants at any cost!) I ensured that on our second night in Avignon, we walked further afield than the main Place de l’Horloge where similar tourist honey-pots seemed to be lurking. We walked for some time, finding that, since it was Sunday, many a guide-book recommended restaurant was closed, and just as we were starting to give into the realisation that it would be tourist-fodder or no-fodder, we stumbled upon the most magical square in Avignon – the Place des Chataignes.
Set against the backdrop of St Pierre’s gothic church, around the corner from the huge natural rock cliffs into which the Papal Palace is built, under the cosy shelter of huge plane trees and surrounded by little shuttered French houses and restaurants straight out of the picture-books, this square was a gem to behold, and had to be the discovery of the trip thus far. And yes, while the 3 or 4 restaurants filling the square no doubt catered for tourists, their superior quality was obvious – with one rather chic affair in particular catching our eye and beckoning us closer: Coin Caché.
Coin Caché offers something of a contemporary twist on French cuisine, serving up innovative treats such as chocolate hamburgers for dessert and miniature cauliflower cakes to start. It benefited from a stunning setting right in the centre of the square, and boasted its own resident fluff-ball of a cat – “Pom-Pom” – who kept us entertained with her fussy demands as to why pickings from our dinner were unfit for her sophisticated taste-buds.
Our own sophisticated taste buds on the other hand were kept aptly satisfied by the meal that was served up to our romantic candlelit table. I started with a melt in the mouth goat’s cheese and courgette bake, which was topped by salty cheese a crumble which was sweet like honeycomb. This was all balanced well with a side salad of sundried and fresh sweet baby tomatoes, flaked parmesan and croutons. Dominik, meanwhile, had that cauliflower cake of which I spoke – a creamy light affair, akin to a soufflé and deliciously caramalised on top.
Mains followed suit – for me, a rather sensational duck, perfectly cooked and tender, in a red wine reduction and served on a bed of rather unctuous pan friend gnocci and french beans. For Dominik, the winner of the evening had to be a soft flakey cod loin resting on a creamy rich pea and mint risotto. Simple fare, but delicately cooked. A little too delicate you might say for the accompanying 2000 vintage Chateauneuf du pape to which we treated ourselves that night in celebration of our 4th anniversary… But then as we were in the papal city, we could hardly leave town without a taste of the red stuff. It goes without saying that the wine was sensational – almost knockout in both alcoholic content and rich velvety flavours.
For dessert we were roundly finished off with a double dose of “chocolate hamburgers” which basically consisted of a “bap” made from a soft brioche like biscuit, with a “burger” of dense chocolate mousse and a generous helping of salted caramel “relish”. ‘Twas heavenly. But one would have done four times over – each coping with this overload of chocolate and caramel after a meal not lacking in generosity of portions, creams and cheeses was a struggle, but one which frankly I wouldn’t mind engaging again.
Coin Caché has no website, but their number is +33 490 820 731. A must on any visit to Avignon.
- Provence Odyssey | Avignon: Day One – Journey South (daily-norm.com)
- Provence Odyssey | Avignon: Day Two – Le Pont et Les Papes (daily-norm.com)
- Provence Odyssey | Avignon – A room with a view (daily-norm.com)