The Forum des Cardeurs Aix en ProvenceFinding great - and great-value - restaurants is surprisingly difficult in Aix, despite its wealth, size and importance as a tourist destination, although there are some delightful hidden gems.

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In very broad terms, visitors to Aix can choose between three types of restaurant. They can go for the overpriced, but brilliantly located restaurants on the elegant Cours Mirabeau where the experience is likely to be more memorable than the gastronomy.

Or they can opt for the cheaper but mostly undistinguished outdoor terraces on the sunny, touristy Forum des Cardeurs, pictured top left. But the little spots where the best eats are to be had are tucked away in the Old Town. The choice is yours!

THE BEST RESTAURANTS IN AIX EN PROVENCE

For those who absolutely must eat on the Cours Mirabeau, Les Deux Garçons at no.53, pictured below, is the classic place to hang out - but go there for the setting and history rather than the service or food. A little further down towards La Rotonde, the Bastide du Cours at no.43-47 offers better - though still not especially good - value.

Les Deux Garcons Aix en ProvenceNear the bottom end, geographically as well as socially, the Bistro Romain at no.13 belongs to a standard French chain but has an outdoor terrace on the Cours and very reasonable prices.

The most interesting restaurant on the Cours Mirabeau, at no.19, does not look out on to the boulevard itself. You enter Côté Cour through the imposing doorway of one of Aix's grand hôtels particulier but the dining room is actually in the large glassed-covered veranda at the back of the building (the restaurant's name means "looking on to the courtyard").

Its chef, Ronan Kernen, hails from Britanny and took over the then-ailing Côté Cour in 2010. Since then he has become one of France's TV celebrity chefs (yes, they have them here too), has been winning plaudits in the restaurant guidebooks and has turned this light-filled, buzzing venue into a place to see and be seen.

On the Forum des Cardeurs, a couple of spots in particular stand out from the serviceable but workaday restaurants lining this huge square. At no.13, the tiny L'Épicurien comes highly recommended for its small (three choices for each course) but classy prix fixe menu.

Just opposite at no.40, the popular and long-established Le Poivre d'Âne has restricted opening hours but serves elegant dishes with an exotic twist on the terrace, pictured, or in the retro 1970s dining room.

Le Poivre dAne restaurant Aix en ProvenceDelve into the maze of Old Town back streets for the most interesting finds. Vintrépide (48 rue du Puits neuf) and L'Alcôve (19 rue Constantin) are small, dynamic restaurants run by young, talented teams with a personal touch.

A recent arrival on the scene is Le Bistrot (5 rue Campra), which has been quickly embraced by locals. It offers traditional French and provençal cuisine at unbeatable prices.

La Cave d'Yves (10 rue Portalis) is, strictly speaking, a wine shop / bar, but also serves good, classic brasserie food, plus hand-picked wines by the glass or bottle.

Also liked by locals: the gourmet Le Formal (32 rue Espariat), Ze Bistro (31 bis rue Manuel) and Le Millefeuille (8 rue Rifle-Rafle).

At the bottom of the Old Town near La Rotonde, the pretty cobbled place Ramus is packed with little restaurants such as the very popular Corsican eaterie Le Môme at no. 5 and, right next door at no.7, La Cerise sur le Gâteau, which has the added bonus of offering several vegetarian / organic options.

Pierre Hochart at Les Vieilles Canailles (7 rue Isolette) was singled out as a new "Young Talent" in the autumn 2015 Gault & Millau guide. For all these smaller restaurants (some have fewer than a dozen tables) booking is essential.

The downside: these eateries offer terrific cuisine and outstanding value. But many of them are found down side streets and based in tiny indoor premises, sometimes in a picturesque vaulted cellar and often without a garden or outdoor terrace, or with just a couple of outdoor tables on a dark, narrow pavement.

So they're ideal for a warm and cosy winter's supper but not necessarily the place you want to be for people-watching on summer days.

At the snobby end of gastronomy, Pierre Reboul specialises in molecular cuisine with the usual syringes, espumas, and so on and the usual small portions at the usual big prices.

His main restaurant recently relocated to the Château de la Pioline outside the centre of Aix. The move cost Reboul his one Michelin star in 2016 but he has now regained it in the 2017 guide.

Le Saint Estève, a new restaurant, has also been awarded a Michelin star. It too is out of town, by the village of Le Tholonet.

Le Clos, Jean-Marc Banzo's restaurant in Aix's new five-star Hotel Renaissance, quickly earned a Michelin star but appears to have closed for somewhat mysterious reasons (a more basic bistro, Le Comptoir du Clos, remains at the hotel).

Banzo's previous place, Le Clos de la Violette, was renamed L'Esprit de la Violette and taken over by a new chef, Marc de Passorio, who was also awarded a Michelin star of his own.

Finally, the multi award-winning young chef Mickaël Féval has opened his own place of the same name at 11 petite rue Saint Jean and quickly earned a Michelin star in 2017.

Click here to read reviews of some of Aix's best bars and here to view a complete and up-to-date list of all the Michelin-starred restaurants in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA)

 

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