avignon lagape interiorOn one of the liveliest squares in Avignon, L'Agape is good enough to be a special treat destination restaurant, and also informal and affordable enough to become a regular haunt.

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L'Agape (pronounced "la-gap": the name means a feast enjoyed by early Christians) sits on the place des Corps Saints, pictured below, a large triangular space shaded by plane trees and set around an elegant fountain.

Just off Avignon's main street, the rue de la République, and a few minutes from the Tourist Office, it's lined with cafés and restaurants and buzzing with activity, especially in summer when all the outdoor terraces are jam packed.

From the outside, L'Agape, with its modest façade, looks much like all the other bistros on the square.

But this small family restaurant run by the young husband and wife team of Julien and Anne Gleize has been getting approving mentions in the Michelin Bib Gourmand and Gault & Millau guides - and is offered at fantastically reasonable prices.

It has a range of multi-course set menus, from a three course set lunch to a gastronomic tasting menu. You can eat à la carte here too, but, as usual in French restaurants, this is a lot more expensive. The items are listed in French only, but the English-speaking staff will help out if needed.

place des corps saints avignon festivalThe longer set menus included some complex assemblies and variants on classic dishes: the sort of cuisine that the French describe, rather vaguely, as "semi-gastronomique".

A recent example: farmhouse chicken roasted in butter, mousse of potato and spring onion, roast head of garlic, powdered hazelnut, gravy flavoured with foie gras.

We sampled the basic set lunch, which has a choice of three or four starters, mains and desserts.

Gazpacho de betterave was a delicious provençal spin on borscht: chilled beetroot soup with a large ravioli stuffed with goat's cheese and pine nuts and crispy potato sprinkles.

Other options included a tempting looking pissaladière (Provence-style pizza) with grilled sardines. The bread is home-made and comes in a little paper bag (the bag isn't just a gimmick but a neat space-saving idea, since the outdoor tables are rather small).

Among the mains were a perfectly grilled skirt steak with ratatouille and garlic purée, and grilled fish of the day served with aubergine parmigiana and sauce vierge.

Desserts included peach and raspberry soup and other summery temptations. Like most self-respecting restaurants, the line-up draws on local produce and suppliers, notably from producers in the nearby Les Halles food market, and changes with the seasons.

avignon lagape exteriorWe visited L'Agape at the height of the Avignon Theatre Festival, and suspect that Julien Gleize was focussing on simple dishes that could quickly prepared and scoffed down by diners in a hurry to catch the next show.

That said, the food was excellent and fastidiously presented, and there was no pressure at all to eat up and go.

In fact, at a time when overstretched staff at some Avignon restaurants can be brusque to the point of rudeness, the service here was unfailingly polite, flexible and helpful, even if the waiters didn't have much time to chat.

The long wine list majors on local Rhône wines, but includes other regions as well. There’s no wine en pichet (by the litre or half litre - the cheapest choice if you're on a budget). But a decent house wine is served by the glass and the mark-up on the bottled wines isn't outrageous.

The pedestrianised place des Corps Saints is a delight in itself. During the festival, diners outside are regaled by a steady stream of free street entertainment and performers circle the tables in the square constantly trying to drum up business for their shows.

Depending on your mood, this might be either an attraction or a deterrent. Certainly at this time of year L’Agape's outdoor terrace is not for anyone seeking a quiet and intimate tête à tête.

But then that's true of pretty much every restaurant in Avignon in July. We returned again for lunch on a sunny day in September when the mood was still lively but a lot more mellow.

The menu had changed - as it does in all good restaurants - and we ate "blonde chicken liver" (whatever that means) on a hummus base followed by a pastilla of duck. We found these dishes not quite as successful as the midsummer ones, though still mighty tasty.

In winter you can snuggle into one of two dining rooms smartly decorated in industrial chic style with vintage posters and a traditional zinc counter. The street clowns might be in hibernation, but instead you can watch the chefs at work in the kitchen through a glass window.

Visited July 2017, September 2017

Where: L'Agape, 21 place des Corps Saints, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 85 04 06. Website for L'Agape.

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