Waves gently unfold on to the empty shore, erasing a trail of footprints belonging to a traveller dozing under a palm tree. A cafe’s opening routine hums in the distance as smells of fresh baguettes and viennoiserie fill the quiet streets. This rare peaceful scene is known only to the early risers of Cannes, a city that vibrates well into the evening as locals and foreigners frolic among the affluent beach culture and indulge in Mediterranean cuisine. Situated just off the glamour strip, humble restaurant-café-comptoir, Pastis, relishes its relaxed and inviting approach to fine dining, leaving your tastebuds tingling and your heart full of memories.
There is a fever in the air; a fever of joy and excitement. It is June 21st – the one day a year where anyone can play music in the streets, both organised and impromptu. A rumble of revellers celebrating Fete de la Musique glide through the side streets on their way to dance down the ritzy Boulevard de la Croisette. The atmosphere is contagious, sneaking through the gaps in Pastis’ half-curtained entrance.
As I approach Pastis’, I prepare myself for the inevitable odd glances from staff and familiar feeling of discomfort from dining solo. But as I mumble my beginner French to ask for a table for dinner, the waiter smiles a grand, hearty smile. “You are an actress!” he proclaims. “Non, non,” I insist as he pulls a table away from the wall so I can squeeze into the booth. This friendly, energetic welcome ignites my excitement for the evening ahead, especially for sampling the Pastis rosé – tales of which had tickled my ears and tastebuds for some time, a distant mirage at the end of a line of heavy, dark, un-French versions of the blushing wine.
The leather-buttoned booths and crisp white tablecloths reveal the fine dining style in play at Pastis. But I hardly notice as the vintage advertisements adorning the walls ignite nostalgia for the 1920s, and the exposed brick wall and earthy wooden tones of the floor and furniture emit a rustic bistro ambience. It feels cosy, friendly and ambient sitting amongst the sardine-like table arrangement beneath the warm lighting, with the mood mimicking that of eating in the kitchen of a friend’s restaurant, laughing along with the jovial jibes between the chef and waiters.
Choosing a meal from the handwritten blackboard menus proves difficult as aromas waft from the kitchen, just unidentifiable enough to confuse my palate of its desired dish. The American couple next to me, casually dressed from a day of lounging at the beach, are well into their shared dish of Cote de Boeuf avec Frites Maison, or the most incredible looking steak and house fries. They seem right at home, chatty with the staff and relaxed. The staff are equally unpretentious, playful and persistent. I struck up a conversation with the couple to ask exactly which meal it was they were eating – something I hadn’t been game to do at a restaurant in Toulouse a week earlier when my eyes latched on to a similarly exquisite sight. A dish for two, I reluctantly passed on the steak, choosing the Raviolis jus de Daube or stewed beef ravioli instead.
Ever untimely, my shyness resurfaced when an unfamiliar waiter came to take my order. There was no mention of the rosé on the wine list, so I resigned to a simple sauvignon blanc. My wine and bread arrived swiftly, followed closely by the ravioli. The slow-cooked beef, moist and tender, could be sliced with a spoon. Enveloped in handmade pasta squares and swimming in jus, the dish was wholesome, brimming with Provencal flavour and comfort. When what felt like my queen of all feasts was diminished, I didn’t want to leave this alluring environment just yet.
It was a busy night but the waiters had been attentive, stopping to chat each time they whisked past. One asked if I would like another glass of wine, and I willed up the courage to ask if I could have what my new neighbour was drinking: the rosé. The waiter gave me a cheeky smile and a look that told me he had seen past my initial wine choice. With an air of trusted knowledge, the lively French Polynesian lady next to me revealed the rosé was excellent here, and we began to chat. Some time had passed and her meal was still absent, our glasses also a little low. She raised a waiter’s attention and demanded (light-hearted, but firmly) rosé to make up for their mistake. And from there our glasses did not run dry of their famous pink liquid.