Olive oil is like coffee, tea and flour, when you taste the best, nothing compares. It’s easy to understand how this liquid sun was the basis for the fine unguents of ancient history. Used to salve wounds of war and assuage angry gods, this most humble element has been the mainstay of trade across nations for centuries. And now from Mediterranean subsistence to surfeit of luxury on our tables, we’ve become accustomed to buying the extra virgin brands as a matter of course. But when you have tasted the pure, artisanal product, fresh from the press there is no turning back.
It’s surprisingingly rare to find it so perfectly informing French cooking. But in the most unlikely corner of Vieux Nice at Oliviera, Nadim Beyrouti and his wife combine a passion for the oils of the region with the simplest ingredients. This ardent desire to fuse the oils aromas and flavours with fresh garden products results in some wonderful combinations.
Cooked on a tiny stove at the back of the shop where produce is piled in every corner, Beyrouti spins around the tables entrancing his guests with the temptations of new flavours, each one a surprise, while his wife quietly labours over the plates. The menu comprises the kind of staples you’d expect in a Provence kitchen, simple and fresh: peas, beans, aubergines and avocados enhanced by the magic of a different oil from the region.
From the Brebis de José to the Tartare Méditerranée each dish is brought to life with distinctive oils from the intense green banana of the Bouteillan to the heavy grassiness of the Grossane. These dishes are worth the escape into the warren of the city’s old town as the hot afternoon sun beats down on the Cote d’Azur. And the one that stands out as the perfect early summer lunch is the Fleur de Legumes. These are courgette flowers plucked before the vegetable is more than a milky green finger, stuffed with tiny cubes of mirepoix mixed with lemon and herbs. Eaten with bread and oil and washed down by a glass of Coteaux d’Aix, I can’t better the experience.
You won’t find any soaps or faience jugs here, only simple litre bottles of oil from the drum. Forget the wine, take this stuff home and each time you open the bottle it will recall the pleasures of escape to sustain you throughout the winter months. And if you run out order them online. http://www.oliviera.com/