Between relaxed bistros whipping up regional delights, decadent Michelin-star tasting menus and innovative chefs fusing unlikely cuisines, Avignon is no stranger to delicious culinary undertakings.
Provence is world-famous for its gastronomy; a medley of flavours that comprise aromatic herbs, fish caught daily from the nearby Mediterranean sea and market-fresh produce crafted into ratatouilles and tians (colourful casseroles using paper-thin slices of vegetables). What better place to sample it all than in Avignon, the bucolic, walled-city that’s packed with culinary delights showcasing the region’s best fare.
In the centre of Avignon, pass through a wrought iron gate to find the charming terrace of La Cuisine du Dimanche, where you can sink your teeth into tender cuts of steak, fresh seafood and local produce in a chic and rustic setting. Unable to be defined by one word alone, this restaurant, headed by couple Mathieu and Pauline, is part gastronomic, part bistro and 100 percent fresh and homemade.
Though set in a building that dates as far back as the 14th century, 83.Vernet is surprisingly – and tastefully – modern. The most alluring feature has to be the dazzling courtyard terrace, which is dotted with impeccably white tables and chairs, while a water pond, lined with greenery and in the shape of a cross, marks the centre. On the menu are French favourites like beef tartare and foie gras, as well as more laidback nosh like a black angus cheeseburger and a rigatoni dish with shrimp.
A staple spot for high-French cuisine in Avignon, it’s unsurprising that Restaurant Christian Etienne bears a coveted Michelin star. Modern and creative, each of the tasting menus is a culinary experience, with their renowned ‘Tomato’ menu stealing the show. Capturing the flavours of a Provençal summer, the menu’s star is – you guessed it – ripe and juicy tomatoes served in the form of tartar and tapenade alongside prime tenderloin.
The super fun and hip Bistro Balthazar is a local favourite. Adorned with vintage posters, Parisian street signs and red-and-white gingham paper placemats, the relaxed decor matches its straightforward menu made up of entrées, meat and fish dishes, a dish of the day and desserts. It doubles as a great spot to head to for a late afternoon drink and a light snack, with cheese and charcuterie platters also on offer.
The husband-and-wife pair who run Fou de Fafa, Antonia and Russell Coughlan, may hail from Britain, but they are consistently looked to as the owners of one of the best classic French restaurants in Avignon. The understated decor with hints of red and white keeps the focus on their beautifully executed and seasonally rotating menu. An entrée, main and dessert goes for a modest 32 euros, leaving you with extra coin to spend on wine from their well-thought-out list of regional varieties.
Hiély-Lucullus has been around since 1938, making it the oldest gastronomic restaurant in Avignon. Despite their historic roots, the dishes here are quite contemporary, placing forward-thinking twists on traditional plates as seen in their ‘Signature’ menu, which features Pérouvencecuisine: a delicate blend of food from Peru and Provence. Decked out in Art Nouveau decor, a dinner spent here feels like a step back into La Belle Époque.
A trendy take on the old-school French bistro, the dining room of L’Agape combines stained wood panels and original hardwood floors with single-bulb light fixtures, industrial bar stools and concrete walls. Watch as chef Julien Gleize crafts your meal from the open-air kitchen, using skills he’s taken from his time working in Michelin-star establishments. All the food, including the bread, is freshly made in-house.
As the name suggests, a visit here is essential if you find yourself in Avignon. The restaurant has found itself on almost every critic’s list as one of the best spots in town, which will make sense as soon as you settle into the minimalist dining room or stone-lined courtyard terrace. Head chef Evan Neumann has been trained under French culinary legends like Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse, so consider yourself getting a three-star meal at a fraction of the cost.
If nothing else, make a reservation here for the view. In the walled city, it can be easy to forget you’re situated beside a stunning river, the Rhône. Here at Le Bercail, located on Barthelasse Island, you can perch yourself waterside and take in views of the fortified town and the Saint-Bénézet Bridge. The mouth-watering menu is a bonus, with an array of meat and fish options and wood-fired pizza (pizza is served from June to August only).
Tucked away from the town centre, Au Jardin des Carmes is a lovely respite from Avignon’s tourist-trodden streets, particularly when seated at a bistro table in their shaded courtyard terrace, which is brimming with greenery and vines that stretch across stone walls. Quintessentially Provençal, their menu changes with the seasons and is vegetarian-friendly. For your apéritif, select a typical liqueur from Provence like a pastis, an anise-flavoured spirit, or the peach-based libation, RinQuinQuin.