Vence is a small town in the hills above Nice (16km north of the airport), which includes a mediaeval walled village. Comme Chez Soi opened in March 2017, the first restaurant of chef Hugo Marques and his wife Rita. Mr Marques, originally from Portugal, worked as a chef for eight years in one of the Oxford’s colleges and for a few months as a stagier at Champignon Sauvage.
The restaurant is on one of the main streets of the town, and has a small upstairs dining area with an open kitchen, the main dining room downstairs in what was once a wine cellar. The kitchen is open to the dining room and at present is a one-man operation, with the chef working entirely on his own in the kitchen.
The menu features dishes from Portugal as well as more traditional French food, with an understandably limited menu. The short menu offered three starters ranging from €7.50 to €12.50, two main courses from €18.50 to €21.50, and two desserts at €7.50 to €8.50. There was a brief wine list from €17.50 to €34.50 with selections such as St Andre de Figuieres Cote Premiere 2015 at €29.50 compared to its retail price of €16.
The meal began with some nibbles. Locally grown beetroot on puff pasty had good flavour, ham was from Vendee in western France, and salami was from a black pig from the Pyrenees that featured later in the menu. The first course was salt cod broth with coriander and garlic. The consommé had clean flavour and the coriander lifted the flavour nicely, but I found the texture of the salt cod a touch stringy (12/20). Better was lobster with asparagus and peas, the shellfish tender, the peas quite sweet and the local asparagus excellent, carefully cooked and having very good flavour (14/20). The main course was pork with spinach, a celeriac purée and a sauce of dried morel mushrooms. The meat was initially cooked in a water bath, left in brine for a day and then finished in a pan with butter. The pork was tender and had plenty of flavour, the morels were excellent but for me the star was the celeriac, very light and smooth in texture yet full of earthy taste (easily 14/20).
Dessert was chocolate fondant with coffee ice cream and a buckwheat tuile. The fondant had a suitably rich, liquid centre and the tuile was delicate, but the coffee ice cream (bought in) lacked flavour. The dish would have been better without it (13//20). Service was charming and the bill came to just €35 (£30) before tip, a bargain given the evident skill level in the kitchen. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might be around €50 (£43). This is just the kind of local neighbourhood restaurant that we all wish that we had but hardly anyone actually possesses. If you are in Nice then pop up to the hills above the city and try this simple but most enjoyable restaurant.