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La Gaudinade: à l'écoute

If you follow the main road of old town Mougins on its gentle upward curve from Gabriël Sterk's bust of Picasso on the Place des Patriotes, you will soon come to find yourself outside La Gaudinade on Rue de l'Eglise. 

Sea bass with sauce vierge © D.R.The restaurant's terrace, which faces the mairie, is slightly elevated from street level so is the perfect people-watching platform on sunny days. When we visit in May, however, our thoughts are firmly on the food and our attention held by charming restaurateurs Thierry and Maria de Fátima Caidominici. The couple lived in Maria's native Portugal for 25 years - their children grew up there and both still have a clear affection for the country - before moving back to the south of France in 2005.

Prior to buying the restaurant five years ago this July, La Gaudinade was known as the Edmond and was a place popular with the international expat community. Today that clientele remains: "At least 60% of our clients are foreigners," says Maria. 

The husband and wife team runs the restaurant with professionalism and passion, but prior to 2013, had virtually no experience in the restaurant business. 
"Blame my mother," laughs Thierry. Having grown up in nearby Pégomas eating good food made with quality ingredients, he says he was dissatisfied with many of the restaurants in the area and decided that he could 'do better'. 

"Nothing comes out of the kitchen that I haven't personally approved," he says before joking that guests will never ever find cinnamon in his dishes... He hates it. 
"We receive fresh produce every morning from our suppliers - such as our fruit and vegetables from a farm in Castellaras - so our suggestions change almost daily. I like to adapt the menu often too, but if there's something our regulars really love, I'm à l'écoute!" 

The décor inside the restaurant © D.R.

Proud as he is of La Gaudinade's 'honest' cuisine and chef (who knew the couple from Portugal), Thierry freely admits that his aspirations for the restaurant are modest: "There's no pretention here. We're not aiming for Michelin stars. Our style is méridional - of the south - but we don't lay claims to any other labels." The name of the restaurant is equally tied to the region he explains: "Gaudinade is an old Provençal word for a party, a feast... One would say: On a fait une sacrée gaudinade!"

The carte is comfortably varied, with a range of seafood and meat dishes. Starters begin at €14 and mains are typically €18 to €24. We opt for the €31 menu: tender asparagus with a perfectly poached egg and truffle followed by sea bass with a wonderfully Mediterranean sauce vierge of herbs, olive oil, capers, lemon and tomato. Dessert is a generous lemon crumble, but Thierry can't help himself from offering us a taste of pastéis de nata, a light pastry tart that is traditionally eaten and enjoyed in Lisbon. 

"We're not trying to be the best," he says, "but in a town like Mougins that is well-known for its gastronomy, we have to be good!"