In the small seaside town of Golfe-Juan, this family-run bistro and wine bar is a cherished local favourite. Run by Julien Rives, his wife Cristelle and their two daughters, Fanny and Margot, Le 61 Bar à Vin serves a small selection of great food and wine. The RI editor takes you inside, revealing her secret spot for the best burger.
It’s a glorious late-spring day with the warm sun glistening off bright white sailboats in the old port’s harbour to the right. To my left, billowing buckets of vivid flowers hang from street posts. After the long confinement, these often-overlooked features are something to cherish, just like a delicious meal enjoyed on the patio with happy passers-by enjoying a stroll in the fresh air.
The Coronavirus restrictions have been especially brutal to restaurants and to be able to return to one of my favourite spots is a blessing to both of us. After the last diners clear out, Chef Julien joins my table to tell me his story.
Being the son and grandson of restaurant owners, Julien has spent his life in the kitchen. He started working at 14-years-old at La Plage des Pirates in Antibes, which at the time was owned by his grandmother. Through his career, he made the rounds at the biggest restaurants across the Côte d’Azur and Monaco - as one does in this business - but six years ago, when he saw a little space available on Avenue des Frères Roustan, he knew it was time to open his own place. As with any family business, it was all-hands-on-deck, working day and night to transform an old shop into a little restaurant. Julien tears up thinking back on the work his family put in. “I’m so happy they gave me the support,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Today, the bistro has expanded twice, including new patio space in front of the port and his whole family works by his side: Cristelle works the dining room, getting to know each customer and always asking about their family. His daughter Fanny, who loves dessert and trained in patisserie, now makes all the desserts and Margot helps her mom in the dining room and runs their social media pages.
Le 61 has become a thriving local favourite (reservations are necessary during normal business operating) and it’s no wonder because the small menu is dense with delicious dishes made from quality ingredients, expertly prepared. The menu hasn’t changed much in the six years and he reveals that it’s not because he hasn’t wanted to change--it’s because his customers complain if they lose their favourite dish. So, he says with a chuckle, “we can’t change the menu!” But he can get away with varied daily specials.
This is the perfect opportunity to tell him that although I usually enjoy trying different dishes, I can’t bring myself to order anything other than his cheeseburger. It’s so good I crave it and want nothing else. What does he do to make it so delicious, so full of flavour without a ton of fancy ingredients? This question starts a good fifteen-minute conversation on food quality.
Julien explains that he uses strictly Charolais beef (ordered through the local butcher) but he also seasons the meat ahead. “I don’t understand when colleagues tell me they don’t season their meat because it takes extra time. That’s how you get the flavour!”
The soft, organic brioche buns come from a special local baker and he makes all his sauces in-house, including the mayonnaise and ketchup. “Everything we do here is done at the minute--we don’t do any prep. Even the tomatoes are cut for each burger at the time,” he tells me.
I must admit, I struggled whether to reveal my ‘secret’ spot for the best burger for a fear that it might not last. But seeing Julien’s pure conviction for quality against all odds, my fears of losing my burger obsession are quelled.
Another striking trait is Julien’s humility. He takes his ‘metier’ very seriously and just wants to serve good food for a fair price. For the quality and freshness, their prices are hard to beat. People tell him all the time that he could charge more, but he shrugs it off with a smile, saying: “What’s a few more euros? We are happy as we are.”
Whether you go for a charcuterie platter and wine (they have a small but excellent wine selection) or choose the chef’s favourite: the beef tartar (chopped to order); Cristelle’s favourite: the 61 Burger (a juicy steak burger with foie gras) or some of his Asian-inspired plates like the Japan Burger (seared tuna) or the Tartar Japonais (raw tuna with wasabi and ginger); or daily specials like roasted lamb or magret de canard (specials usually start at 19€) you will be sure to enjoy it.
For those with diet restrictions, Le 61 is an excellent choice for gluten-free, with a menu consisting predominantly of meat or fish and a vegetable, plus the bonus plate of socca strips when seated (dining in). For vegetarians, there is often a choice or two but this classic French bistro is not recommended for vegans.
Currently open for lunch and dinner from Tuesdays to Saturdays for takeaway and delivery. Despite the curfew, they deliver until 9 pm.
Le 61 Bar a Vin
61 avenue des Frères Roustan, Golfe-Juan
Tel: +33 (0)4 89 89 19 78
- Nicole Ruskell
*This article was adapted from our summer 2020 edition. If you would like to subscribe to Riviera Insider, click here.