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Where To Eat And Drink In Toulouse

We could all do with an injection of française now and then. The pastries, the wine, the general air of sophistication and arrogance - what's not to love about La Belle France? But Paris can be spenny, St Tropez overrun with the rich and fabulous (just making you feel poor and inferior), and a lot of the picture perfect places are out of the way and don't really work for a long weekend. Enter Toulouse, the answer to your mille feuille, cassoule and foie gras loving prayers...



The southern French city (it's less than 200km from the Spanish border) doesn't tend to hog the headlines, but it's completely walkable, 20 minutes from the airport, and considerably cheaper than Dublin for food, wine and accommodation, making it ideal for a few food-filled nights away. We'll leave other people to fill you in on the art, architecture and multiple museums - here's where to eat and drink.


Pastry


Antoine Fornara


If you go out of your way for one pastry palace in Toulouse, make it Antoine Fornara. It will ruin every other cake and pastry you eat for the foreseeable future, but it's worth it for the memories.



There's one in the north of the city and one in the south, so no excuses, and there's very few seats in each (and constant queues) so prepare to hang around ready to pounce if you want to sit in. You won't find better pastry in the city, the chocolate eclairs will make childhood dreams come true, and the mille feuille may evoke tears. A word of warning: in Toulouse what we know as 'pain au chocolat' they call 'chocolatines'. Ask for the latter if you want them to answer you.




Sandyan


Right in the centre of town, Yannick Delpech's Sandyan is a point of pilgrimage for visiting pastry fans. The gateaux and patisserie sit in suspended cases like precious jewels, and the struggle to decide what to order will be very real - we found more than one trip eased the pain. You'll find everything from classics like Paris Brest and Kouign Amann, to a pastry play on boiled eggs and soldiers, and you can sit upstairs looking out over town while you dig in to their creations.




Au Poisson Rose


Type in "Patisserie Toulouse" into Google maps and dots will appear on every corner. Not all are the bells and whistles type, most are smaller, less Instagrammable shops like Au Poussin Rose, doing what they do and doing it very well. Locals love this place because the owners makes many cakes and pastries in miniature form, meaning you get to try more. It's also crazy value for money - you'll probably feel guilty when you get the bill.




Lunch


Le Magret


On the first floor of the Victor Hugo market, with a wrap-around balcony overlooking the city's streets below, there's something resembling a French food court, but this is serious restaurant stuff. La Magret is where those in the know go for Tournedos Rossini, tête de veau and all the duck you can quack at (Magret means duck breast)



The French love a good set lunch and Le Magret offers it up for less than most main courses at home. The wines are local and all too easy to drink (especially in some lunchtime sunshine) and the service is friendly and helpful.



Plates of jamon come from the famous Charcutier Maison Garcia downstairs, and no set French lunch is complete without a classic dessert like Rum Baba or îles Flottantes. This is food that's in no way over-complicated, best served with friends and wine on a sunny day.




Le Panache


One of the younger, more vibrant kids on the Toulouse restaurant block, Le Panache opened in 2020, and their Instagram feed will draw you in as fast as their dish descriptions.



Expect less classic, more new wave dishes, like prawn crudo, monkfish with Japanese caviar, orange and Sabayon, or Caribbean fritters with corn and coconut. The wine list is full of delicious things to drink, but when we visited there was no physical wine list - instead you had to tell the server what you liked and she would make suggestions. Trés annoying.




Dinner


No. 5 Wine Bar


When wine lovers land in Toulouse they head straight for No. 5 Wine Bar, where some of the world's biggest hitters can be sampled from enomatic machines. Upstairs is casual with 'tapas', meat and cheese, whereas downstairs you can do a full tasting menu with wine pairings.



For us the beauty of a place like this is in being able to taste as many wines as possible, so grab a card, charge it up and get pressing those buttons. If that sounds like too much work, or you're feeling self-conscious about your wine knowledge, settle in and let the lovely, super passionate staff take care of it.



Tinned pâtés and foie gras are better than you'd imagine, while the white ham sprinkled with black pepper is so good you might want a second plate. This is the type of place where you can easily have three wines on the go and no one will look twice at you, and an opportunity to try some bottles that you might not even justify a glass of at full price.




Le Baluchon


On a sleepy little side street lies another newcomer to the Toulouse food scene - modern bistro Le Baluchon. Opened just before Covid, this one woman kitchen does a stellar job of serving up local produce with classic leans and modern twists, all calmly served by an owner who seems to enjoy being the host.



The wine list runs for pages, with prices that will have your eyes watering (with happy tears), and the menu swings from simple plates of anchovies to vol-au-vents with lamb neck and hazelnuts, and all the cheese in between. Bistronomie for 2022.




Michel Sarran


Recommended to us by Chapter One chef-patron Mickael Viljanen, Michel Sarran is your two-Michelin-starred experience, and frequently cited as the best restaurant in the city. It's got everything you would expect from cooking at this level (including a €165 tasting menu), and if it's good enough for Mickael... Note, they close Saturday and Sunday, so if flying in for the weekend make sure you get a booking on Friday.




Une Table à Deux


Another hot spot in town that shuts at the weekend, Une Table à Deux was awarded a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin guide for their "impressively curated and beautifully balanced dishes". Everything is fresh, seasonal and picked with produce front and centre, and a three-course lunch is incredible value at €25.




Hito


You won't find a website for Hito, just a poorly attended to Facebook page, but that hasn't stopped diners (and Michelin inspectors) descending on the French restaurant run by a Japanese chef. Dishes are creative French, with Asian touches, and they also close Saturday and Sunday, so it's midweek or nothing if you want to try that day's handwritten dishes up on the board.




Cartouches


Modern bistro Cartouches keeps things simple with set lunch and dinner menus, and frequently changing dishes. The room is bright and fresh, the wines are natural, and the staff are charming.



Le Genty Magre


More old-school than new-wave, Le Genty Magre has been around for more than 20 years, and is where you head for all the classics like duck terrine, pan-fried foie gras, and of course cassoulet. There's Champagne at under €10 a glass, and they sometimes have aligot with confit sausage...




L'Entrecote


You'll probably see the queues for L'Entrecote before you see the big yellow and black sign directing you to steak, frites and terrible glassware. €21 gets you the main attraction plus a salad to start, and if you're in a bind or just want something simple you could do a lot worse.




Maison du Cassoulet


If you find yourself walking around Toulouse on Sunday night, finding nothing but Asian and Indian restaurants open, and just wanting one more taste of France before you head home, head towards Maison du Cassoulet.



Clearly aimed more at tourists than locals, the prices are higher than other places, and the portions smaller, but almost as soon as their doors open at 19:00 it fills up. It's namesake is the best dish on the menu.




Drinks


Buvette


Buvette is a small wine bar serving tapas both inside and on the street, with a minimal wine and beer list written on a blackboard outside. Young locals come for natural Cinsault and empanadas, and it's a great pre-dinner stop if you need to kill some time in chilled out surroundings.




Au Père Louis


One of the oldest wine bars in Toulouse, there since 1889, Au Père Louis serves typical bistro food with a surprisingly good wine selection. Come for the character, stay for the Calvados.





Café Chouchou


If there's one thing Toulouse isn't short of it's bars. There are countless stops like Café Chouchou with good cocktails, Breton cider and free wifi, so no excuse for getting over-tired from all that walking.




Food Shops


Xavier


If you like cheese, you may faint when you see inside Xavier, beside the Victor Hugo Market. Just before opening a queue starts to form outside - take your place and wait to be taken inside by one of the cheese-adoring, utterly charming staff.



We thought we knew cheese, but there's so much here that's never graced a counter at Sheridan's, and we strongly recommend putting yourself solely in the hands of staff for recommendations. They'll let you taste anything, and you'll definitely leave with more than you planned, so plan your luggage accordingly.




Criollo


If it's chocolate you came here for, don't miss Criollo down the street. From glass cases containing slabs of handmade chocolate bars, to displays holding pick and mix truffles, bon bons and chocoate covered fruits and nuts, it's all too easy to overspend on the sweet stuff. You'll need some for walking around, for your hotel room, to take home, and any other excuses you can find to buy all the chocolate.




Cave Mr Pepin


When in Toulouse, drink all the (much cheaper) French wine, and Cave Mr Pepin near the centre has plenty to keep your thirst sated, from Grower Champagne, to the young guns of Burgundy, to rum and armagnac sold 'en vrac' from big glass vats. To an Irish restaurant-going wine lover the prices seem scandalously cheap, so go for the good stuff - when in France.




L'Envie


L'Envie is another wine shop you could easily lose an hour in, rooting through the racks and shelves, unearthing zero dosage Champagne, old Vouvray and rare Banyuls. Staff are happy to make recommendations, and there's likely to be a lot of wines here you've never seen before, so use them willingly.




Markets


Marché Victor Hugo


The beating heart of Toulouse, Marché Victor Hugo is the kind of central market Dubliners have been screaming for for years. This should be your first stop for food shopping, with fresh bread, cheese wheels to the ceiling, all the local fruits and vegetables you can think of, fresh fish, butcher counters, cured meats, wine - it's hard to think of anything you can't find here.



Sunday is a big day at the marché, with Toulousians gathering to meet friends and family around barrels and tables. One grabs the cheese, one the bread, one the wine, maybe some oysters - pick and mix eating and drinking is all part of the experience and no one seems to mind what you eat where. Don't miss Betty and Emilie for cheese, Maison Garcia for charcuterie, Bar Des Amis for drinks, and the seafood area at one end overflowing with oysters and fruits de mer platters, but it's hard to take a wrong turn in here.




Marché de Saint Aubin


If you happen to be in Toulouse on a Sunday, the Saint Aubin market should be right at the top of your agenda. It's a cacophony of smells, sounds, laughter and food as far as your eyes can see - whatever your French craving you'll find it here. The choice is almost overwhelming - bring your shopping bags with you - and you'll want to take home spices, terrines in tins, maybe some hand-carved spoons.



Come hungry as the eating options are endless, and head straight for the Rotisserie de l'Hers, who've been here for 30 years, and for whom rotisserie chicken is an art form. There are numerous different types of full-flavoured birds, distant relatives of what's on supermarket shelves here, as well as some pork. Ask for the best (organic and free-range) and make sure to get a side of the potatoes cooked in the chicken drippings as they turn. Pull it apart with your fingers - you will never forget the taste.




Where To Stay


We stayed at the Mercure Centre Compans, which was about a 15 minute walk to the centre of town, and right next to the city's Japanese Gardens. It's clean, modern and our room was spacious, and a bit of a bargain at €230 for three nights in a triple room.




How To Get There


We flew Ryanair and got flights for around €65 per person. The whole thing was considerably cheaper than staying in various three and four-star Irish hotels for three nights, which is either depressing or cheering depending on your point of view. Want to book a different city break? Check out four other flights with great food at the end of them here.

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