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16 cours Massena, Antibes
Food Lover’s Atlas
I’m not sure why this Riviera restaurant is named after an ethnic group from southwestern Congo. But I am confident that you won’t be disappointed if you pay Yaka a visit.
Though it’s in the Vieux Antibes, Yaka is hidden away from the Old Town’s tourist traps – something that its cheerful local clientele proves. Part of its appeal is the sleek contemporary red and black décor and intimate ambiance, carefully mixed with beautifully crafted glassware and topped off with a slight Asian twist.
The Saveurs du Monde (flavours of the world) menu reads like a food lover’s atlas with dishes originating from every corner of the globe, offering a mouth-watering voyage of tastes and flavours like some culinary Phileas Fogg. The prices are extremely reasonable with an €18 three-course menu and the choices so varied that you should find something for everyone in your group.
In the spirit of the international theme, there is a flag to indicate the dishes’ origins. France, Spain, Thailand, Morroco, China, India, Argentina, Japan and Martinque are all represented. There are a couple of Union Jacks next to some classic English dishes for those wanting a taste of home away from home.
My favourite starter is the salade de brick, named after the paper-thin, crêpe-like pastry used in North Africa. This dish consists of wonderfully crisp parcels, one filled with spiced chicken, the other with feta, both served on a fresh green salad accompanied by a homemade tsatziki.
For those who want to stay traditionally French, I’d recommend the carré d’agneau with an orange crust. The lamb is perfectly roasted to fall off the bone, and the orange gives this Provençal dish a surprising tangy lift.
If you prefer to travel further afield, then try a Southeast Asian dish of skewered tender chicken flavoured with Asian spices in a blanket of delicately spiced satay sauce. For those who share my heat-seeking palate, my only disappointment with this dish is that it could do with a little more chilli. You could try asking in advance when you order for a little extra kick. I find that the French generally prefer subtle spicing.
Dessert choices couldn’t be more varied. Do you try creamy chocolate litchis with Japanese sake or good old British apple pie? Or how about an exotic mango cappuccino with a light kiwi sauce from Martinique? My favourite is the cutely named banana soup – velouté de banana au miel et Grand Marnier, a chocolatey purée of banana and honey with a hint of orange provided by the Grand Marnier.
The staff are also very friendly here and happy to give advice on the wine and dishes offered. I like to choose a Château Roquefeuille rosé when dining here, because with everyone ordering such varied dishes, it tends to complement most of our choices better than a heavy red or crisp white.
So for a gastronomic vacation with something to satisfy everyone, I would recommend you head here. And if anyone knows why it’s called Yaka, please let me know.
Simon is right about French cooking being subtly spiced. Traditional French cuisine draws mainly on salt, pepper and nutmeg, with the occasional bouquet garni (a herb bundle consisting of a leek leaf, parsley, celery leaves, a sprig of thyme and a bay leaf) thrown in to impart a subtle flavour to stewed dishes. On the Riviera, every cook keeps a bunch of fresh herbs in the kitchen – usually thyme, rosemary and bay leaves – which in this hot climate dry within a few days of being picked (I keep mine for a few weeks, then replace them with fresh herbs from the market). Garlic is of course ever-present, appearing notably in aïoli, the potent garlic mayonnaise served with cod and vegetables or fish soup (for which it’s also spiced up with paprika, saffron and chilli pepper). If you’re craving something spicier after a few days on the Côte d’Azur, you might try the newly opened Indian café Shiva Snack on rue Centrale in the Nice Old Town, which offers a delicious thali platter for a bargain €8.90 plus kebabs made with naan bread (my favourites are the chicken tikka and the filling vegetarian version). Chamlika on rue Sade in Antibes also has a good reputation.