Nîmes' gastronomy owes as much to Provence as to Languedoc. Spicy southern delights, such as aioli and rouille (a spicy mayonnaise of olive oil, garlic and chilli peppers), are as abundant in this city as cassoulet. Sample too the Costières de Nîmes wines from the pebbly vineyards to the south.

Haddock Café ( % 04 66 67 86 57; www.haddock-café .fr in French; 13 rue de l'Agau; daily special €8, menus €15-20, mains €10-14.50; S lunch & dinner Mon-Fri, 7pm-2am Sat) This lively place to eat, drink and, at least twice weekly, enjoy live music began life as a convent (the nuns may be making the occasional turn in their graves). It's a cheerful, welcoming venue with art exhibitions that change monthly. Its great selection of local wines, by the glass and bottle, also rotates regularly, and meals are especially good value.

Les Olivades ( % 04 66 21 71 78; 18 rue Jean Reboul; 3-course lunch menu €12, menu €22, mains around €12; S lunch & dinner Tue-Fri & dinner Sat) Les Olivades and the excellent wine shop with which it shares premises make an ideal marriage. Knowledgeable staff at the vinothèque can guide you through its unbeatable choice of local wines. To the rear is the intimate dining area with its arched ceiling, where Madame in the kitchen and her husband as maître d'hôtel will treat you royally. Their tempting dinner menu offers plenty of choice within each of its three courses. Begin, say, with their ravioles de brandade à la vinaigrette tiède, an original way of presenting the city's signature

dish, and finish with one of the finger-licking homemade desserts.

50; 10 rue Littré; mains €15-18; S lunch & dinner Tue-Sun)

You could just pop in for a glass of wine at this friendly spot, run by promising young chef Éric Vidal (see his impressive culinary credentials on the toilet wall, no less) and his partner, Caroline. And an excellent selection they have by both the glass and bottle. But you'd be missing a lot. Everything, bought fresh and daily from the food market just down the road, is listed on the blackboard that's moved from table to table. The fish is always fresh and never farmed (even the humble sardine is enhanced here: grilled, with its flesh still firm, its flavour delicate and topped off with Parmesan cheese). Eat in the attractively furnished interior or quiet, green rear courtyard.

Le 9 ( % 04 66 21 80 77; 9 rue de l'Étoile; lunch menus €15, mains €16-18; S lunch & dinner Mon-Sat & lunch Sun May-Sep, dinner Fri & Sat only Oct-Apr) Have a meal or simply drop in for a drink at this mildly eccentric place, tucked away behind high green doors through which carriages once passed. It's a real find - and finding it will take a minor effort since there's no menu posted and just a sign swinging outside. Eat in the vast, arched former stables, where two giant floral displays grace the long wooden bar, with its huge choice of whiskies and spirits, or in the leafy, vine-clad courtyard. Everything except the lunch menu is à la carte.

Le Bouchon et L'Assiette ( % 04 66 62 02 93; 5bis rue Sauve; lunch menus €17, other menus €27-45, mains €16-18; S lunch & dinner Thu-Mon, closed 1-15 Jan & 3 weeks Aug) Refined cuisine indeed. Dishes are attractively presented and described sotto voce as they're slipped before you. For dessert, if it features on the menu (it's a seasonal dish) go for the blanc manger, a smooth, creamy confection of white chocolate beneath a bed of stewed berries and worlds away from the synthetic blancmange of childhood parties. Service can be slow, so come with a thick book or a scintillating companion.

Le Jardin d'Hadrien (% 04 66 21 86 65; 11 rue de l'Enclos Rey; 2-/3-course lunch menus €15/19, menus €24-44, mains €19-22; S lunch & dinner Tue-Sat Jul & Aug, lunch & dinner Wed-Sat, lunch Sun & dinnerTue rest ofyr) In winter, dine by a fire beneath beams darkened by age. In summer, enjoy the interior patio, shaded by a giant yew tree. Year-round, savour the fine cuisine. Every Thursday, when it's live jazz with dinner, reservations are all but essential.

Au Plaisir des Halles ( % 04 66 36 01 02; 4 rue Littré; menus €21.50-44; S lunch & dinner Tue-Sat) Eat in the pleasingly contemporary dining room or on the flowery patio, protected by an awning from the midday sun. Just around the corner from the covered market, its ingredients are of the freshest, the crunchy breads are homemade and the lunchtime three-course menu (€21.50) is excellent value. Fish is the forte, with six species waiting to be grilled, while gourmet lovers of clawed shellfish can indulge in the autour du homard menu (€60) of lobster soup, ravioli of lobster-claw meat, lobster tail in a cep mushroom sauce, cheese and dessert. The photo portraits all around the walls are of winegrowers whose products feature on the restaurant's impressive list of Languedoc vintages.

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