Festival Food Face-Off: A Guide to Cannes' Doner Kebabs and Lemon Tarts

Cannes Film Festival - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Cannes Film Festival - Getty - H 2016

Welcome to The Hollywood Reporter's Cannes Film Festival Food Face-Off, which will be updated with the latest taste testings throughout the festival, including doner kebabs, souffles and steak tartare.

The Dish: Doner Kebabs

The streets surrounding Cannes’ train station are a locus for the city’s doner kebab shops, vertical rotisseries out front advertising their glistening, spinning meat like barber’s poles. Execution varies, but they all come stuffed with grilled lamb shavings, lettuce, onions and frites.

This is where devout local teens, budget-minded young festivalgoers and stomach-lining midnight revelers warding off hangovers collide. Be sure to ask for extra napkins — a lot of them.

Aux Delices Armeniens
(6 Place Gambetta, 5.5 euros)
The doners here are properly constructed, neither too tight nor too loose, and include a slew of sauces — although you should really just order the blanche yogurt option with garlic and herbs, or else the spicy red harissa. (Or, perhaps, both.)

(13?? rue Chabaud, 6.5 euros)
Directly across a square from Aux Delices Armeniens is Sylane, whose lavash game is the strongest of the bunch, suavely folded and adeptly charred. Its composition is tight, arguably the best for on-the-go eating, although saucing can be stingy.

(22 rue Jean Jaures, 7 euros)
Right across from the train station, this shop is strong on its meat (flavorful!), strong on its sauces (plentiful!) and strong on its frites (crispy!). But there’s no indoor seating — unhelpful during this rainy fest. Worse, the lettuce was wilted and brownish.

(12?? rue Jean Jaures, 6 euros)
These are superlative kebabs in every sense, from the crispness of the meat to the freshness of the produce. But be prepared for an idiosyncratic wrapping style, which front-loads a spray of unfastened frites and minimal (and no choice) saucing.

The Dish: Steak Tartare

Raw beef, minced or chopped, strewn with onions and capers and dressed in a tartar sauce — what’s not to love? Well, the ever-present, if in all likelihood outside chance of contracting E. coli, Salmonella or Toxoplasma gondii.

But enough of the party-pooping. Cannes is about risk-taking, your tummy most certainly included. So embrace these mounds of flesh, which locally, unlike in the U.S., only infrequently materialize in tandem at the table with raw egg yolk, too.

(28 rue du Commandant Andre, 21 euros)
This strenuously French-looking, several-year-old bistro just off the Croisette is all worn and patinated surfaces attuned to look like it has been around since the New Wave first fomented. It serves up a pleasant and competent, if entirely dull rendition of the dish (could someone spare some seasoning?), accompanied by wimpy fries and an undistinguished salad. Inacceptable!

La Cave
(151 rue d’Antibes, 19.5 euros)
Situated several blocks north of the Hotel Martinez, near the boulevard General Vautrin (aka the edge of the festival realm’s crescent-shaped Green Zone), this restaurant finds a tartare outshined by its complements, the best-dressed greens of the bunch and faultlessly crispy potatoes. Alas, the tartare itself is overly sauced, its components lacking any sense at all of individuation.

La Meissouniere
(15 rue du Vingt-Quatre Aout, 15 euros)
The clear contest winner is steps from Cannes’ train station. While the proffered toast points, horseradish, fresh-baked bread and boiled potatoes are each on point (the salad admittedly is a bit too balsamic-besotted), they’re all beside it. The addictive main event is bright and lemony, including bits of basil, carrots, red onion and a loose halo of sprouts on top. It cuts through itself.

The Dish: Souffles

The egg-based dish, originated in the 18th century by French haute cuisine founder Marie Antoine Careme, is not as frequent a presence across Cannes’ dessert menus as profiteroles, iles flottantes and cremes brulees. But at this brisk, windy and at times showery fest, its breathy, puffy heat is worth pursuing.

(5 rue la Fontaine, 10 euros)
Pure drama, this classic souffle infused with a subtle hint of orange-flavored Grand Marnier is served in a hushed dining room just north of the Grand Hotel — wisely not (as so often happens) at the moment of scalding, but somewhat after — with the slightly crumpled look of a chef’s toque, imploding upon contact just as you’d hope it would. Miniature madeleines accompany. It’s a fitting gesture, since the total takeaway is downright Proustian.

Le Mesclun
(16 rue Saint Antoine, 19 euros)
OK, so it sounds like blasphemy: a deconstructed, postmodern "crepe souffle a l’orange," with no moment of collapse. (Where’s the fun?) And the visual result at this super-pricey Suquet restaurant is in practice far less appealing, a pooling of caramelized juices and an awkwardly butterflied assemblage. But damn does this more enterprising idea taste good — soft and sweet without being cloying, its sprinkling of candied peels providing just the right acidic contrast.

The Dish: Lemon Tarts

The sun’s finally out and the weather’s warmed up after a rainy, windy festival start. It’s time to find some shade and order one of those beautiful-day dessert specialties: an indigenous South of France tarte citron meringue.

Pause Cafe
(39 rue Hoche, 5.80 euros)
This stylish little spot along a walk-street near the train station is a certain contemporary American ideal of Gaul through a Pinterest looking glass (think exposed Edison bulbs). The meringue plays the part, toasted and swirled to please. But this ultimately is a paint-by-numbers tarte, clearly prepared much earlier in the day, its components suffering from a lack of textural distinction as a result.

Au Poisson Grille
(8 Quai Saint-Pierre, 9 euros)
Along the harbor, with a view of the casino and the Palais and the hills beyond it, lies a row of tourist-oriented joints with nightly chalkboard specials, desserts included. Some are better than others. Here, the super-soft meringue, dusted with a powdering of sugar, is buoyant and subtle, which along with the softer crust and the mellow citrus custard combine for a quiet, unshowy tarte citron.

Carlton Restaurant
(58 boulevard de la Croisette, 18 euros)
Don’t you just hate it when the most expensive version of the thing is, indeed, qualitatively by far the best thing after all? It’s unsatisfyingly obvious: better ingredients, far more labor involved. Yet a tarte citron is by definition an indulgence, and this one — just-right crumbling, delicious meringue drops, a freshly plucked mint sprig — delivered with an expansive view of the sea — is perfection.