Marseilles, second impressions. Eating.

There’s nothing like giving one’s stomach a say in things. I’d heard that Marseilles is the place to go for food in France these days and we certainly didn’t eat badly.

Les Arcenaulx had an irresistible attraction for me, being a white tablecloth restaurant set in the surrounds of old books. It was hot in Marseilles, so we appreciated that the seasonal nature of the 3 course menu took that into account. Tempura zucchini flowers and ceviche kicked things off, next a main fish course saw the fish turned into Japanese rolls, but accompanied by roasted, room temperature vegetables; chocolate tart and cheese to finish. Excellent bread was served and a little appetiser, the nature of which has escaped me. I would not have used the term ‘tempura’, the flowers were battered, nice, but nothing like the lightness of tempura. I wish we’d had time to go back here for afternoon tea, but that will have to be another time. There are both antiquarian and new bookshops on the premises and as you can see from the website pictures, one of which I have copied below, it is a stylish place. Food was 38Eu/head.

Arcenaulx in Marseilles

Next day we tried one of the young set who are producing something more like a good quality Australian bistro feel. I cannot help thinking that the chef at L’Aromat may end up regretting his irreverent take on the dish that makes Marseilles famous: bouillabaisse. Served as a starter, you receive lined up on a plate, a shot glass of soup to be drunk through a straw, a neat little bouillabaisse burger and chickpea chips. I imagine the Marseilles establishment is not amused. It worked well, but will they ever be able to take it off the menu? The tourists, at any rate, would be outraged. I had zucchini flowers again, this time stuffed with rabbit. Completely different dish from the one the day before and super good. We both had the fish of the day done in a take on pistou soup, not bad, not great either – I don’t really see that pistou and fish go together. We both finished with one of those slightly runny in the middle warm chocolate puddings which was offered (and declined) with Nutella cream.

It might sound like this was a rather limited menu, but that was far from the case. For a 3 course menu there was a choice of 5 starters, 5 mains and 7 desserts. If I may preserve the French of the occasion, we had:

  • Fleurs de courgette farcies à l’effiloché de lapin confit à l’huile d’olive, jus émulsionné et râpé de truffes d’été
  • Hamburger de bouillabaisse,ses frites en panisse, soupe de poissons en verrine
  • La pêche du jour gratinée au basilic, compression d’une soupe au pistou, cigare à la vieille mimolette x 2
  • Moelleux tiède chocolat au cœur coulant, chantilly Nutella et crème glacée à la vanille x 2
  • Bread was excellent, as was the appetiser, again its nature escapes me. This was another place I’d like to visit again.Day three was crunch day. Proper bouillabaisse or not? This is a dish that started off life as a way for poor people to utilise fish scraps, think the Marseilles equivalent of Americans on foodstamps. These days it is utterly gentrified. One can get cheap versions, but with the price of fish no longer being cheap and the filthy surrounds of the port area, I didn’t want to eat this – or anything else – without going upmarket. The long and the short of it is that you can pay anywhere from about 20EU to 100EU for a bowl of fish soup in this town.

    We decided on Fonfon, one of those typically recommended and it was easy to see why. Nice water setting, casually dressed staff who nonetheless were informative and helpful, and impeccable seafood. The fish to be used in the bouillabaisse was brought out on a platter and named. This dish consisted of the stock served with aoili and rouille. After a while the fish – now scrupulously deboned – and potatoes were brought out to be added to the soup as you pleased. At the same time diligent staff topped up your bowl with more soup. 50EU for a bowl of soup? Worth every cent! I wasn’t up to something so large, despite having taken a 2 hour walk to get to the restaurant, one hour of which was getting lost. I can’t see my dish on the menu, but a really lovely piece of fish which was supposedly done in some sort of Thai way. If so, the Thai nature of it was so discreetly done that I failed to notice it. Delicate and exactly what I needed. I did not like the bread, but it had olives in it so I wouldn’t. When I go back to Marseilles, this is the place I’ll choose for my boillabaisse.

    I’d read that Le Glacier du Roi was the place to go to for icecream in Marseilles. It was good, but as to whether it’s the best, clearly more research is needed.

    Near there is Cup of Tea. A good selection of teas. We had a piece of quiche too, accompanied by a salad so dismal that the best I can say about it is that at least it didn’t have grated carrot and sweetcorn with it, being merely bad lettuce and bad tomato. The quiche itself was okay. I’d go back for the tea.

    Did somebody say ‘When in Marseilles do as the Romans do’? It’s a long story, but we went to an Italian restaurant La Cantine. We shouldn’t have done that.

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