This restaurant has a remarkable setting, sitting above a series of rocks not far from Marseilles harbour (le Vieux Port), looking out to the Mediterranean. Picture windows allow the sunlight and the sea breeze through to the dining room, while below you can see waves breaking on rocks used by a few adventurous sunbathers. This certainly has one of the most spectacular views of any restaurant in the world. The dining room itself is simple, with wooden floors and white tablecloths; no fancy distraction is needed with a view like this.
The menu choices are a five course tasting menu at EUR 135, a fourteen course version at EUR 200 or a la carte, where starters range from EUR 49 – EUR 89, mostly just over EUR 50, with main courses EUR 51 – EUR 95, with desserts around EUR 30 or so, and cheese at EUR 25. The emphasis is very much on seafood, which makes perfect sense given the proximity to the large fish market of Marseilles. The wine list ran over 34 pages and was entirely French, with little under EUR 50. Riesling Hugel was listed at EUR 64 for a wine that retails at around EUR 20, Didier Dagenau Pouilly Fume 2005 was EUR 115 for a wine with a retail price of around EUR 40, while Etienne Sauzet 2003 Batard Montrachet was EUR 380 for a wine which you can buy in the shops for around EUR 160.
Bread is a choice of rolls: either olive or country bread, and later a Parma ham and a crisp white “soufflé” bread appeared. The breads were very pleasant but not striking (17/20) offered without butter. A tray of nibbles arrived in a segmented white china box, a trio each of a Parmesan biscuit with sweet onion, salt cod brandade and a little leek with a tiny piece of red Spanish pepper. The biscuit was over-crumbly though the onion was pleasant, the leek tasted of a small piece of leek and little else, while I have tasted many better salt cod dishes than this (15/20). Not an inspiring start.
This was followed by a pair of oysters with courgette cream, celery coulis and fig coulis, none of which had much intensity of taste. Alongside this was a yellow coloured soup of white fennel with sardine carpaccio and “white tomatoes” with tomato liquid. The sardine tasted good but the tomato and fennel flavours were rather muted (16/20). A starter of crab with a melange of ten different peppers and some sautéed green vegetables was certainly pleasant and prettily presented, with good crab and reasonable quality vegetables, but having eaten some near-perfect vegetables in the previous few days these were not of the high standard that can be obtained in this area (15/20).
I had langouste, four pieces served with a bayleaf emulsion, pear and cucumber foam and cider granita. The crayfish meat itself was excellent and lightly steamed, but I found the accompanying foams to rather distract from the flavour of the crayfish, which needed little in the way of enhancement (17/20). Sea bass was served on a cold plate and, though correctly cooked, was lukewarm when it arrived at the table. It was served with a Provencal garnish of tomato, basil, fennel seeds and lemon zest, but this was swimming in a sea of olive oil (14/20). Much better was dentex (dentice if you are Italian), a somewhat rare and superb Mediterranean fish caught near here. I have had this fish before and it has a fine taste, a little like sea bass but distinctly different; here it had excellent taste and was cooked perfectly. For some reason it was decided to serve this with candied aubergine flavoured with vanilla, and crunchy rice, a combination that I did not feel worked at all, let alone with the fish. I will score this 18/20, but this is entirely due to the fish, which would have been better entirely on its own than with this “enhancement”.
Cheese is from three separate affineurs Robert Bedot from Cannes, Philippe Olivier and Herve Mons. The board was consequently groaning with cheeses, mostly in excellent condition. I enjoyed a local goat cheese, good Beaufort, Camembert and a Corsican ewe milk cheese with ash, though a couple of the cheeses appeared past their prime (18/20). A pre-dessert of cinnamon jelly served on a spoon was light, with a little slice of papaya and a cinnamon tuile (17/20). Dessert proper brought an excellent crystallised caramel with chocolate and a raspberry emulsion (18/20). I tried Granny Smith apple (presumably imported from New Zealand given the time of year) served in various ways, with an apple roll, a crisp, a sorbet and an apple powder (yes, the chef demonstrates here his modern technique), which mostly worked but again was far from a really great apple dessert (17/20). I would like to have told you about the coffee and petit fours but we never got that far.
We had arrived a little late due to two separate train problems, and had explained at the beginning of the meal that we needed to be away at a particular time to catch a plane. This still left nearly three hours to serve us thee courses and cheese, yet the dessert arrived less than five minutes before the appointed time when we had to leave to be sure of catching our flight. This was pretty poor in my view given that we had pre-ordered desserts and explained the time problem more than once, yet we still did not quite complete our meal despite some long gaps in the middle of the service. Other than this, service was fine.
Overall, I was quite disappointed. This is an area which has some of the best produce in the world, and indeed that could be seen in the seafood (though not the vegetables). Yet several dishes were so much less good than they could have been, either served lukewarm on cold plates (the sea bass), or with bizarre accompaniments that did not work well, or in one case (the sea bass again) the fish literally resting in a pool of oil. I found chef Gérald Passéda’s cooking a long way off three star level today (the restaurant received its third star on the 2008 guide) and yet the place charges very full three star prices. The bill with a single bottle of decent wine, three courses and cheese was EUR 252 per person.