Restaurant Michel

6 Rue des Catalans, Marseille, 13007, France

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This Marseilles institution is right by the seafront of Marseilles in a parade of shops, facing across the road that skirts the harbour side. The restaurant has been running since 1946, with the dining room having a display of photos of celebrities that have eaten here, just above a display of the raw fish that are used in the signature bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse is a Marseilles specialty that was originally made by fisherman who made a stew of the local bony rockfish that they were unable to sell to restaurants. 

It was a little disconcerting that there was a whiff of fishiness from this display. If you walk into a fishmonger and can actually smell more than the barest hint of fishiness then it suggests the fish has not been properly iced. The bouillabaisse itself is priced at €80 (£69) per person, but there were a few starters and some basic desserts on offer too. The fish used today included red rascasses, weaver fish and gurnard. 

Fried squid was quite good, the pieces of squid fairly tender and garnished with a little parsley, offered with a generous slice of lemon. This was simple but enjoyable (13/20). The main event was the bouillabaisse, with a soup plate first filled with stock flavoured with saffron and fennel, and the cooked pieces of fish then presented on a plate for you to dip in the stock as you wish, along with bread and croutons with garlic mayonnaise and a strongly flavoured rouille (which is essentially an aioli, itself is an emulsion of garlic and olive oil, spiced up with cayenne pepper). The fish stock certainly had quite good flavour, the, fish pleasant and the rouille having a powerful punch of garlic (14/20). 

My friends tried a couple of desserts, a decent blackcurrant sorbet and a rather grim chocolate cake that I really hope was bought in from a low-grade supermarket, as you certainly wouldn’t want to be pastry chef proudly showing this off as your own creation. Service was actually pretty offhand bordering on grumpy. Leaving the used cutlery from the starter on the table rather than replacing it with clean cutlery does not really seem acceptable to me outside of a student dinner party. The bill came to €80 (£69) per person with just water to drink. If you had three courses and modest wine then a typical cost per person might be around €125 (£108). Objectively the bouillabaisse was pretty good, and the fried squid was also fine, but this is not exactly cheap. An €80 euro course in a high-end restaurant involving luxury ingredients and elaborate preparation is one thing. A stew using inexpensive fish and some garlic at €80 feels pretty steep. By comparison, a main course using wild sea bass at The Ritz, with elaborate garnishes and sauce currently costs £60 (€69). For another comparison, a fish soup using red mullet at The Cross at Kenilworth that I ate just weeks ago was far superior to the fish soup here, yet was priced at less than half this one. The borderline hostile service at Michel did not help endear the place to me either. 


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