In Marseille, chef Gérald Passedat is on a roll as the most influential chef in France’s second largest city. Following the recent stylish renovation of Le Petit Nice, his three-Michelin-star table overlooking the Mediterranean, and the opening of four different restaurants at the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations), Passedat’s latest project is Albertine, a contemporary southern French bistro named in honour of his mother.
The restaurant is located in the Docks, Marseille’s equivalent of London’s docklands, except that in Marseille they’ve decided to preserve the handsome stone warehouses that Emperor Napoleon III had built along the port basin as part of his ambitions to make the city a maritime rival of London and Liverpool, Antwerp and Hamburg. Today, these buildings are the hub of an increasingly popular seaside district and house shops, offices and restaurants.
Designers Thierry Lombardi and Pascale Bartoli of the Marseille-based firm Architecture 54 gave the high-ceilinged dining room with exposed white-painted pipes and ducts a soothing, vaguely 1960s Scandinavian look with sea-green carpeting, wine displayed in open teak shelves and Danish modern chairs at tables dressed in white napery. Meeting a friend for lunch, an ex-Parisian who now says that nothing in the world could persuade her to return north again as she’s becoming accustomed to the pleasures of Marseille – “Regular sunshine, the sea, a wonderful culture… Oh, and great food!” – we began with a trio of Mediterranean appetisers.
Acting chef Eric Maillet demonstrated that he’d learned Passedat’s passion for the cuisines of the Mediterranean well while working with him at Le Petit Nice with a light but flavourful purée of chickpea flour garnished with poutargue, crab beignets spiked with passion fruit, and an oyster in an olive-oil flecked bouillon of leeks – and this theme of an exalted cuisine of the sun continued throughout our excellent meal.
My starter of shellfish in a seawater gelée with a purée of sea fennel was a succulent and very imaginative celebration of the Mediterranean littoral, while my friend’s baby squid – totènes in local parlance – were grilled and garnished with shaved cauliflower, matcha, and a spinach jus.
Main courses were similarly inventive and technically impeccable, including grey mullet napped with a carbonara sauce and Simmental beef with seaweed-and-citrus butter and pommes soufflées (slices of potato that had turned into crunchy pillows during deep frying). Desserts were light and refreshing, including légèreté glacée à la fraise, and a kiwi and cucumber soup with yoghurt sorbet, fennel fronds, lime zest and meringue.
Albertine is not only an excellent restaurant, but also a good choice for anyone who wants to discover Passedat’s cooking at more accessible prices than those found at Le Petit Nice.
Albertine: Les Docks Village, rue des Docks Entrée D, 13002 Marseille. [email protected] Tel: +33 04 91 35 75 15. Lunch formula, €25 in 25 minutes; Lunch prix-fixe menus, 2 courses €49, 3 courses €59; Dinner menus, 3 courses €59, Carte blanche €79. www.passedat.fr
From France Today magazine