My recent trip to Marseille ended with a rather bleak and grey Thursday. The blue skies, warming winter sun, and crowds of quayside strollers completely vanished by lunchtime and the cold drizzle started. We decided to head straight to our chosen restaurant for 12 o'clock on the dot and were glad we did. Le Bouchon Provençal, close to the Vieux Port, turned out to be the most popular lunch spot for business lunches, family get-togethers, and the office Christmas party on this particular Thursday afternoon. Despite the rush of Christmas lunch bookings, service was seamless, super friendly and the food was fantastic.
Le Bouchon Provençal sits on the Place aux Huiles, next to a row of little jazz bars, brunch cafes, and twee gift shops, looking like a very exclusive place with its ancient stone vaulted upper floor, fairy lights twinkling from every window, and red curtain separating diners from the entrance. Inside it is light, airy and all glossy wooden floors, tables and chairs, with handwritten boards announcing the day's specials. Downstairs is spacious and the perfect place to be "seen" through the shop-front style windows. A small staircase leads upstairs to the stone-walled dining room, an area seemingly booked for private parties and special guests only. Waiters, all young, male and French, whiz around the restaurant in immaculate shirt and tie on top, jeans below, and chat to regulars, shout orders to colleagues, and remain ever-attentive throughout.
Lunch menus start from about 16 euros for 2 courses from the daily specials, in addition to a well-priced à la carte menu of Mediterranean and Provençal dishes. We mixed it up a bit, taking our waiter's recommendations for part of our order and also delving into the Provençal specialities from the menu. We started with some gorgeous crisp pastry parcels of goat's cheese and dark pink parma ham, dotted with rich croutons and a sweet, Mediterranean dressing. The seasonal tart from the day's specials was a pretty dish of layered filo pastry, beef carpaccio and smoked aubergine, which proved to be a great combination.
The main courses were just as thoughtfully prepared and presented. My rabbit stew in a thick red wine sauce with gnocchi was substantial and full of flavour, the dense and rich gravy hiding practically a whole rabbit, its tender and soft meat dripping off the bones and complemented well by the hefty and herby gnocchi. The dish not only tasted fabulous but was cooked using all edible parts of the rabbit, something we should be doing more of in Britain. The typically French duck breast was the plat du jour, served with mashed potato and a part glaze, part plate smear of caramel sauce. It was less than half the size of the rabbit dish but still a satisfying and delicious lunch. In fact, we were so full we couldn't manage dessert, or even the offer of a complimentary digestif, and instead settled for a little banter with the waiter about his repertoire of excellent English niceties and a brisk walk around the old port before heading home to England and more food.
Le Bouchon Provençal
6, Place aux Huiles
Read more about visiting Marseille, our summer trip to Marseille, and reviews of Le Carbone and Le Bistrot a Vin. Read our recipes for One-Pot Rabbit in Red Wine and Rabbit Casserole with lemon and garlic.
You might also like to visit: Saint Valery, Paris, Sarlat (Dordogne).