One of the best restaurants I discovered last year was a smart little restaurant on the Rue Sainte in Marseille serving up authentic French cuisine alongside an interesting menu of Asian-inspired dishes and, believe it or not, Scottish and British classics. This rather eclectic jumble of genres should not be taken as a sign of a confused identity or unnecessarily complicated menu. In fact, the daily changing menu of dishes at Le Carbone featured a balanced selection of clearly conceived and simply presented French food, prepared using locally sourced ingredients, with special touches of fusion which represent the rich and varied culinary knowledge of the restaurant proprietors.
From the street, Le Carbone didn't look like the welcoming, laid back bistro we were searching for on the last night of our winter trip to Marseille. We peeked through the window at the restaurant's neat modern lines, contemporary shades of charcoal and slate grey covering every surface, and gleaming angular glassware lined up on the faux-marble tables. Although at odds with the quick, casual dinner we were looking for, we warmed to the upmarket styling once inside; the hard lines softened by cosy, boudoir-style cushions and the friendly welcome from the English-speaking proprietor. We chose from the day's specials with a little help from the proprietor, who talked passionately about each dish, its origins and ingredients, and advised us on wine choices and cooking techniques.
An amuse bouche of carrot and coriander soup was the most refreshing, warming and creamy few sips to ever come from an espresso cup, the lively strips of fresh coriander kick starting our taste buds for the feast to follow. We were charmed and impressed by a homemade scotch egg starter, which we learned was inspired by the proprietor's 14 years spent in Edinburgh. Tightly packed, with an excellent pork to fine breadcrumbs ratio, it was declared the best scotch egg ever eaten by The Boy: high praise indeed from a no-nonsense foodie with Scottish roots.
My starter was equally impressive but a little more unusual. Having heard about the restaurant's reputation for adding a touch of Asian fusion to its cooking, I decided to try out the ultimate blend of classic French and inventive Asian with the nem de homard from the day's specials. Basically a lobster spring roll, it was the perfect interpretation of Chinese comfort food, minus the deep-fried grease, but with the luxury of white, meaty morsels of French lobster and a genius little bowl of bisque for dipping.
The Boy was further delighted when his turbot fillets arrived. Positively swimming in the buttery sorrel sauce and served on a bed of haricots, a certain variety of the meaty white beans called, we think, tarbais haling from the proprietor's home region in the south west of France, the dish was perfectly put together and tasted amazing. David Lebovitz has also fallen for the robust versatility of les haricots tarbais and has published a recipe worth checking out here.
Saving the best until last, I thoroughly enjoyed indulging my latest foodie obsession: confit de canard. Over the past year I've been compelled to order confit duck every time it appears on a menu. In south west France, once in a Carcassonne cassoulet and another at a Dordogne wedding; in Cambridge at a gastropub on a bed of trendy lentils and kale; and now from a haven of home-cooking in the heart of Marseille. I was pleased with my choice. The home confit duck was of a very high quality and the right side of rustic, from the top-notch succulent meat, rich jus, and simple sautéed potatoes, to the salty and fatty decadence of the seasoned skin. It was by far the best I've come across, although my past experiences had me craving a slightly more crackling, sticky finish to the duck leg.
Le Carbone is a great addition to the Marseille dining scene and guarantees not only a fantastic meal in swish yet friendly surroundings but an education in all things French and foodie. We loved the classic, effortless French cooking and surprising Scottish influences being brought to the table at Le Carbone and will definitely be making a return visit. Perhaps for the exciting Burns Night supper they have lined up later this month...
Find Le Carbone at:
22 Rue Sainte
Like on Facebook
Read more about visiting Marseille, our summer trip to Marseille, and reviews of Le Bouchon Provençal and Le Bistrot a Vin.
You might also like: Saint Valery, Paris, Sarlat (Dordogne).