From new hotspots to iconic institutions, Marseille’s restaurant scene teems with top tables. Learn where to have the most memorable meals with seasoned food writer Pierre Psaltis, who shares his picks of the best fine dining experiences in Marseille.
Restaurant critic for La Provence for 20 years and now head of Le Grand Pastis, food writer Pierre Psaltis is the go-to guy on where to eat in Marseille. From the mythical bouillabaisse (fish stew) to revamped aioli, each chef brings his own personal touch to each plate, for fine dining experiences in Marseille that are truly unforgettable.
Pierre Psaltis is head of ‘Le Grand Pastis’ Courtesy of Pierre Psaltis
AM par Alexandre Mazzia
Restaurant, African, Mediterranean, $$$
Courtesy of AM par Alexandre Mazzia
Take a trip into the magical mind of chef Alexandre Mazzia. “A meal at AM doesn’t compare to anything else,” asserts Psaltis. The basketball-star-turned-chef plays with smoke, spice and unique flavour combinations like eel and chocolate – an “explosion of creativity” infused with flavors from his childhood in Africa and the Mediterranean. “He uses a hundred ingredients in the same menu,” says Psaltis, using the Latin term “ordo ab chaos” to describe Mazzia’s knack for finding “order in the chaos”. With no menu, here diners experience each bite with wonder and without expectation. Tucked on a side street in the 8th arrondissement, AM has seating at the kitchen counter, in the minimalist dining room or at the newly added kitchen table – where a lucky pair gets to dine amidst this spectacular dinner theatre. Reserve far in advance, as Mazzia just earned his second Michelin star and tables are in high demand.
With a dining room that boasts the city’s best view of the Mediterranean, Le Petit Nice takes waterfront dining to a whole new level. “More than a restaurant, it is an experience of the sea,” shares Psaltis. Captained by chef Gérald Passedat, the visionary team transforms fish caught hours before by local fishermen into exhilarating plates. From blue-streaked girelles to the saffron red chapon, the menu is an A to Z of Mediterranean fish and seafood. Marseille’s only 3-Michelin-starred table is famous for its bouillabaisse – a multi-course celebration of the mythical dish. In spite of the expensive price tag, Le Petit Nice has a relaxed feel, lovingly created by the three generations of Passedats who have run the restaurant since 1917. This is laid-back luxe, Marseille style, with Le Petit Nice situated just above a beach of sunbathers and across from cliff-jumping teens.
Looking for a lovely table on the Vieux Port? Perched above the fish market with views of the Bonne Mère, Une Table Au Sud serves up a postcard view of Marseille. Yet, the restaurant is anything but classic, thanks to the contemporary cuisine of Ludovic Turac, the youngest chef to win a Michelin star in France in 2015. “He has the craziness of youth, but actually he’s quite wise,” explains Psaltis. Each dish bursts with creativity while being rooted in tradition. The signature aioli features squid-ink focaccia topped with cod brandade (salt cod and potatoes), ribbons of seasonal veggies, and garlicky mayo. Diners choose from three set menus that range in price and size. The Bonne Mer menu ends with gatnabour, an Armenian rice pudding that celebrates Turac’s heritage. His partner in life and love, Karine Turac highlights southern French winemakers and “breathes style into the wine list,” says Psaltis. If you want to savor Turac’s food in a more casual setting, order a gourmet panier (picnic basket) from the restaurant.
This intimate bistro is “contemporary Provence at its best,” says Psaltis. Young chef Mathieu Roche is on a first-name basis with farmers and local purveyors. A “hard worker who puts ingredients at the centre of everything”, according to Psaltis, the chef elevates each vegetable, fish, and meat to their most mouthwatering. Roche’s plating is a work of art that pairs well with the pops of colour in Ourea’s petite dining room. Camille Fromont, his sweetheart, sources biodynamic and natural wines that perfectly complement the locavore cuisine. In a relaxed setting, join lawyers from the nearby Palais de Justice for lunch à la carte or a set four-course menu at night. Travelling on your own? The tiny kitchen-side counter is perfect for solo diners.
Chart your course for Marseille’s finest meal with les pieds dans l’eau (your feet in the water) – the French phrase for waterfront dining. Thanks to its prime location on a long jetty, a meal at l’Épuisette feels like you’re dining at sea. The historic spot has been open for 80 years, with chef Guillaume Sourrieu at its helm for the past 20. When discussing the Michelin-starred chef’s seasonal cuisine, Psaltis describes how “he respects tradition while also creating something very personal and contemporary”. Sourrieu works with local fishermen based near the restaurant to source the freshest catch for his famous bouillabaisse and seafood-focused dishes. Don’t miss the lobster tagine – and save room for the exquisite desserts. The perfect place for celebrations, birthdays or holidays, try to book your table at L’Épuisette for lunch or a sunset dinner to make the most of the sublime view. Then take time to stroll into the picturesque Vallon des Auffes fishing village before or after your meal.
Born of a friendship forged while working together at l’Épuisette, Saisons is the delicious partnership of chef Julien Diaz and sommelier Guillaume Bonneaud. Set on a side street off the Place Castellane, the “super creative” Diaz cooks with “astonishing sensitivity,” says Psaltis. You can taste the Marseille-born chef’s love for the Mediterranean in his artfully plated dishes, which feature squid, urchin and sea fennel. Choose between the five-course “Initiation,” the seven-course “Imagination” (a selection of Saisons’ most popular dishes), or the affordable two- or three-course menu, a lunch-only steal for under €30 (£26.35). The understated dining room lets each plate stand out. Note that this Michelin-star restaurant is open for Monday lunch and closed on the weekends.
“If you stay at the Intercontinental, you must dine at least one night at Alcyone,” urges Psaltis. Housed in an 18th-century hospital, this one-Michelin-starred table is led by Lionel Levy. The chef is a key figure on Marseille’s fine dining scene. When he landed in the city 20 years ago, his bouillabaisse milkshake – the “incarnation of the comeback of Marseille cuisine,” says Psaltis – brought the public and journalists back to the city’s tables. At Alcyone, Levy is passionate about each guest having a delightful experience. He celebrates local producers and artisans, transforming the highest quality ingredients into beautiful dishes. The service is impeccable, a fitting match to the elegant dining room’s soaring ceilings and views of the Bonne Mère beaming from across the port.
This beloved pizzeria “deserves a Michelin star,” raves Psaltis, “because it’s a living museum.” Open since 1943 and located in the historic Le Panier neighbourhood, Chez Etienne has lasted decades and surpassed trends by serving Marseille’s most popular food, pizza, with familial gusto. In addition to pizza, you’ll find squid sautéed in garlic and parsley and cuts of beef deliciously charred in the wood-fired oven. Etienne’s son, Pascal, now runs the joint with as much amore as his late father. Perpetually packed with politicians, notable locals and other regulars, a trip to Chez Etienne is a truly local experience. Don’t forget to bring cash, and arrive early – the restaurant doesn’t take reservations.