So important is bouillabaisse to Marseille that the city even has its own charter mark for the dish. However, even the one I tried – which came with no such approval – proved one of the best fish meals that I have had in quite some time.
I’m sure la Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise would have rejected the dish I ordered on our second night in the city, but I don’t care.
In fairness, the restaurant didn’t pretend it was the genuine article. Instead, it was described as turbot à la façon bouillabaisse. I love turbot and you don’t see it on menus very often, so I didn’t hesitate.
Traditional bouillabaisse, I gather, is supposed to contain at least 4 fish, cooked in a stock of tomato and rascasse, a bony rockfish.
Although the exact fish can vary, what I understand to be very much frowned upon is the inclusion of potatoes. They are an addition in the rival version of nearby Toulon. Mine came without potatoes but with a generous helping of the traditional accompaniment, rouille, a saffron and paprika mayonnaise.
“It seemed to draw older gentlemen taking out their, erm, nieces for the evening. Many were sporting hairpieces as genuine as my bouillabaisse”
We had stumbled upon the restaurant quite by chance. Le Palais de la Major is part of a run of places to eat and drink on the redeveloped portside, in the shadows of the Cathédrale La Major.
Once we had been shown to a table, we noticed that it catered for a slightly showier crowd than we are used to. It also seemed to draw older gentlemen taking out their, erm, nieces for the evening. Many were sporting hairpieces as genuine as my bouillabaisse. And so did the young women.
After midnight, the restaurant became a nightclub, our waitress explained. We were long gone by then.
What I am left with is the taste of a tremendous fish dish – and a great memory. Thanks, Marseille!