Bouillabaisse à Marseille

Our year in France ends with one last bouillabaisse. For lovers of fish, especially fish delicately poached in a full-bodied marseillais fish stock, I can’t think of a better way to end this journey. Paired with a sunset view over the Med and a chilled local Cassis wine it is one of those definitive French experiences.

We first experienced the traditional version of this dish two years ago at le Miramar, also in Marseille, when we were on a scouting trip to check out the region.  It was amazing, unlike any fish soup we had ever tasted, the depth of flavors unparalleled. (Click here for more on le Miramar.)This time we tried a more contemporary preparation at Peron, recommended to us by the folks at the Sofitel Hotel just down the street from the restaurant.

Peron’s terrace dining area overlooking the Med is comfortably casual yet appropriately elegant – wooden tables and chairs, no tablecloths, servers dressed in Marseillaise navy and white striped knit tops. Nothing to compete with the splendor of the Med that runs the length of the terrace. Windows and the overhead covering can be opened or closed to adjust to the weather.

Ordering just the bouillabaisse, we were first served a tarama (fish roe spread) served with blini (small pancake) followed by a brandade (salt cod spread) and tapenade (olive spread) layered in a small glass and eaten with a spoon. All rich and flavorful and the tarama and brandade suitably fishy. Portions were just enough to wake up the taste buds without over filling your belly before the main event.

The bouillabaisse presentation is unpretentious and elegant – the fish artfully arrange in the golden broth laced with saffron accompanied by a few potatoes. Simply stunning, glowing in the late evening light. The fish was perfectly cooked and the stock flavorful without being overly salty. The obligatory garlicy aioli (mayonnaise) and croutons are served on the side.

For dessert we tasted the lemon tart. Layers of tart lemon delight served on a short, buttery crust.

Deciding between le Miramar ($69) and Peron ($55)?

Miramar, located on the old port, has a more traditional white tablecloth atmosphere and serves the bouillabaisse with great pomp and circumstance. The cooked fish is first presented for inspection before you are served the soup in two courses, first just the broth and the second the broth with the fish and other crustaceans. Peron, set on the Med just off the old port, is more casual but has spectacular sea views. While the bouillabaisse at Peron is just as good if not better than at le Miramar, the service and presentation of the former lacks the drama of the later.

July 1, 2013

For links to all the posts in this series see the South of France page.