Our restaurant critic Perestrello Geller finds himself at the sea side (again) – Pergola restaurant
Great experiences in life are often all about the anticipation. The slow gentle build-up to a momentous finale. Good books, good films and good shows, all have this gentle progress towards a climax.
And so it is with the Pergola restaurant, in Calanque de Niolon. You can’t park in the Calanque and so you have to dump the car a couple of kilometres up the hillside. From there a set of steps lead down into the Calanque. Alternatively as I did, you can take the road, which winds sinuously down the rock face, offering titillating glimpses of the sparkling Med as it does so. The smell of pine, the waft of salt air, the drum beat of the sun, all stir the senses.
Classically one is supposed to descend into hell and ascend into heaven. God must have forgotten this small nuance when he created the Calanques. Enormous cacti sprout from rocks, tropical flowers bud in a riot of orange and pink. It’s the Garden of Eden in all but name. And the sea, it calls you ever onwards, down towards the port where the fishing boats rock at anchor and the Pergola restaurant awaits.
Through a stone arch and onto a terrace covered by an ancient vine sit 20 or so tables. The shade is heavy and deep. Gaze out from here, past the yachts and pleasure boats, to the other side of the bay, and you see Marseille. Glinting in the sun above the city is the golden dome of Notre Dame de La Garde.
Closer to the restaurant, children plunge into the sea water swimming pool otherwise known as the port. In the restaurant there’s a pleasant hubbub of voices, and clatter of plates. Wine is poured, grilled fish swiftly arrives at adjacent tables, and there’s an immediate sense of good fortune to have taken a pause from life to dine in such a place.
The menu is simple. Starters include battered fried small fish, fish soup, and bruschetta with basil and cured ham. The mains are also straight forward: grilled fish of the day and squid. The service is quick and attentive, the wine list fair. My companion and I chose a white from Cassis which was rich full, and warm yellow in colour like the setting sun.
The petite friture were excellent. Served with a garlic mayonnaise there was a pleasing crunch of bones with every bite. The main courses were perfect. Really fresh fish is always a delight. Squid without a hint of rubber in the texture, and the white flesh of a seabass still carrying the gentle salt perfume of the sea.
For dessert I chose a strawberry tiramisu. I didn’t know such a dish existed. Light fluffy, and impregnated with morsels of strawberry it was a delight. My three courses set my back €23 and the only thing I can really think to complain about is the walk back up the hill afterwards.