4 Ave Docteur Gerard Montus
Carry le Rouet
Tel: 04 42 44 58 63
Menus from €35
Having a house in Provence seems to make one as irresistible as a glamour model to a professional footballer. Every summer it’s the same, before I can splutter out the excuses, the flights are booked, and a month or so later, there they are, erstwhile friends, acquaintances and people, who if I am honest I hardly recognise at all, basting in the sunshine. I swear I can see steam rise from the swimming pool when they dive in. They breakfast at midday, lunch at 4 and eat supper at 10, without a thought for the routine of their host. Some even have the affront to request lifts to and from the airport and, making matters worse, they usually fly to Marseille rather than the infinitely more convenient Avignon.
Like Peter at the gates of heaven I divide these wandering car-less souls into two groups – the righteous and the damned. I should explain further. The most popular flight arrives at Marseille Marignane airport at just before midday and when picking up guests there are two options for lunch. The first, the Courtepaille (translated this means the short straw!) is reserved for those who I have absolutely no desire to see and who I am quite convinced won’t have the common courtesy to pick up the bill. In other words the damned.
It’s a chain restaurant which promises precious little. Identical tables and chairs throughout the 200 hundred or so in the country, hideous piped music and a free side salad with every meal. Located in an industrial estate next to the airport, with a garden next to a flyover, my unwanted visitors are quickly disabused of the notion that the south of France is all olive trees and lavender.
The experience is always the same. As my visitors enter I can see their culinary expectations hovering somewhere between McDonalds and Pizza Hut. A pichet of water arrives, the menus are handed out and side salads are plonked down before we have even ordered. The food is served as rapidly as Usain Bolt runs. Then something strange happens – a minor miracle if you like. I’m not talking crying Madonnas, or anything of that ilk, it’s just that the steaks and the confit de canard are surprisingly excellent. The meat of the confit falls pleasingly onto the fork, the steaks are fat free and tender, and the chips nearly up to McDonalds standard. Everybody is happy, even me, which is surprising since I know I will be picking up the bill. “Delighted to have you,” I beam as I finish the last drops of a decent Cabernet. The all round satisfaction is such, that from now on unwanted visitors will instead be treated to the self service café in the airport.
My other airport restaurant, Le Madrigal is reserved for the second elite category of guests – divine souls. The restaurant is tucked away on the cliffs above Carry Le Rouet, a twenty minute drive from Marseille Marignane. There’s a car park filled with rows of Porsches, and rather than the sound of the flyover, there’s the soothing hush of sea on sand. Inside Le Madrigal new and old money clash. There’s plenty of bling – short skirts and large sunglasses (according to the Livre D’Or Le Madrigal is popular with the Olympic Marseille football team) but there’s also tables full of sedate and sated locals.
A word of warning though – don’t visit on a rainy day because Le Madrigal is all about the terrace – vertiginous, shaded by ancient pines, the secret ingredient in every dish served is the majesty of the view, the emerald sea, the port with its livery of sails and riverside cafes, and the salt spray washing across the bay.
Here, I must emphasise that I am not a terrace virgin, drooling the moment the sea hitches up her skirt, but more a Warren Beatty of the restaurant world. I’ve been around the block and eaten at them all – the Chevre D’Or in Eze where I found it hard to concentrate on anything apart from the price of the mixed tomato salad – €65, delicious but we are not talking Kobe beef here, the Colombe D’Or in St Paul de Vence, immaculate fleshy smoked salmon but the only view is the diamonds hanging from diners’ ears like Christmas decorations. I know my terraces and Le Madrigal has one of the best.
They could even courier me the plat du jour from the Courtepaille and I would still eat there.
Of course the management would never dream of doing so. Instead there is a classic French menu with the odd hint of invention, cleverly designed to complement rather than outshine the simple pleasure of spending an hour or so on such a magnificent terrace. The service is unobtrusive, slick, polite, I swear the waiters are told never to position themselves between a client and the sea. On my last visit I was dining with a former lover and so we ordered tactile sharing food – local oysters, a trio of scallops presented in the shells of sea urchins, lobster with ink blackened tagliatelli and a caramelised pear on a bed of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.
Erotic sensuous food with which to rekindle and affair. Each dish was immaculate. The oyster fleshy and moreish, the scallops firm and tender to the bite, an orgy of knives forks and spoons crossed the table as we teased each other with lobster and dripped enticing trails of caramel across the bridal-white tablecloth. The atmosphere was such that towards the end of the meal I thought I’d captured her heart once again. Her nut brown eyes gazed across at me, she sighed and a single tear drop fell across her cherubic cheek. If only it were true, and she wanted me back. I reached towards her and clasped her hand.
“What is it?”
She smiled and wiped the mascara from her face.
“Nothing, nothing at all.”
“Go on,” I pressed.
“It’s just the view, it’s so unspeakable beautiful, almost heavenly.”