Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fonfon, Marseille

I had been thinking that I should go to Marseille and eat a bouillabaisse or bourride in one of the restaurants known for serving these regional specialties. While I enjoyed the bouillabaisse I ate in Cassis and elsewhere, I didn't think they were as good as I expected.

My knowledge of Marseille up to this time was the Marseille Provence Airport also known as Marseille-Marignane Airport where we generally arrive and depart, nearby Vitrolles where IKEA is located (we furnished much of our house there), and a quick trip to the Vieux Port area to do banking at Barclays Bank.

My father lived in Marseille for a time when he was growing up, my cousin Josiane lives there and my cousins Ginette and Annick become almost lyrical when speaking of Marseille. So I thought I should really go visit, take some pictures and eat a nice lunch; a good lunch always being essential for me.

So I did some research before leaving for France two weeks ago and I found out that one of the best restaurants for "typique", typical bouillabaisse and bourride dishes is Fonfon. By the time my 3 suitcases came around on the conveyor belt, I picked up my rental car and was ready to leave the Marseille Provence Airport, it was after 11 am, the sun was shining and I was getting hungry.

It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive from Marseille Provence Airport to our house in Sablet and I had been told it would take about 30 minutes to drive to Fonfon restaurant in Marseille. Since I was not sure when it would be sunny again and I was not too far away, I decided to go directly to Fonfon for lunch.

I headed to Marseille and followed the signs to the Vieux Port. When I got there, I found my way to Corniche du President-John-Fitzgerald-Kennedy and headed towards Vallon des Auffes. The Corniche runs for nearly 5 km, almost entirely along the Mediterranean Sea.

Driving along the Corniche, I spotted the Monument aux Morts de l'Armée d'Orient, a memorial to the dead of World War I. I knew I was close to Fonfon so I found parking; I got out with my camera, took several pictures of the memorial and headed for the restaurant.

Fonfon is located in Vallon des Auffes, a small picturesque fishing port crowded with "pointus", traditional fishing boats and ringed by "cabanons", fishing sheds in Marseille's 7th arrondissement.

To get to Fonfon and access to Vallon des Auffes, take the Escalier du Valley des Auffes, the stairway just before the viaduct which crosses the picturesque valley.

When I got down to Vallon des Auffes, I easily found Fonfon. I arrived right at 12, just as staff was finishing up their lunch and others were getting their last smokes before beginning lunch service.

I was escorted upstairs to the sunny, pretty second floor dining room, and seated along the window looking out over Vallon des Auffes. There was one couple already seated enjoying an aperitif while they looked over the menu.

I ordered a glass of Clos Mireille from Domaines Ott, a blend of Sémillon, Ugni Blanc and Rolle to sip while I looked over the menu. I pretty much knew what I wanted but I always enjoy looking at the various offerings proposed by the chef.

I ordered the bourride and sat back to survey my surroundings while I waited for my lunch to arrive. To get our appetites ready for the bourride, the chef sent out an amuse bouche trio of puréed celeriac, tuna and brandade de morue with toasts; délicieux!

Bourride is a Mediterranean fish soup that includes a mixture of white fish, onions, garlic, herbs, olive oil, thickened with egg yolks and aioli.

My server brought out a large tureen with a silver ladle to serve me what turned out to be my first bowl of bourride. The air was filled with the aromas that wafted from the bourride.

He encouraged me "n'hesitez pas de commencer" to start eating the soup, telling me they would bring the fish out on a separate platter. The fish arrived shortly thereafter piled on a platter with 5 varieties of fish; "loup" (seabass), "lotte" (monkfish), "rouget" (red mullet), "St. Pierre" (John Dory) and "galinette", a variety I was not familiar with. There were also boiled potatoes with the fish. A bowl of aioli was put on the table as well.

Within 30 minutes, both the upstairs dining room where I was seated and the down stairs dining rooms were full. I didn't hear any language other than French being spoken.

Meanwhile, the server kept coming by with the tureen of burride offering me a second and then a third serving; he offered a fourth but I was stuffed!

I passed on dessert and ordered a "petit café", espresso to finish my lunch. With my café, he brought out a little plate of "mignardise", little treats.

My tab for lunch at Fonfon was 59,50 Euros including tax and service. While not cheap, it was a very good meal.

Unfortunately, when I returned to my car which was parked on the Corniche near Monument aux Morts de l'Armée d'Orient, I saw that my back seats were folded down, definitely different than when I had left my car to go into Fonfon.

I then noticed that my reflector window on the right front passenger side was broken. I knew immediately that my luggage was gone. Sure enough, when I opened the trunk, all three suitcases were gone with my clothes, laptop, two cell phones and things I was bringing for the house.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent at the National Police office in the 7th arrondisement to make a "declaration" regarding the theft, a trip to Barclay's Bank to put stop payment on my French checkbook (it was in my luggage) and to buy clothes and a new cell phone.

While my luggage was completely hidden in the trunk, I figure I was spotted getting out of the car with my camera; a sure sign you are not a local. I will definitely return to Fonfon to try the bouillabaisse but will do so with no luggage in the car or trunk.

Marseille has something of a bad reputation and I unfortunately experienced the bad side. But I have promised my cousins I won't hold it against the Marseillaise people and will come back on a future trip to Provence.


  1. Too bad such a perfect day had to end like that!

  2. Oh that was a terrible end to a lovely lunch! You went out of your way to visit and this happens. I had read that Marseille has a reputation of sorts and that is why I avoided going there during a trip to Provence in 07. I guess its endemic in all cities and towns,all over so its a case of secure your possessions and hide the camera!

  3. Thanks! I should have known better than to go there with my trunk full before unloading at home. As you say, it can happen anywhere. It happened to me in San Francisco across the street from the police station near the big convention center.

  4. Yikes, so sorry to read about your unfortunate post-meal event. I am going to be staying in Sablet this spring and found your blog. How lovely as I was trying to determine which airport (Nice vs
    Marseille) to fly into.

  5. Thanks for checking out my blog. I am happy to hear you are going to be in Sablet. We think its a great village and close to so many wonderful places. If you are looking at Nice, you might want to also consider Geneva Switzerland. Not much farther and air fares have been really good lately. We flew into and out of Geneva a few weeks ago and it was only a little over 3 hours drive to Sablet.