Cours Honore d’Estienne d’Orves, 13001 Marseille, France
I’m gonna be honest. I’ve wanted to eat bouillabaisse ever since it was mentioned in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (let me know if you remember which part!). Therefore, it was a no-brainer that while I was in Marseille, the origin of the bouillabaisse, that I had to give it a try.
For those who may not be Harry Potter fans or French food specialists, bouillabaisse is a fish stew that originated from the area of Provence in France, and more specifically, from the ports of Marseille. It was originally created by the fisherman as a means to use up any bony fish that weren’t sold for the day, as well as other seafood such as shellfish. It was served with a rouille, a garlicky spicy mayonnaise, and pieces of grilled bread. Since then, it’s been adapted into a local specialty, with some of the higher-end restaurants including more expensive varieties of seafood.
Unfortunately, K and I weren’t very organised and didn’t realise that the majority of restaurants required at least 24 hour of notice for a dinner of bouillabaisse, as they needed to source the ingredients. Luckily, after a long time of scouring the web, we managed to come across Les Arcenaulx, a lovely bookstore/restaurant located in the Old Port, which offered a standard version of their bouillabaisse (compared to their grand version) without need for prior notice.
The restaurant itself was beautiful – interestingly, part of it is actually a bookshop, and the entire place was walled with dark wood bookshelves filled with beautiful leather-lined volumes. It gave the entire restaurant a really cosy, romantic feel.
We started with an artichoke dip and a trio of stuffed vegetables, both of which were nicely presented and tasted great.
The star of the meal, the bouillabaisse, was served with the traditional side of rouille. It didn’t look too special – just like what I’d imagine fish stew to be. There were generous portions of fish, which was actually quite bony and difficult to eat, along with big slices of potato and some mussels. All in all, I was rather underwhelmed – the soup was quite runny and while flavourful, wasn’t anything special. Rather, it was the rouille that really left an impression. It was packed full of garlicky goodness, as well as a good kick of heat, and when eaten with the crispy bread, was more than addictive.
All in all, I was pretty disappointed with my experience of bouillabaisse. The restaurant itself was great, and while I imagine the fancier versions of the dish are probably better, I don’t think they’re worth the exorbitant price. It’s good to try it once (how many times will you visit Marseille in your life?), but I’ll probably pass on any future bouillabaisse(s?).