Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chez Fonfon: Pour faire une bonne bouillabaisse...

...Il faut se lever tot le matin (in order to make a good bouillabaisse you have to wake up early). Here goes the song that Fernandel, a French actor and a native of Marseille like the famous fish dish, used to interpret in the 1950's. And we indeed woke up early, not to make a bouillabaisse but to drive from Valence, where my parents live, to Marseille. Once again, I had to honor a promise I made to my wife. I had told her the real bouillabaisse, served in Marseille and its surroundings, was playing in a totally different league than the tasteless dish she had ordered in a Parisian restaurant (which was not a good idea to start with and one I should have discouraged in the first place).

There was only one way to deliver on the high expectations I had triggered: having lunch at Chez Fonfon. Founded 55 years ago, this restaurant is located in one of the most beautiful settings I know of: Vallon des Auffes. It is a small creek under the Corniche Kennedy where lies a little fisherman's port and village. The owners, Alexandre and Peguy Pinna, are the third generation at the helm and haven't changed the formula that has made the success of Fonfon: good food, bouillabaisse in particular, and warm greeting.

As you can suspect, after having pleasant amuses, we ordered the Bouillabaisse du Pecheur (Fisherman's Bouillabaisse). Chez Fonfon's recipe consists of a bouillon (rockfish broth flavored and colored with tomatoes and saffron) and an assortment of 5 types of fish served separately: Saint Pierre (known as John Dory in English), congre (conger-eel), rascasse (scorpion fish), galinette (gurnard) and vive (weever). The result was beautiful and delicious. The bouillon was warm and rich and the addition of croutons topped with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (saffron aioli) enhanced the whole thing. The fish, perfectly cooked by the bouillon, tasted so much better than that caught in the Atlantic Ocean. Difficult to believe that this now expansive and luxurious dish used to be the average fisherman's treat. However, at 46 EUR it remains a steal compared to many bad meals I had in other countries / cities for higher price tags.

The view on Vallon des Auffes is certainly a great asset for the restaurant but service is also very nice and efficient. Finally, I had the chance to taste Domaine Tempier's white wine for the first time. And it is to die for. It reminded me of everything I had read on Lulu Peyraud, her cuisine and the domaine itself as well as the guided tour of Marseille she gave Kermit Lynch and that he beautifully recounts in Adventures on the Wine Route.

Chez Fonfon is definitely a good reason to stop in Marseille. As are the sights of the Mediterranean and Frioul archipelago from the Corniche. But there are plenty of other excellent reasons to visit this cosmopolitan and exciting city that you will find out once you are there.

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