Great Views, No Loos, Dreary Food

IMG_7972-001Okay, I admit I was a tad grumpy before ever arriving at Gérald Passédat’s La Table in the MuCEM, the spectacular new Museum of Mediterranean and European Civilisations right on Marseille’s waterfront. A mail confirming my reservation had informed me that le port d’une tenue de ville est recommandé (basically: please don’t show up in swimming trunks), adding: Sachez par ailleurs que nous ne garderons pas votre table au-delà de 30 minutes (and if you’re more than 30 minutes late, we won’t hold your table.) Probably naive of me to expect them to actually admit they were looking forward to welcoming us to M. Passédat’s new restaurant, but the teeniest ray of Mediterranean sunshine and southern hospitality would’ve been nice.

We did the museum in the morning (extraordinary architecture by Rudy Riciotti, who’s made counter-intuitively creative use of poured concrete) and then found  our way up to the restaurant – with difficulty as it’s not immediately obvious where to go (the signs are startingly deficient throughout the museum). We threaded our way past queues of people waiting to go into La Cuisine, the other Passedat eatery on the same floor (self-service, no booking) to find our table at La Table.

IMG_7983First impressions of the dining room: simple, vaguely Scandinavian pale wood tables and chairs, ceiling to floor windows flooding the room with light and gorgeous views out over the newly pristine port – handsome white geometrical art installations on the jetty (Marseille is European City of Culture this year) , sparkling indigo water, distant views of the shimmering Provencal hinterland.

After a strenuous morning strolling, sightseeing and mugging up on Mediterranean civilisation, I needed a comfort stop. I asked for directions. “You go out of the restaurant and out onto the terrace again, past the people lined up waiting to come in, past the lift shaft and it’s in there on the left.” No, no”, I explained patiently, “I’d like to use the restaurant loo”. “Il y en a pas, there isn’t one,” said the waitress. I gaped at her. “Are you saying this restaurant has no loo?” She confirmed my understanding of the situation, adding in a mildly conciliatory tone that she’d be waiting for me at the door of the restaurant. I fought my way back through the crowds, out onto the terrace, round the corner by the lift shaft, into the Ladies… and came smack up against a queue of about 17 oher ladies waiting to do the same as me. I did a quick calculation of the urgency of my needs, decided I could probably make it through lunch, albeit cross-legged, and returned to the table. Best get seated before they gave it away to someone else, I figured.

After the frosty confirmation mail and the lack of loos, I was feeling dangerously mutinous. The food was gonna have to be mighty good. But you see, here’s the thing. It really wasn’t.

There’s a short menu – I like that. Chances are everything’s going to be really fresh, the chef can devote his full attention to getting his small selection of dishes just right and they’re never going to run out of anything – not like those awful places where there’s a menu a mile long and every other thing’s off.

“Sorry, Madame, the carpaccio of octopus is off” were the waiter’s opening words.

We took it on the chin, told ourselves we really really didn’t want the chef’s signature dish and went instead for the pan bagnat with heirloom tomatoes, socca and some kind of a sauce (on the basis that it sounded like a fun re-working of a Mediterranean staple à la Passédat), and crab with quinoa (on the basis that I love love crab and am also partial to quinoa). Both quite good, prettily presented, fresh and light.

For mains my husband [who by now had re-emerged from his own Voyage to the Bowels of the museum on his own loo quest, see Comments below] chose the fish of the day (aka carpe diem) done ‘Tepanyaki-style’ with a fennel salad and something frothy and whiteish that came in a jug. The fish looked disturbingly like invalid food, the kind of thing that might arrive on your hospital tray. It had flabby grey skin and a scattering of shredded fennel lounging on top. The instructions were: remove fennel, peel away grey skin, pour sauce over, and eat. My husband took a taste, chewed pensively… and declared it to be the closest thing to cotton wool ever to have pIMG_7984assed his lips. When push came to shove, he admitted that the fennel salad, crisp and lemony, had made a plucky attempt to rescue the situation but it was a lost cause. Forget ‘catch of the day’, it must have been caught last week/month. Or farmed.

I went for the nage de fruits de mer with ginger and vegetables: four woolly prawns  (they do woolly well here) swimming forlornly in a thin gingery broth with a few vegetables – not quite invalid fare, more spa food.

IMG_7985We wound up with fruit salad, burly chunks of melon, watermelon, pineapple with sickly pink sorbets of indetermimate flavour plonked on top. My petite tarte fine au citron  was a small coffin-like shortbread container filled with lemon custard and topped with a briefly intriguing kind of meringue ice cream. Alone and palely loitering out on the other side of the plate was a ball of unidentifiable sorbet resting on a pile of dust. I  tasted the dust gingerly – it was slightly sweet, slightly gritty, ever so slightly grey. When the waiter returned, I inquired what the dust was. “Funny you should ask that,” he responded, “I’ve always wondered myself – I’ll go and check with the pastry chef.” Meringue crumbs, came the answer. The bill came too (E129 for 2 menus + a dull blanc de blancs from Chateau Lacoste), the meal ground to a halt and I made a mad dash for the loo.

I don’t know Passédat or his other restaurant in the city, and am in no hurry to pursue the acquaintance. As for this new venture at the MuCEM, greatly puffed in all the French and international press, I guess it must have seemed like a good idea at the time – it’s the familiar bistrot d’en face model, where a famous chef gets himself another outlet to run alongside the mother ship, which will be highly profitable in order to compensate for the haemorraging costs of running a 3-star white tablecloth outfit, plus the MuCEM is undoubtedly stunning. But the model only works if the chef’s on the case. I doubt if Passédat was anywhere within miles of La Table yesterday. If he was, he should be nailed to his chair and condemned to eat woolly fish and meringue dust for the rest of his days. With strictly limited access to the [museum] loo.

7 thoughts on “Great Views, No Loos, Dreary Food

  1. Haha !! Thats telling it like it is !!! Love it from the excellent title, to the strictly objective condemnation of a rubbish resto: a great article!

    What a really excellent time we had together yesterday. lodie is serious fan of both of you in different ways Sue: la classe et Montys dry sense of humour was a serious winner. All in all a great lunch which will be logged in history as a very happy memory. We look forward to the next time.

    You clearly arrived with Soph I hope the journey was incident free, and that youre now well settled for a fun hols big hugs to Ol, Soph and Mont

    And of course to you dear Sue

    J🙂 x

    J. W A

    Port: +33 (0)6 2736 6375

    Fixe: +33 (0)4 6622 2122

    Fax: +33 (0)4 6622 9366

    _____

    1. soooooooooo great to see you guys – and the lunch menu at ‘your’ table, aka La Table2Julien in Montaren, was twice as good and half the price of Passedat’s (good loo too :-))

    1. good to hear from you, Kurt – and glad you enjoyed the critique – one restaurant to strike off your list when you’re next speeding down to Marseille on the TGV!

  2. A detail perhaps, but when I went to the outside loo, after Sue’s failed journey, I was told by a smiling girl that “it was closed”. (the only loo on the 4th floor!). “You gotta be joking” in my best French but no, it was closed for cleaning. At one level below ground I found what I was looking for.

    1. yeah, it got worse didn’t it? Meanwhile, when you were away from the table on your own loo mission (a good 20 minutes, after you’d disappeared to the bowels of the MuCEM) the waiter came and asked if you were coming back and if you would taste the wine. I told him I very much hoped you’d be back. And that I’d taste the wine myself…

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