Marseille's modern food scene is one of the most exciting in France, with restaurants and bistros serving a diverse range of cuisines from around the Mediterranean.
Marseille, where a good meal once meant pizza, bouillabaisse or fish, is suddenly coming on strong as one of the more interesting food cities in France. It is a trend mirrored in the new MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée), designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti at the entrance to Le Vieux Port. The museum opened to coincide with Marseille's reign as one of this year's European capitals of culture, and its mission is described in its name: to highlight the city's real identity. Of course Marseille is French, but it's also a simmering cauldron of peoples and cuisines from all around the Mediterranean.
Le Bistrot d'Edouard
"Today, Marseille is embracing its Mediterranean identity," says Edouard Giribone, whose convivial tapas and pinxo restaurant in an old provencale cottage in the Prado district has been packed from the day it opened. "A new generation is proud of the city's diversity, and we all love eating each other's foods." Grab a table in the tiny garden for a light supper of Spanish ham, poutargue (cured fish roe), grilled aubergine with chopped mint, raw artichoke salad and tortilla.
• rue Jean Mermoz,+33 4 9171 1652, no website. Open Tues-Sat noon-2pm, 8pm-10pm. Average a la carte €35
Le Café des Épices
Until chef Arnaud Carton de Grammont opened this small, charming restaurant on the edge of the Le Panier district in 2004, Marseille was one of the only French cities with no bistro culture of its own. After working in Lyon, Uruguay and the USA, Aix en Provence native de Grammont pioneered the Marseille bistro with a changes-daily chalkboard menu of dishes from around the Mediterranean. Grilled turbot with a puree of escalivada (a Catalan dish of aubergines, peppers, garlic, onions, and olive oil) and slow-roasted free-range pork with girolles and butternut squash puree show off a cooking style that's consistently precise, generous and inventive.
• 4 rue du Lacydon, +33 4 91 91 22 69, cafedesepices.com. Open Tues-Fri 9am-3pm, 6pm-midnight, Sat 9.30am-4pm. Lunch menus €24-€27, prix-fixe dinner menu €45
Located on the increasingly-chic rue de Paradis, this popular brasserie is where well-heeled locals take a break from shopping over beautifully prepared Mediterranean comfort food. The great looking setting comprises an open kitchen and dining room with a found-in-the-attic decor of factory lamps and flea-market chairs and tables overlooking a courtyard garden. The menu changes often but runs to dishes such as panisses (fried bars of chickpea-flour), caponata (a Sicilian compote of aubergines, onions and peppers garnished with capers and pine nuts), and grilled rougets with tapenade.
• 110 rue Paradis, +33 4 91 02 53 96, no website. Open Mon-Sat noon-2.30pm, 8pm-11pm, Sun 11am-3pm. Average a la carte €40
This dressy brasserie with a clubby clientele of local power-brokers, bourgeois families out for a special occasion, and slightly furtive couples coming in for a good feed, is the place to come for bouillabaisse in Marseille. Yes, it's expensive, but there are not many fish left in the Mediterranean and a real bouillabaisse requires a huge amount of local rockfish. Service can be a little shirty with unknowns as well, but ignore that and focus on the seriously good cooking.
• 6 rue des Catalans, +33 4 91 52 30 63, restaurant-michel-13.fr. Open daily noon-2pm, 7.30pm-11pm. Average a la carte €70
Pizzeria Chez Etienne
After the Suez Canal opened in 1869, the port of Marseille boomed and draw migrants from around the Mediterranean: especially Italy. In Le Panier, the city's oldest neighbourhood, the Cassaro family's simple but much-loved restaurant offers a delicious time capsule of how southern Italian cooking evolved in Marseille, with excellent wood-oven-baked pizzas, cuttlefish cooked with garlic and parsley, good steaks, and rosé de Provence to wash it all down. Service can be gruff, but don't take it personally they treat everyone that way.
• 43 rue de Lorette,no phone or website, no credit cards. Closed Sunday. Average a la carte €35
Built on a craggy stone point jutting out into the Mediterranean, this casually elegant sea shack of a restaurant offers views over the sea as well as some of the finest seafood cooking in the south of France. Chef Guillaume Sourrieu, who trained with Bernard Loiseau, among others, works exclusively with the local small-boat catch of the day to create signature dishes such as his shrimp terrine and slow-cooked sea bass, along with local seafood stews/soups like bouillabaisse and the lesser-known bourride.
• Vallon des Auffes, +33 4 91 52 17 82, l-epuisette.com. Open Tues-Sat noon-1.30pm, 7.30pm-9.30pm. Menu: €70-€125
Le Goût des Choses
After running restaurants in Antibes, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sylvie and Olivier Rathery returned home and opened this popular value-for-money bistro in Marseille's rapidly gentrifying sixth arrondissement. The menu varies between provençal classics such as half-salted cod with bouillabaisse sauce and black rice or veal kidneys sautéed in white port, and worldly dishes such as crab cakes with tartare sauce or prawns sauteed with ginger and served sesame-seasoned basmati rice.
• 4 place Notre Dame du Mont, +33 4 9148 7062, legoutdeschoses.com. Open Tues-Sat noon-1.45pm, 7.30pm-10.30pm. Lunch menus €15, €25; dinner menus €25, €33; average a la carte €45
Le Grain de Sel
After working in Barcelona for a several years, talented young chef Pierre Giannetti, a native of Martigues, 40km north-west of Marseille, came home and opened a "Mediterranean-inspired" bistro in a cement-floored atelier on a side street near the port. His impeccably-sourced local produce and savvy cross-cultural references - tiny Sardinian gnocchi are served in a light tomato sauce with small clams from the Rhone delta, and salt-cod tartare with rocket comes with chickpea puree laced with sesame oil - has made this one of the most successful restaurants to open in Marseille for many years.
• 39 rue de la Paix Marcel Paul, +33 4 91 54 47 30, no website. Open Tues-Sat noon-1.30pm, 8pm-9.30pm. Lunch menu €18.50, average a la carte €40
After many years of cooking in Bordeaux, Marseille-born chef Michel Portos returned home last year and opened a good-looking restaurant with a sepia-tone atmosphere created by the collection of antique black-and-white photographs on one of the cocoa-coloured walls. Like most of Marseille's best chefs, Portos's appealing menu travels the Med and includes classics such as salade nicoise and Tropézienne à l'Orange, the orange-cream filled cake from Saint Tropez, but also off-beat choices like the whiting with Moroccan spices.
• 19 rue Fortia, +33 4 91 33 42 46, malthazar.fr. Open daily noon-2pm, 8pm-11pm. Average a la carte €40
This sleek restaurant run by chef Philippe Moreno, who executes the menu designed by three-star Michelin chef Gérald Passédat, Marseille's most-famous chef, is located on the top floor of the MuCEM. Passédat's short menu is a delicious and intriguingly harmonious presentation of Mediterranean cooking. Start with octopus carpaccio or dressed crab with harissa and quinoa, and then try the grilled catch of the day with a sauce Antiboise (capers, black olives, olive oil, tomatoes) and Niçoise socca (chickpea-flour crepes) or chicken cooked en paupiette with Sicilian-style caponata (a cooked aubergine salad).
• +33 4 91 59 25 92, mucem.org. Online reservations only at passedat.fr. Open Tues-Sat, call for hours. Average €50
Old port, Marseille, France. Photograph: Alamy