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01 June 2003

L’Ambassade des Vignobles, Marseille

Wine magazine (UK) June 2003 issue (the title was bought by another publisher a couple of years later and is now called Wine & Spirit).
L’Ambassade des Vignobles, 42 Place aux Huiles, 13001 Marseille.
Tel. 04 91 33 00 25, fax 04 91 54 25 60.
Restaurant 4/5 - Wine list 4.5/5 (alas, it's closed since...)

This vast tranquil square is easily found just a stone’s throw from the traffic lining the south side of Marseille’s historic Vieux Port, at the bottom of the steep ascent to that other postcard landmark, the magnificently kitsch Notre Dame de la Garde basilica. On the port side, touristy restaurants offering bouillabaisse aplenty dominate; in the furthest southwestern corner sits L’Ambassade des Vignobles. The building is very old, the walls made of near-crumbling stone with dark wood beams above. However it’s smart in style but unstuffy in atmosphere; this is the South after all.

The restaurant is famed for its cellar, shared with nearby La Côte de Boeuf also owned by Paul Léaunard (and is still open I think) whose magnificent moustache is equally famous. The full wine list is extraordinary totalling 82 pages, seven of them devoted to 'foreign wines' (as the French say a bit patronisingly) including several vintages of Vega Sicilia, Opus One, Grange etc., as well as less culty offerings and even English! The selection of French wines is bedazzling and too extensive to go into, suffice it to say they aren’t short of fine Claret, Burgundy, Alsace, Loire; in fact everything and plenty of older vintages. I was tempted to order a bottle of Bouchard’s 1864 Beaune Clos de la Mousser 1er Cru (1373 Euros) to see if it existed or was drinkable.

However we opted for local wines and I for the Menu Provence (36E for entrée, main and dessert; 43E with cheese), which includes one glass of a different wine matched with each course. To start ‘Remoulade de chicons, duo de moules et palourdes marinées, vinaigrette d’oursin’ came with Ch. des Anglades Collection Privée rosé 2001, Côtes de Provence. The mussels and clams were fresh sea-fishy set against an attractively crunchy and dressed bitter chicory salad. The wine was delicately pink, more serious than fruity; good but there are better. For main I had ‘Emincé de magret de canard au miel et baies roses, pommes paille et navets glacés’ accompanied by Réserve Perrin Côtes du Rhône rouge 2000. The succulent slices of duck sat in a reduced savoury honey sauce, enlivened by perfumed pink berries, alongside cute little chips. The red showed decent fruit, spice and complexity.

My companion went à la carte, kicking off with ‘Foie gras maison, toasts de pain briochés aux figues, compotine de rhubarbe’ (11E) helped along by a lovely rounded, oily and weighty white Bandol 2001 from Dom. de la Tour du Bon (27E 75cl, 5E glass). The foie gras was spot on: not heavy and contrasting with the sweet fig bread and rhubarb. This was followed by a nicely cooked ‘Pièce de filet de boeuf aux arômes de truffe, couronne de legumes de Provence’ (23E), served with a splendid meaty truffley sauce and elegantly topped with grilled courgettes etc.

Desserts were of a similar standard: my frangipane and apple pie was tastily gooey, although too much for Dom. de Salente Viognier 2001. Crêpes stuffed with Grand Marnier mousse (8E) were fortified by a glass of the same (5E). Service was professional and speedy but never pushy.

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