In this series, Cédric Lizotte visits some of Europe’s best restaurants. He shares his inside knowledge about the best places to sample the delights of some of the best chefs on the planet. Follow his gastronomical journey with the hashtag #CedricInEurope.
The Michelin-starred Alcyone in Marseille is gorgeously situated in the luxury hotel InterContinental Hotel-Dieu and overlooks the Mediterranean coast.
The dining area is simple and elegant, a study in white and beige. Unexpected accents, such as dinner knives cut and sharpened in the shape of the traditional Marseillais fishing boat, the pointus, or the glorious light fixture in the center of the room, prevent the room from seeming bland. The thick carpeting muffles expected restaurant noises and contributes to the relaxing atmosphere. And did we mention the view? Look again. You are not mistaken. There, outside the window you can clearly see the iconic Notre Dame de la Garde.
But the luxurious surroundings and breathtaking panorama are only the beginning. Under the guidance of Chef Lionel Levy, a product of Alain Ducasse’s kitchens, Marseille’s exquisite cuisine manages to be at once classic and playful, with service that displays a meticulous professionalism and attention to detail.
It’s not common to call food “mischievous,” but at l’Alcyone, the term fits. Even classic dishes such as bouillabaisse, gazpacho and carpaccio all are served with a twist that will make you smile in appreciation.
L’Alcyone in Marseille: The Dishes
Start your meal with a house cocktail, mixed right at your table for your entertainment. This cocktail kinda tastes like Kool-Aid… where does that taste come from?
Then, the mises-en-bouche. The sushi bouillabaisse is salty, but delicious. Then there’s the piquillo pizza, which is actually more of a mini-calzone, with a delicate filling that’s perfectly gooey. There’s also a pistachio-adorned, gelatinous treat – Is it a hollandaise? Is it a béarnaise? – with caviar.
This course is followed by an assortment of homemade breads that are a delight, and the evening’s first glass of wine. On my visit, the sommelier chose the Domaine de la Tour du Bon, Bandol, 2013, which was unfortunately served too cold.
But all is forgiven when the next course arrives – a combination of bottarga (a local delicacy made of dried and salted mullet caviar), cauliflower and black bread with squid ink. The taste is subtle, cool and fragrant. If genius had a flavour, this would be it. Squid ink appears in a subsequent dish, too – mixed with a touch of mayonnaise to go along with the langoustine carpaccio, with a coconut foam. This time, the wine pairing is perfect, served at optimum temperature.
All the dishes pair local food and traditional ingredients in interesting combinations. Take Chef Levy’s bouillabaisse – an inventive combination of raw and cooked rock fish, traditional vegetables, bread and – here it is again – squid ink which adds an intriguing bitterness. It almost reminds one of lobster bisque from Quebec, or clam chowder in New England, except that the textures are more delicate.
Next, the roasted St-Pierre, served with radish salad, fish broth and butter, is rich, balanced and perfectly cooked and firm. A touch of acidity (lemon?) cuts through the butter in a way that is delightful, and perfectly French.
For the next course, a glass of red: Caroline Cuvée Prestige Saint-Joseph, by Louis Cheze, 2012.
The featured dish is a duck cromesquis of terrine and a foie gras sauce, also divine.
Lifting my eyes off my plate, I notice why the service is so perfectly attentive to each of my movements: there are more employees than there are diners. That’s so sad considering the quality of the food!
For dessert: a bush goat cheese with lemon, hidden under a tile of green tea. Smash through the tile with your spoon, and grab as much as possible of each ingredients on a single spoonful. Spectacular!
There’s even an after-dessert pea-mint gazpacho served with raspberry cake.
I’m stuffed! Time for an espresso and a long walk around the port. The sights and smells of the harbour wash over you as you luxuriate in the memory of a truly outstanding meal.
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