There are few three-star restaurants that have the enchanting location and the splendid views of Gérald Passédat’s Le Petit Nice. More importantly, this is one of the best eateries I have ever experienced; I would put it on a par with El Celler de Can Roca (see review).
Perched high on the rocks overlooking the Mediterranean sea, Passedat towers over any other restaurant on this French coast.
For our second visit (the first was in May 2010) we were seated at the very best table at the corner window, with a 270° view of the entire bay of Marseille, from the Cap Croisette to the left, to the Iles du Frioul peeking out on the right. Below, late sunbathers on the rocks were soaking in the last rays of the season and catching a last dip in the mistral-cooled sea, while a cormorant patrolled the waters.
The most remarkable dish was the pélamide (palamita), a kind of bonito but far more delicate with its pale meat, served raw on a small leek with a twist of bergamot zest, olive oil, soy sauce and on the side a zucchini flower in tempura, plus a bowl of freshly pressed tomato slightly gelified with agar agar. this is a perfectly balanced and beautifully presented dish. The tomato brings back memories of my childhood; the taste of a tomato put through a food mill has absolutely nothing in common with bottled tomato juice, and in the summer we regular press heritage tomatoes as a cold summer soup, often with pasta and some olive oil. The perfume is amazing.
Passédat clearly transmits his passion for food in all his dishes, while maintaining a jeweler’s precision in the cooking and the presentation. The service is warm and competent. The view is to die for. I can think of no better way to have lunch. We accompanied the meal, like last time, with Pur Sang 2005, a Pouilly Fumé by the world master of sauvignon, Didier Dagueneau, about the most rigorous no nonsense sauvignon one will ever taste, intense ripe flowery aroma, enormous persistence and perfect balance. The wine list is excellent, with lots of my favourites, I was hesitating towards Ostertag’s rieslings or Chablis from Dauvissat, or even Thevenet’s Mâcon, but the sommelier suggested I stick to my original idea.
The menu originally included a rack of lamb as a main dish, and cheese from the superb selection available, but we really wanted to keep it 100% fish like the last time (other than dessert…), and the kitchen kindly replaced the lamb with sea bream.
Gérard Passedat is interested in the sea, in fish, and he even has a “bouille abaisse” menu which I must try sometime where he uses lesser varieties of fish. I believe Passédat is actively engaged in action to sustain local sustainable fishing. Contrary to popular belief, the sea here is teeming with fish that were scarce only a decade ago, thanks to conservation efforts and to the growing recognition of the ability of local small fishermen to manage their own resources. There is no better reading on the subject than L’Encre de Mer, with a website containing over 700 articles on fishing written or collected by Elisabeth Tempier, and a magazine that comes out 3 times a year (donors welcome…).