Sunday, 29 June 2008
A Dive Into The Sea
In the evening we head back to the restaurant for a 14 course marathon meal. We were instructed earlier to be here no later than 8.30pm, due to the number of courses ahead. We will be eating the ‘Decouverte de la mer’ – ‘A dive into the sea’ menu, which is 200 Euros a head.
We start on the terrace with a glass of champagne and a tray of fishy canapes each – and then head in to the impressive, light dining room. Pearlescent sea shells adorn the walls, and the vast room is, like Passedat’s cooking, very much a tribute to the Mediterranean Sea, the sounds and smells of which flood in through the open windows next to us.
And so we begin our ‘dive into the sea’, with small, immaculate dishes brought out and polished off in quick, but appreciative succession. It starts, as all great seafood meals should, with fresh oysters, served out of their shells with artichoke and pea puree. They are nothing short of perfect, and though my personal preference is to slurp them from their salty shells – Passedat is flaunting his great ability to keep them moist and impossibly fresh without their conventional appendages.
The dishes that follow do just what Passedat spoke of – present the freshest seafood ingredients served with inexplicable precision and delicacy. There is lots of foam, puree and the odd gel, which, though are not things I usually advocate with great fervour, work without question next to the soft, sumptuous fish.
The meal is very much just about the seafood, and these foams – like the miraculous sea spray froth, are simply embellishments – not accompaniments. Some of the dishes are purely made with fish cooked in stock made from an emulsion of different fish carcasses.
I had feared, at first glance of the 14-course menu, that my stomach might be stretched to uncomfortable capacity – but I needn’t have worried, as each dish is remarkably light, and leaves you yearning for the next taste.
The way the meal is served just works to intensify this sense of excitement, as we are all furnished with our covered dishes, the waiters like ballerinas fawning over us to reveal the hidden treasures in one unified swooping movement. Then, as we stare down at our food, we are told what each dish entails.
The highlight for me is the "Sea anemones in a creamy sea essence, oscietra caviar froth, and in light fritters with shellfish bouillon". The dish captures not just the taste of the sea itself, but a kind of sweet, salty astringent flavour of the anemones, mellowed by the custard-like caviar froth and complimented by the crunchy, moreish tempura sea flowers.
The cheese board is a great wooden trolley covered on two levels by a magnificent array of cheeses. I choose a tomme, a camembert and a roquefort, forgetting as I savour the creamy, salty cheese that I have already eaten 12 courses and it is past midnight.
After two different desserts, which are little more than a mouthful (Passedat has a fine understanding of the limits of a weary palate) and petit fours, we retire to the lounge room for a herbal tisane, made using herbs from Marseille’s oldest herbalist - Du Pere Blaize. Surely there can be no better way to finish a fourteen course meal than with a fragrant infusion of mint, lavender and rose petals?
And so we finally come up for air, stepping out into the balmy Marseille night at 2am and standing for just a moment looking out to the sea which has provided (with just a helping hand from Passedat) a meal that will never be forgotten.