marseille bar de la releveJust south of Marseille's Old Port, the Bar de la Relève is a scruffy neighbourhood bar and taxi drivers' hangout transformed into an ultra-cool brasserie.

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It's the brainchild of four key movers and shakers in Marseille's restaurant, wine bar and nightclub scene: Arnaud Carton de Grammont, formerly of the excellent gastro-bistro Le Café des Epices, Edouard Giribone of the Bistrot d'Edouard, Hugues Noël of the Cave de Baille and the master events manager Grégoire Hessmann.

You could easily walk right past the tiny façade next to a tobacconist's shop, if it weren't for the few tables huddled on the pavement. The Bar de la Relève can seat 20 or 30 people here, and about as many again inside.

But it fills up very quickly - when we first checked it out, on a rainy Tuesday morning in November, the place was packed.

And, on a return visit, this time on a warm September evening, the terrace tables were chocka. So you do need to reserve ahead if you want to be sure of a seat.

marseille bar de la releve eveningThe reason is simple: the location of the Bar de la Relève, two blocks behind Saint Victor Abbey, is slightly off the beaten tourist track. But it's perfectly placed for Marseille's insider scene.

A couple of doors away is the Marché Saint Victor, a new covered food hall where you can buy or snack on Spanish tapas or Corsican charcuterie.

And just round the corner are the veteran, much-loved Café de l'Abbaye, the five-star C2 Hotel, with its own smart bar, the cult restaurant Il Clandestino, the popular late-night hang-out La Ruche and the ultra-modish concept store and tea garden, the Jardin Montgrand.

No wonder the Bar de la Relève itself gets jam-packed with Marseille's bobos (bourgeois-bohemians) and smart, BCBG (bon chic, bon genre) fashionistas.

All the regulars seem to know each other and even the waiters kiss certain arriving clients on both cheeks. The woman on the next table to us spent the whole meal checking her mobile phone and opening a string of invitations to no doubt fabulous parties.

It's that sort of place. On the other hand the Bar de la Relève is not exclusive. The casual visitor can wander in, relax and feel equally at home.

Entering, you pass along a long bar, overhung by huge upside-down retro lampshades, into a narrow dining room with furnished with simple formica tables and bentwood chairs. Music plays very softly in the background.

marseille bar de la releve interiorChalked up on a blackboard, the very short lunch menu changes daily, but is likely to offer a choice of salad, pasta and a meat or fish main course. The evening tapas, billed as "classiques", ranged from tempura to typical Marseille panisse through the usual terrine and cheese plates.

A stack of recipe books by the ultra-trendy Middle Eastern chef Yotam Ottolenghi sat casually stacked by the kitchen. But basically the Bar de la Relève offers what the French call cuisine de grand-mère (granny's cooking): good, solid comfort food, with the odd twist.

We had lunch on our first visit. Penne pasta with preserved lemon and spinach sounded slightly odd but was a tangy combination.

A chunky, chewy pork chop, pictured, came with herby, garlicky smashed potatoes and carrots, which (though this wasn't hyped up on the menu, as most restaurants would do) included a nice range of multicoloured heritage varieties.

The Bar de la Relève seemed terribly understaffed and, although the friendly staff were working their socks off, service was inevitably at times slow.

The bread got somehow forgotten, but then came quickly when we asked for some. Bizarrely, although the cellar is said to be terrific, there was no wine list (we had a carafe of perfectly fine vin de Provence).

marseille bar de la releve chopPortions were enormous, so we didn't sample the desserts, which included more granny favourites as chocolate pudding, apple tart and tiramisu. The coffee was strong and good, and as a whole the meal represented pretty good value for money.

Another big bonus of Le Bar de la Relève is that it's open all day, serving breakfast in the morning, a small range of hot and cold meals at lunch, coffee through the afternoon and tapas in the evening.

It closes at the decidedly unfashionable hour of 10pm though. Marseille's bar culture might be on the rise but it still isn't (yet) much of a late-night city.

 

 

Visited November 2015, September 2016

Where: Le Bar de la Relève. 41 rue d'Endoume. 13007 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 95 09 87 81.

Photo credits: all images © SJ for Marvellous Provence

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