Marseille Grain de Sable mealVegetarians! Founded by refuseniks from the world of international commerce, the organic, fair-trade, very alt culture Grain de Sable is an essential address.

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It started life as (and still calls itself) a salon de thé, or tearoom, but now also serves light lunches (it's open during the day from Monday to Friday only).

Vegetables are sourced locally on a fair trade basis, so they're fantastically fresh and the menu is dictated by what's in season. A number (though not all) of the dishes are vegan and all are tasty enough to tempt carnivores.

The menu consists of five or six "tapas", from which you can pick either two or three. These arrive on a single platter, attractively presented with colourful side garnishes and good pain de campagne (farmhouse bread).

Portions are generous. Despite the café's vaguely North African looking exterior and its location, in a side-street in the Arab quarter of Belsunce a little off the tourist trail, the style is mainly Southern European, with a touch of international fusion.

Marseille Grain de Sable exteriorThe selection on our visit could have been done with a little more diversity. The five choices included a chilled courgette soup with coriander, brushetta with yellow courgettes and tomatoes, and cucumber salad in light cream (tzatziki).

But the line-up changes weekly (the restaurant website is updated with the current choice) and could well be more varied when you go. In winter there are more hot dishes.

The desserts are well reputed. They don't seem to change much and focus on French classics such as chocolate fondant, îles flottantes and (in winter) crumbles.

We were too full to try them out but Pierrick, the friendly co-owner gave us a taster of his early summer special, delicious squelchy ripe peaches marinated in red wine and spices.

To drink, you can choose from home-made fruit juices such as hibiscus and peach or apple and ginger, organic wines (only one of each colour) and a good selection of craft beers including two from the super Bière de la Plaine, a local Marseille brewery.

The Grain de Sable claims to offer fast service and certainly students and locals seem to make up a substantial part of its trade. On the other hand, the Insider, catching up with a friend, lingered well after all the other diners had left, but at no time felt under pressure to pay up and go (the restaurant serves teas and drinks into the afternoon).

The relaxed vibe and very modest prices are added attractions. The staff speak English, something of a rarity in Marseille. Le Grain de Sable opened in 2003 and seems now to have become a mini-institution.

It's very popular, so arrive early or reserve to secure a table, either in inside, casually furnished with an assortment of recycled furniture, or on the tiny outdoor terrace. There's also a small shop selling organic produce.

Where: Le Grain de Sable, 34 rue du Baignoir, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 90 39 51. Website for Le Grain de Sable.

 

 

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