Les Vieilles Canailles made its reputation just after opening when its chef was named in 2016 by Gault & Millau as a Young Talent, an award given to only a few chefs a year.
Click here to book a hotel in Aix en Provence
Even so, the restaurant, which opened in May 2015, hadn't been widely reviewed when we visited a few months later, and still seemed to be a bit of a local secret - though, one suspects, it won't stay like that for too long.
The name means "the old rascals" and is inspired by a song from the scoundrelous singer Serge Gainsbourg: click here to listen to it. You might hear him on the sound system at Les Vieilles Canailles, though you're just as likely to get a gentle blast of Dire Straits or Eric Clapton as you order your meal.
The enthusiastic three-man team behind this little start-up is very young. Its kitchen is run by Pierre Hochart, pictured below, whom everyone calls Pierrot. He has trained at two Michelin restaurants: Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo and William Elliott's Westminster in Le Touquet.
Aged 26 (when the restaurant was launched), he has developed an elegant personal style best described as traditional with a twist: simple, classic bistro dishes that rely on high-quality fresh produce and Pierrot's own skills to make an impact.
At lunchtime Les Vieilles Canailles offers a set menu from which you can order one, two or three courses.
We ate: a free pre-starter of rustic bread to dunk in a saucer of AOC olive oil from the Alpilles, followed by butternut soup with a dollop of crème fraîche infused with smoky lonzo, a Corsican ham.
The main course was immaculately fresh tartare of veal marinated in exotic citrus fruits and garnished with roasted pine nuts, rocket salad and a side helping of new potatoes. Portions are more than adequate but we didn't resist the dessert, a baked apple and mascarpone tart which finished the meal off nicely.
There's no choice at midday, but Pierrot will accommodate special diets or requests: a nearby table had a fish course instead of the veal, for instance. In the evenings a slightly more extensive à la carte menu kicks in. Prices are somewhat higher than basic bistro fare, but then so is the quality.
Chalked up on a blackboard that suggests frequent changes and updates, the long wine list is especially impressive. A small selection is also sold by the glass, and not just the usual suspects such as Coteaux d'Aix or Côtes du Rhône: the three "house" reds included a good Burgundy Pinot Noir and a Loire wine as well as a more local Luberon.
You can buy bottles to take out too, and in all cases the mark-up is modest. Behind the bar are some unusual spirits, such as Japanese whiskey or Venezuelan rum.
The atmosphere is ultra laid-back. It's all too rare for a chef to come out and meet diners. But, perhaps because the midday menu is so short and the dishes unfussy, Pierrot and his front-of-house partner, Fabien, were both able to hang out and take plenty of time to chat.
Tucked up a side street in the Old Town of Aix en Provence just off La Rotonde, Les Vieilles Canailles has a long, narrow dining room lined with books and mirrors and seats 20. In summer the French doors fold back for a couple more tables on the pavement.
Alternatively you might thread your way back to the far end of the restaurant and perch on one of two or three stools at the traditional zinc counter, behind which, up a few steps, is the kitchen.
But Les Vieilles Canailles really is tiny, even by the standards of the many other hole-in-the-wall eateries in the city. (Even the WC, in an adjacent hallway, is shared with the neighbouring watch repair shop!) So - as ever with Aix's hottest restaurants - book ahead.
Visited December 2015
Where: Les Vieilles Canailles, 7 rue Isolette, 13100 Aix-en-Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 91 41 75. Website for Les Vieilles Canaille
Photo credits (from top): © Les Vieilles Canailles, SJ for Marvellous Provence