One of the hottest restaurants in Aix is Vintrépide, a tiny two-man operation right on the north-east edge of the Old Town where you'll find some of the best cuisine in the city.
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A regularly changing choice of four starters and four mains is chalked up on a blackboard. Our particular line-up consisted of two meat main courses and two fish.
However, we're told that (very unusually for France) the chef is happy to adapt the dishes of the day to vegetarian, gluten-free and other special diets and allergies. The menu is in French only but Eric, the maitre d' and sommelier, will translate if need be.
We tried an intense, creamy parsnip soup sprinkled with chanterelles (panais, or parsnips, are a bit of an exotic vegetable as far as the French are concerned), and an exquisitely presented terrine of foie gras laced with spiced wine and crowned with a tangy chutney of beetroot and mango, pictured below.
For the main course we both went for guinea fowl, which was crisply grilled and succulent, though it would have been good to have more than just the one garnish, pureed salsify, perhaps something with a splash of colour.
All the food is freshly prepared and you might need to expect to wait a while for it on a busy evening.
We had no room for desserts, which were French classics - sheep's milk yoghurt, pain perdu, a selection of cheeses - apart from one interloper called Snicker, inspired by the Snickers candy bar.
This was a quiet midweek lunchtime between Christmas and New Year, and so some of the selection may have been less elaborate than usual: the amuse-bouche served as a nibble to start with (and often used by a chef as a chance to experiment or show off) was some slices of decent cured ham that day.
As its name hints, Vintrépide boasts a remarkably long, broad-ranging and well-chosen wine list for such a small restaurant. Many are available by the glass. Prices start from around 20-25 €uros a bottle, with most of them more far more expensive, and a cheaper house wine would be welcome.
It should be said that, if you value white linen tablecloths and a designer-chic interior, Vintrépide is not the restaurant for you. Like many spots in the Old Town of Aix, it looks on to a narrow alley and the crumbling wall opposite, and has no garden or terrace.
Two sliding plate glass windows might open the place up a little in summer and at least, unlike many basement restaurants in this part of Aix, the dining is all on street level.
Very little effort has been made and much expense spared when decorating the dining area, pictured below, with its nondescript black leatherette chairs, formica tables and basic lighting. The floor tiles are budget, the walls bare. Two elderly tablespoons have been bent into service for the ingenious handles on the toilet door.
Some diners will find the result stark, though there are two cosier tables at the back by the kitchen in an intimate wine storage area (even more wines are kept in the basement cellar). And, to be fair, Vintrépide has only been open since July 2013, a few months before our visit.
Instead all the energy and ambition have gone - as indeed they should do - into the cooking, and this happens to be really exceptional (bravo to the young chef, William Aubert).
Aubert and his colleagues prize quality over quantity, so you might not feel satisfied if you went in really hungry. And the menu is entirely à la carte, which makes it seem at first sight less of a bargain than the set-menu eateries in the more touristy parts of the town centre (Vintrépide is close to the ring road: if you're driving, the Bellegarde underground car-park is just round the corner). It's also pricier than some similar small restaurants such as L'Alcôve or Le Bistrot.
On the other hand it represents superb value for food and wine this classy, and the extra details - fleur de sel on the table, good bread rolls - were well up to the standard of the rest of the meal. The prices stay the same in the evening. Vintrépide has a total of just 30 covers and pre-booking is strongly urged at weekends and in the summer season.
Visited December 2013
Where: Vintrépide, 48 rue du puits neuf, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 9 83 88 96 59