Chefs en Provence smallYou might not expect to find a gastronomic restaurant at a provincial airport but Marseille has an exceptional one, Chefs en Provence, a showcase for leading local chefs and designers.

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Chefs en Provence opened in 2013 as part of the big push to raise the profile of the region during Marseille-Provence's year as the European Capital of Culture. The concept behind it: every three months a different chef devises a new seasonal, locally inspired, gourmet menu.

And we're talking top-of-the-range, Michelin-starred chefs here. In the past these have included: Guillaume Sourrieu of L'Epuisette, Michel Portos, of Le Malthazar, René Bergès, previously at the Relais Sainte Victoire, and Lionel Lévy, formerly of Une Table, au Sud, now running the catering at the swish new InterContinental Hôtel Dieu in Marseille.

Most of them are from Provence and members of the Aix-based cooking academy, La Villa des Chefs, although occasionally there's an equally distinguished guest chef from outside the region.

The chefs aren't dropping their own restaurants in order to toil in the kitchens at Marignane, of course. But they are devising the menus and keeping a close eye on quality.

Chefs en Provence airport restaurant signChefs en Provence is on the first-floor level of Terminal 1 in Marseille-Provence airport at Marignane. It's near the departure gates, but located "land-side", i.e. it's open to non-passengers. You don't need to have a boarding pass or go through airport security to dine there.

What's more, you get free parking at one of the airport's (otherwise quite pricey) car-parks as part of the meal deal.

The restaurant's super-retro design is meant to reflect Marseille-Provence airport itself. Destroyed during the Second World War, Terminal 1 was rebuilt in 1961 by Fernand Pouillon.

He was the hugely prolific architect who recreated vast areas of the Old Port after the war and designed the elegant building which currently houses Marseille's Musée Regards de Provence.

Influenced by Pouillon and Le Corbusier, Chefs en Provence has a period look that floats somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s, with a bright orange and lime green colour scheme, lots of pendant globe lights and Eames-style furniture.

The waiting staff's hip uniforms are designed by Nathalat of Marseille's fashion academy, the Maison Méditerranéenne des Métiers de la Mode (MMMM).

The restaurant is divided into three parts. The little bar-sitting area at the entrance where you can order an apéritif has some interesting display panels in English and French about the concept and design of the restaurant. Then comes a simple brasserie section which serves the basic permanent menu of snacks and classic French dishes.

Chefs en Provence airport restaurant entranceAt the far end is the "upscale" bit, an open mezzanine where the tables have linen cloths and the fancy accoutrements of a smart restaurant.

Some of them look over the airport's light-filled terminal and through its windows to the front of the airport and surrounding hills (there are no views of the runways, however).

We've been here a couple of times and were impressed on each occasion. The first visit was during France's annual Fête de la Gastronomie, when there was an amazing special deal on.

But prices even outside this weekend are still very modest for a restaurant of this category. On our second visit we ordered a tapas plate (the restaurant offers several "snacking" options for diners who don't want a full two- or three-course lunch), which was both copious and delicious.

We won't review our particular meals in detail, given the constantly changing line-up of chefs, but this is a flagship restaurant, so you can pretty much bet that whatever you get will be of very high quality. The short wine list, almost all from local vineyards, is top value too.

The surprising thing is that Chefs en Provence is not better known. Many of our fellow diners seemed to be either small groups of businessmen and -women or airport employees armed with ID tags and what looked like meal vouchers, making this probably the best company canteen in France.

Chefs en Provence is run by Autogrill, a multi-national catering operation which also presides over other, more profitable franchises at the airport such as Burger King and Starbucks on the terminal's ground level. It no doubt had to take on this high-end restaurant as part of its contract.

At the moment Chefs en Provence still looks very much like a prestigious loss leader. But that also means that it's an excellent deal for travellers and diners. It's open during the day only, seven days a week and all year round including Christmas and public holidays.

Visited September 2014 and January 2017

Where: Chefs en Provence, Upper Level, Terminal 1, Marseille-Provence airport, Marignane 13700. Tel: (+33) 4 42 14 21 79.

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