Sardine can decor at La Boite a Sardine restaurant, MarseilleThe one thing you won't eat at La Boîte à Sardine (The Sardine Can) is tinned fish. Seafood comes straight from the sea at this colourful neighbourhood fishmonger's shop-restaurant a ten minute walk from the Old Port.

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You'll find it just beyond the twin-spired Church of Saint Vincent de Paul (aka Les Réformés) where the scruffy end of the Caniebière turns into the even scruffier boulevard de la Libération.

Standing out from the nondescript frontages, La Boîte à Sardine's jaunty tiled facade opens into a very small dining room.

The restaurant seats 24-30 with, on fine days, a handful of bistro tables on the pavement for overspill. You're not exactly squeezed in like sardines, but on busy days you will be expected to share a table and it's advisable to reserve ahead.

The atmosphere is informal and friendly and a stream of locals comes in to greet the owners, buy fish, read the newspapers and, in some cases, actually dine there.

The blackboard offers you a choice of five or six superbly fresh fish to choose from, plus oysters (opened to order) and shellfish, including more unusual types such as couteaux (razor fish) or oursins (sea urchins).

Boite a Sardine in Marseille new restaurantOn some Fridays aïoli is on the menu (though the restaurant does not do bouillabaisse). If your French doesn't stretch to the specialist names, you can always inspect your lunch on the slab before ordering.

The food is oven-cooked, grilled or pan fried, in the open-plan kitchen in the corner, and served simply with vegetables, rice and fine condiments (fleur de sel, vinegar with shallots for the oysters, good bread and olive oil).

It's not cheap for this slightly out-of-the-way location, though the pricces are also not excessive in view of the quality of the ingredients and generous portions. There's a small selection of desserts too.

You may be surprised to read that the patron, Fabien Rugi, has a bit of a sardine theme going. The walls are lined with (unopened) sardine tins, around 400 of them, from all over the world.

The nautical theme is continued passim; some tables have life-jackets as cushions, for example. You make your way to the toilets through a drapery of fishing nets.

In 2013 La Boîte à Sardine moved to larger, but equally colourful premises, pictured, at 2 boulevard de la Libération, right across the road from its original site. It's open at lunchtime only, from Tuesday to Saturday.

Visited August 2011 and December 2012

Where: La Boîte à Sardine, 2 boulevard de la Libération, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 50 95 95.

 Website for La Boîte à Sardine

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