marseille lacailleSince opening in late 2015, this little restaurant tucked down a scruffy side-street in the hip Cours Julien district has become known as one of the best places to eat in the area, perhaps even in Marseille.

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The secret: relaxed and friendly service, a short, constantly changing menu based on seasonal ingredients, a clear price structure, an affordable bill – and, naturally, outstanding food.

Red leather banquettes, bentwood chairs and simple wooden tables are lined out along a long, narrow, cosy dining room. Hidden at the back, a tiny open patio squeezes in a few more covers when the weather is fine.

The concept is simple: there is no concept. No flashy design. "We just wanted a restaurant where we'd like to go ourselves," says the young chef, Alexis Kloniecki, who runs Lacaille along with his wife Antonia, who single-handedly looks after the service with energy and style.

Before the meal, a free little snack arrived: on both times we visited, it was a simple but tasty dip of fromage blanc with chives and savoury bread.

marseille lacaille interiorMany dishes on the short main menu (four starters, four mains, four desserts) are centred on familiar ingredients with odd-sounding but - when you taste them - wholly convincing accompaniments.

We sampled a fresh veal tartare spiked with capers and sardine crème, and a fillet of sea bream garnished with slivers of foie gras and tart slices of orange to cut the richness.

Oeuf confit (baked egg, a house speciality that's usually on the menu) with mushroom crème followed by red-rare beef steak with blackberry were just as satisfying.

On a return visit we opted for a meltingly delicious braised ox cheek with polenta, grated mushrooms and home-made coffee oil, and duckling filet with creamed blood orange, miso, turnips and bergamot.

There is usually at least one vegetarian dish. The wine list, also short and select, comes courtesy of a local vintner, Plus Belle la Vigne, and wines are available by the glass or pichet (jug) as well as by the bottle.

The excellent craft beers of the nearby Bière de la Plaine brewery are there too for those who prefer them. They might even feature in a sorbet or one of the other desserts.

The Klonieckis have a young family and very rightly give their kids top priority in their lives. This means that the restaurant is open in the evening only and may close during school holidays.

As word gets around, it gets increasingly booked up and seems to have an enthusiastic following of regulars. We have tended to dine there mid-week and even then we watched a stream of would-be customers get turned away. So do reserve ahead.

By the way, the Klonieckis named Lacaille after an 18th century astronomer-priest, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. Why?

Antonia told us that he catalogued thousands of stars, so many that he had trouble finding names for them all - just as they had racked their brains naming their own restaurant. But Lacaille turns out to be a perfect choice for this stellar operation.

Visited: October 2016 and April 2017

Where: Lacaille, 42 rue des Trois Mages, 13006 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 9 86 33 20 33.

Photo credits (from top): © Lacaille, SJ for Marvellous Provence

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