Le Comptoir Dugommier is a very cool brasserie in a deeply unfashionable location. Well off the beaten tourist track, it's a perfect pit-stop if you're in the station area, and worth a detour even if you're not.
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Le Comptoir Dugommier sits on the wide, scruffy boulevard lined with kebab shops and couscous cafés that links Marseille Saint Charles station with the Canebière.
Formerly a popular Armenian restaurant, it was taken over in 2010 by Bernardette Rochat, a Swiss antique dealer who settled in Marseille with her husband, the set decorator David Karoubi.
As you'd expect, they've brought their immaculate designers' flair to refurbishing the brasserie in a way that preserves its historic features while adding a touch of contemporary zest.
The shell is pure Belle Epoque elegance: a wrought-iron canopy and wooden French doors lead you into a lovely high-ceilinged dining area with a wide, Parisian-style zinc counter framed with mirrors and mosaics.
This traditional space is jazzed up with vintage plaques and photographs, 1970s orange lampshades and mid-20th century wooden chairs and multi-coloured formica tables covered with PVC check cloths. A corner of the room is painted grass green for no particular reason. The overall effect is wildly eclectic, but somehow it works.
Rock and roll music plays unobtrusively in the background and the service is friendly, a little on the slow side and casual (the wrong order arrived at our table but was quickly and cheerfully rectified).
Le Comptoir Dugommier is undoubtedly the best value place to eat in the Marseille Saint Charles area, though it's a five-minute down-hill walk from the station and perhaps not the best choice if you're in a hurry to catch a train.
The restaurant can seat around 50 covers indoors and another 20 on the outdoor terrace. An established favourite with locals, it gets very crowded, especially when bad weather precludes using the terrace, and it's advisable either to arrive promptly at noon or to reserve a table.
No secret why it's popular: the food at Le Comptoir Dugommier is very good and even better value. The set menu includes three courses, a glass of wine and coffee, and there's a short, equally affordable à la carte choice.
The line-up features both traditional French and international dishes. We sampled one of each: a succulent perfectly cooked sirloin steak with anchovy butter, new potatoes and rocket salad, and an oriental hotpot with sweet potato, courgette and duck in a ginger, lemongrass and coconut milk sauce. Beef carpaccio and polenta with mushrooms and chicken were also on the menu, which changes daily.
A large cheese board stocked with ten well-kept and -chosen varieties was left on the table for us to help ourselves. Desserts included a white chocolate cream with fresh raspberries and speculoos crumble.
House wine - the red was an acceptable Côteaux Varois - came by the glass or the jug; a wider selection is available in the evenings.
Le Comptoir Dugommier is open in the mornings for breakfast: it serves guests from the nearby Pension Edelweiss, an equally stylish B&B run by the same husband-and-wife team. It stays open through lunchtime during the week and in the evenings on Thursdays but is closed on Sundays.
Visited May 2012
Where: Le Comptoir Dugommier, 14 boulevard Dugommier, 13001 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 62 21 21. Website for Le Comptoir Dugommier