An aura of modernist cool surrounds Le Ventre de L'Architecte, or The Belly of The Architect, situated in The Radiant City, the pioneering "housing unit" created by Le Corbusier between 1947 and 1952.
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The restaurant is not easy to see from the road: you need to enter the apartment block and go to the third floor, where the Hotel Le Corbusier is also located (and is well worth a look). Incidentally, it has nothing to do with Peter Greenaway's 1987 film of almost the same name, though there's a poster of the latter on the wall.
The airy double-height main dining area has Scandinavian-influenced light wood and grey marble furnishings and fixtures designed by Le Corbusier and his contemporary and collaborator Charlotte Perriand.
Le Ventre de l'Architecte was refurbished at the beginning of 2010 and, if it still looks a little dated, that simply adds to the pleasing overall impression of retro-chic.
In good weather, ask for a table on the outdoor terrace, designed to resemble a ocean liner's walkway, which looks across the city to the Frioul Islands. If you are sitting inside, the tables in the raised area of the room at the opposite end to the counter offer the best views. The upper mezzanine is generally available for private parties only, though it's worth popping up there to see the two compact, Corbu-style oval toilet cubicles.
Set menus with various numbers for courses ranging from three to a gargantuan 15 are offered. Alexandre Mazzia, the restaurant's head chef since December 2009, majors on unusual combinations.
You might find an assembly of oysters, cauliflower and citrus fruit or suckling pig, turnips and figs. Advised by the sommelier, you can select your own wine from the rack.
In autumn 2012, Le Ventre de l'Architecte and Mazzia were awarded two toques in the Gault & Millau gastronomic guide. This is excellent news for the restaurant, which has suffered in the aftermath of the fire which swept the Radiant City in February 2012, after which many diners wrongly believed that Le Ventre de l'Architecte was closed.
Mazzia left Le Ventre de l'Architecte in August 2013 to start his own restaurant, the amazing AM par Alexandre Mazzia, and was replaced by his former deputy, Jérôme Caprin. We went along in December 2013 to see how Caprin was making out.
The restaurant still offers set meals only, three courses at lunchtime, with a choice of entrées and mains (though only one dessert), and a more extended set menu at weekends. There's no à la carte selection.
Caprin clearly shares Mazzia's liking for odd mixes of ingredients, sometimes more successfully than others. The little pre-starter was a Japanese-provençal combo of wasabi (hot green horseradish) ice-cream on a bed of crushed olives. The ice-cream was unexpectedly delicious, the olives dry and tasteless.
Next up was a delicate crab ravioli in something called "siphon soup". It was sprinkled prettily with flowers and granished with bright green tobiko (flying fish roe), which looked and sounded more exciting than it tasted (wasabi appeared again, a bit prematurely, as an added flavour). The alternative choice was chestnut soup with a "plouf" (dollop) of foie gras.
The main, roast haddock, came with a swirl of lentil purée, fresh baby vegetables, preserved mini-clementines, citrus mousse and more fresh flowers.
Pictured right, it certainly looked attractive and the individual components were tasty but it somehow failed to convince as a cohesive dish. The ecrasée de PDT en folie, which accompanied the other entrée (duck), turned out, rather disappointingly, to be plain old pommes de terre (potatoes).
The dessert was that Harvester Inn favourite, Black Forest gâteau - but "revisited", as French chefs like to put it. In other words, it was a swiss roll shape rather than a slice and smothered in a coconutty cream, but otherwise unexceptional.
Portions were on the small side. The style bears the strong mark of Mazzia's influence but the quality here was very uneven: it came across as a faint and rather uninspired copy. On the other hand the set menu was reasonably priced and you could always fill up on the tasty walnut bread. Service was brisk but friendly.
At the moment Le Ventre de l'Architecte isn't a destination restaurant worth crossing town for, but it's recommended if you're visiting the Radiant City or the Vélodrome just down the road.
Visited July 2010 and December 2013
Where: La Cité Radieuse, 3rd Floor, 280 boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 16 78 23. How to get there: Metro line 2 (stop: Rond-Point du Prado), then bus 21 or a 15-20 minute walk.