A bistronomic restaurant tucked between the Old Port and the Panier (Old Town), On Dine has been one of Marseille's best kept secrets since its launch in June 2013.
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The reason: no-one could find it. On Dine remained totally hidden for months behind the M Pavillion, the large temporary wooden structure set up throughout 2013 as the headquarters of the Marseille-Provence European Capital of Culture programme.
However Marseille's gastronomes lost no time in checking it out. The team behind On Dine, the restaurateur Jérôme Marchal and sommelier Thomas Auguste, were previously at one of the city's best restaurants (Christian Ernst's Le Moment, which closed in 2012), and so expectations ran high.
On Dine is housed on the ground floor of one of the historic, listed apartment blocks built by Fernand Pouillon and others in the 1950s to replace the houses in the Old Town blown up by the Nazis during World War Two.
Inside, the dining area is appropriately modern, minimalist and monochrome. Outside is one of On Dine's trump cards: a west-facing terrace dotted with trees by the pedestrianised place Bargamon, pictured. It's quiet, discreet and spacious enough for you not to be crowded up against the neighbouring table.
The terrace and restaurant are much easier to spot now that the M Pavillion has been dismantled, though the city plans to erect in its place a vegetable wall which, when and if completed, may completely seclude On Dine again.
In the other, it looks a bit less attractively on to the back of Pouillon's apartment blocks with their balconies festooned with washing.
On Dine is not the place for you if you want to people-watch on the Old Port. But it is just right if you want a quiet and intimte spot away from the crowds.
The set menu offers two choices of starter, main course and dessert chalked up on a slate and available at lunch and in the evenings, when as usual in French restaurants, the same meal is pricier. It mixes some unusual ingredients with twists on traditional provençal dishes and portions are generous.
A dainty mise en bouche of slivers of barracuda arrived as an unannounced extra, accompanied by a little blob of spelt, while for a starter you could choose between a classic pork terrine and palamide, pictured , a really succulent fish related to tuna and sourced locally.
There's a very comprehensive wine list. We unadventurously ordered the house rosé, expecting the usual easy-drinking Côtes de Provence and were surprised (and very pleased) to get instead a less familiar Vacqueyras rosé from Northern Provence, a full-bodied wine of quality that was exceptionally good value.
The mains included a duo of duck breast and osso bucco, both a bit overcooked. They arrived with a grand swirl of squash and celery purée and in fact all the plates were very prettily presented.
If we'd wanted to splash out on the à la carte menu, there were tempting-sounding choices such as suckling lamb with chestnut gnocchi and turbot poached in cider. The line-up changes often, though, so these are unlikely to be available for long.
For dessert, everyone plumped for an assiette gourmande, four mini-portions of house desserts, which were variable: thumbs up to the chocolate fondant, but our New York friend didn't rate the cheesecake's soggy base and something called a pina colada tasted a little stale. We had no time for coffee, which apparently comes with even more nibbles.
After all the advance excitement, we felt that the meal didn't quite live up to its high ambitions on the occasion we visited. But the welcome is friendly and relaxed and it represents super value for cooking at this level. Certainly more than enough to give it another go.
Postscript: It took a while but we did revisit On Dine. The formula had changed again: at lunchtime a choice of four or five starters and mains, and three desserts of the day were all chalked up on a slate. You could either order these up individual or have a combination of two or three courses, at a slightly reduced price.
One of my companion's requests for a simple salad met with bemusement: why do so few French restaurants cater to vegetarians? But then the kitchen came up trumps with a tasty salad platter.
It was good to see palamide back on the menu again too, this time as a juicy amuse bouche (the chef considerately whipped up a tomato stuffed with home-made tapenade for the veggie diner). Mackerel and whiting were both delicious though some of the items on the menu, such as pork cheek and beef confit, seemed a bit heavy for a very hot day in mid-July.
The dessert platter got the thumbs up this time from the two (different) New Yorkers in the party. Best of all was the waiter's willingness to chat and to go the extra mile to meet our requirements. So, On Dine is very much still recommended!
Visited March 2014 and July 2015
Where: On Dine, 22 rue de la Guirlande, 13002 Marseille Tel: (+33) 9 83 53 83 41