La Poissonnerie is just that: a fish stall once stood here, right on the harbour by the boats that supplied it. Then came a fishmonger's and, more recently, a restaurant, run by the same family for generations. Fish doesn’t come fresher.
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Also sometimes called La Poissonnerie Laurent, the restaurant with its nautical blue awnings spills across three waterfront houses (pictured top), whose interior rooms are decorated with marine oddments and family photographs.
In one room, a slab is laid out with fish and shellfish ready to eat in or take away. Outside, tables spill all along the quayside of Cassis.
La Poissonnerie is the place to dine if you want an old-fashioned, bustling spot right in the heart of the Cassis action. If it’s not too busy, the current boss, Eric Giannettini, might wander over to your table to show off his excellent English and practised charm.
His family (two elder Giannettinis are pictured, below) came to Cassis from Naples in 1850 and has been in the fish business ever since.
Eric will readily tell you how he vanished to Paris for a while to study biology, but finally succumbed again to the call of the south and took over the running of the restaurant even though, he claims, he doesn't like fish.
At La Poissonnerie, fish and shellfish are served grilled or pan-fried with simple sauces and accompaniments such as ratatouille, gratin dauphinois or tomates provençales.
Eric explains that the tomatoes must be slow-cooked in the oven until they are confit, or slightly dry and that, with his version of aïoli, the garlic dip is thickened not with the usual mayonnaise but with (cheaper) potato.
This is peasant cooking based on traditional recipes and ultra-fresh ingredients and has no pretence to haute cuisine.
Given that, La Poissonnerie is a little on the pricey side (though not exceptionally so by Cassis standards) and clearly the superb location commands a premium too.
The menu is short and sweet and even so quite a few things on it might be unavailable as the choice is selon arrivage: dependent on the catch of the day, which comes partly courtesy of Eric's fisherman brother, Laurent. As with most restaurants, bouillabaisse must be ordered in advance.
Tartare de rascasse (marinated raw rockfish) is usually on offer, and we sampled this, as well as encornets (a type of squid) in a garlicky sauce and grilled loup de mer (sea bass). All of them went down very nicely with a glass of crisp Cassis white wine.
There was no time, or room, for dessert, which might have included a lavender or violet ice-cream or a fig tart.
But we did gratefully accept a glass on the house of a melon liqueur from Haute Provence which was deliciously refreshing and not as sickly-sweet as you might expect.
On a warm March day, the mood was relaxed and, although some reviews of La Poissonnerie have described it as a tourist trap, the lunch clientele included a fair sprinkling of locals.
However it can get hectic and crowded in the middle of summer and it's essential then to reserve a table. Note, too, that the restaurant does not accept credit cards.
Visited March 2012
Where: La Poissonnerie, 6 quai Bartélémy, 13260 Cassis. Tel: (+33) 4 42 01 71 56