Drive down into La Ciotat, follow signs south for 'Figuerolles' until the road runs out. You have ended up at a rocky outcrop that feels like the very tip of southern France. Leave your car (easy free parking), then clamber down the hundred or so steps to the top of a tiny, narrow calanque, and a different world. So different, in fact, that in 1956 it declared itself a separate replublic - R.I.F stands for République Indépendante de Figuerolles. Here you drive on the left (though happily there are no roads), the time zone is an hour different from that of France (though no-one seems to know which way), and the official currency is the fig - 4 clean, ripe figs equal a franc (the euro is still an era away in this tiny would-be timewarp).
The restaurant (and it has a few bedrooms too) is a wooden chalet with a huge terrace perched over the blue waters within this red rocky creek - and in the evening, as the sun sets, the magical scene is lit up by subtle floodlights.
It is an outside place in summer - fish dishes dominating, with Mediterranean influences from Spain to the Lebanon. You can swim and kayac pre- or post-prandially.
But in winter it transforms itself into a joyous mini-dacha, with blinis and vodka and borscht joining the weekend menus. The Russian family who have run this warm, generous place for generations boast about their 'cooking that sings', and, truly, the atmosphere itself sings, too. The portions are huge and the food, produced by a pupil of M. Troisgros, is of excellent quality - but you come here for the welcome and the friendliness, too - something that's too often lacking in restaurants these days. You arrive a guest and leave a friend of the family.
What more can you want? Exclusion, beautiful views, great food at reasonable prices and temporary free citizenship of one of the most eccentric republics in the world - a lot easier and more pleasant than queueing up for your Carte de Séjour at your local mairie!
REVISITED in winter 2005 and Spring 2007
Both times brought people who’d not visited the place before, and everyone loved the venue and the friendliness of the staff. The menu is not extensive, but has tempting dishes. Starters include trio of carpaccio de poissons, and an excellent feuilleté of St Jacques. Really fresh fish. Finished off with an iced citron vodka, on the house.
The family is opening another restaurant in the La Ciotat Yacht Club, which will do themed evenings, jazz etc. Haven’t tried it and not heard any reports yet.