On the street where you eat: in Aix’s Rue des Tanneurs

Chez Grandmère, 11 rue Isolette, 04 42 53 33 47
Le Maharajah, no 16 rue des Tanneurs, 04 42 58 98 54
Mitch, no 26 rue des Tanneurs, 04 42 26 63 08
Les 2 Frères, 4 avenue reine Astrid, 04 42 27 90 32

Too many people stick to the Cours for their culinary pleasures, whereas there exists a myriad of more interesting, and better value places all over the cité. Just take the Rue des Tanneurs for example...

Right at the bottom, with tables spilling out around the fountain in summer, is a relative newcomer, Chez Grandmère, run by an effervescent entrepreneur known locally as ‘Smokey’, who’s brought in a young, ambitious and creative chef. There is genuine humour in the décor, it’s a small but warmly welcoming place and you eat very well on the €25 menu or carte - or you could just go for the ample, imaginative salads at about €12. Summer (when I went), Smokey says, is more relaxed and open-air, whereas he tries to achieve a little more “classe” in winter. The speciality - escargots with green olives on very light pastry - really worked, despite my misgivings, and the ris de veau with walnuts was an absolutely excellent balance of flavours and textures. The cod risotto was good, the bread was recently made and delicious, the desserts were light and tasty. This is a jolly place, really worth supporting – and if you stick to local wines (Virant or Quatre Tours) it’s excellent value.

Next up, on the right, the smell of spices greets your nostrils, as you enter the Rajastan‘ish’ décor of Le Maharajah. But if you are a true curry buff, I’m afraid this isn’t the place for you, on two counts. Firstly no flock wallpaper. And secondly the curries err too consistently on the mild side, they substitute the all-important mango chutney with a teaspoon of plum sauce, and you practically have to go down on your knees for a couple of poppadoms. But, having said that, it makes a nostalgic change, the waiters are friendly, and the prices are fair (4 euros for starters, 11 euros for main, and my panel of 5 curry-experts were faced with plenty of choice, though the vegetarian taster definitely fared worst). The wine list was so limited that we opted for Listel gris de gris as the only possible rosé. Verdict? - OK for a change, on a rainy winter’s day.

Very different, at no 26 is the highly recommended Mitch, open only in the evenings, and doing great business with crowds of contented customers in the dining room, and the outside tables lining both sides of the road. The menus at €25 and €35 are imaginative, light, modern and well presented – though, overall, the fish and vegetables dishes were more successful than meats, I thought. Good, efficient and very friendly service. Book, as it’s a definite favourite with regulars returning again and again.

And right at the top, facing onto Place Tanneurs is the 2 Frères, the only one in the street to get into the Michelin guide. Its modern, rather hotel-like ambiance reflects its smart fusion-style cuisine. I very much liked the meal I had here, with lots of sophisticated touches, but felt it lacked personality, somehow. There’s a great value lunchtime 3-course, no-choice menu at 15 euros, otherwise €26, so you can’t complain about the prices. And it’s all gleaming wine-glasses and crisp white table cloths. Call me a philistine, but I still can’t help preferring the friendlier, more characterful styles of some of its neighbours down the hill!

Juliet Young
Copyright © 2007 Anglo-American Group of Provence