It was a very hot, steamy July day in Aix. We had been turned away from 4 ‘complet’ carparks, and queued up for 20 minutes for the very last place in the 5th. We had sweated through crowds of dazed tourists and Aixois, distracted by the irresistible warble of mobile phones and the whine and fumes of approaching scooters, dodging young men on crutches (who had obviously come to grief when answering their mobile phones whilst riding their scooters.)
We bemoaned the mess the city-planners of Aix have made of the Cours Mirabeau. “They must be blind”, we were agreeing, “all these ugly, dangerous bollards”…when suddenly a real blindman hove into view, stumbling over and between said bollards, trying to negotiate a semi-circle of the Rotunde. He hadn’t a clue when he was dangerously in the road, or safely in the pedestrian areas (which are furnished with sneaky little ridges and steps to tumble over, too) and ended up doing an unseeing samba around hooting taxis until we came to his aid.
Stressed, we needed serenity, harmony, grace. And just a couple of chopstick-lengths south of the Rotunde is a tranquil haven that fills that exact bill. Step off the bustling boardwalk, and over the calming moat of gentle waterfalls of Fuji, and be greeted by charming hostesses dressed in flowing robes and enigmatic smiles. It’s a delightful garden, enchanting in the evening when the lanterns are lit, and excellent value at lunchtime — either on the menu or at the small sushi bar. Immediately cool towels are brought to soothe your hot, throbbing pulses.
We discussed the rise and rise of the ‘rising sun cuisine’. We reckoned that an experimental Japanese restaurateur, tired of the boring routine of serving up hot meals and cold wine, decided to see what the opposite would do… Charging twice the price for raw food and hot wine seemed to do the trick. “They learry rike it!” he chortled, and so the west was won over.
As beginners we chose from the ‘starter’s kit’ menus — lunchtime around €14. One based on sushi/sashimi, the other on yakitori (cooked brochettes). For the price this was adequate, but going back we’d now try branching out into more adventurous (but pricier) areas. If you like the raw fish platters try either the big sushi or sashimi matsus. They looked terrific. The Korean barbecue is a speciality (bulgoki), and some of the yakitori are superb to mix and match — try the porc et fromage, caille, magret canard and crevette, seiche, poisson. For dessert there’s no option but to go for the Fujiyama (omelette flambée), or the intriguing Tempura glace (glace vanille en beignet).
And, don’t forget to visit the Zen loo, either — Zen pebbles under the taps and also calming the hot air machine.
We emerged from our lunch cathartically yogic. Immediately we were nearly run over by a snarling scooter exuding oily effluent. Confucius he say: “Visit Fuji, and pick up a few tips on Zen and the art of Scooter Maintenance.”