When I first came to Aix 15 years ago, like all gullible tourists I headed for the Cours Mirabeau, following Cézanne into the Deux Garçons and got ripped off, then tailed Peter Maile into Chez Gu and got solid food with oxidised wine.
After all this time, and aixhaustive research in the company of many AAGP aixperts I still think Aix is disappointingly short of great places to eat and drink.
But I’ll offer some advice to our new members, all the same. As soon as the gloss of posh be-bow-tied waiters on the Cours Mirabeau wears off, head off down to the Rotunde end, and buy your pre-prandials either at the Café Festival (where you’ll bump into many other local AAGP’ers ‘in the know’) or indeed, the smaller and cheaper Café Cézanne, nearly next door, with their delightfully cheerful and welcoming staff, and good value wine list.
As for restaurant recommendations, I’m going to stick to our two tried and trusted regulars. I reckon others may shine more brightly sometimes, but these two should never let you down.
Nearest to the Rotunde is Chez Maxime — a pretty little place in a pretty little shady placette, hidden off rue Bédarrides. Eat outside, if you can. Lots of eccentric passing pedestrians will keep you entertained, as well as the odd band of wandering minstrels from the Conservatoire. If you stick to the dishes of the day, you will have very easy decisions to make, be pretty sure of a good deal, with no stress to your plastic. The staff are fun, and the whole place is unpretentious — but, like the Madeleine (below) it falls down on loo capacity, especially when a tourist group arrives…
Further east, opposite the Law Courts, you’ll find the un-touristic buzzing brasserie of La Madeleine, particularly busy on market days (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). Lots of room to sit outside on warm days; inside downstairs is noisily atmospheric; and upstairs is calmer — for business lunches or romantic trysts. The dishes of the day are excellent — and the menus are great value — try the €24.50 one including the poached egg on leek starter, tagine, then the cherry crumble… And if, like Ian, you’re keen on seafood, this beats most Marseille restaurants for freshness of oysters. There’s a stall outside, and once you’ve plumped for the size (3-6) and oyster-type you fancy “Vous préférez vos huitres doux ou salés, Monsieur?”, you can then dig into a huge Dover sole and be in heaven. On a diet? The salads are huge and absolutely delicious. The wine list is good, too. Stick to Cassis for your seafood, but there’s a big choice of Côtes de Provence for the rest of your meal. But 2 loos for over 200 covers? What are the health inspector rulings round here?
Aixcellent value. Aixcellent freshness. Which is why we keep going back…
REVISITED both in 06 and 07
Chez Maxime is still a great little hideaway with unpretentious food at unpretentious prices.
Whereas La Madeleine has been recently revamped (more “mock-empire” chairs and ruched curtains) and I found their menus definitely duller and less appealing, and ingredients tired. Seafood still good though. But overall its value rating is down, as is its appeal, in my eyes.