I’ve come to Marseille (European City of Culture 2013) with my friend N, who’s writing a travel piece about it. It’s a beautiful town, a bit rough round the edges, but the Vieux Port area is very attractive, particularly at sunset, when the pink and red sky highlights the silhouettes of all the boats bobbing around. N had managed to swing a free dinner at Le Miramar, by the waterfront, one of the oldest providers of bouillabaisse, Marseille’s traditional seafood soup/stew. I’ve had bouillabaisse in the south of France before, during many holidays to visit my grandparents, and love it. But this is a slightly different proposition: we get to meet the chef, local boy Christian Buffa, who explains that the restaurant has been there for over 48 years, and he’s been cooking there for 14.

The bouillabaisse itself is a very hearty fish soup (made from pureed fish pieces), which is served with cooked chunks of several different fish, including scorpionfish, monkfish, mullet, mussels and crabs. To start, we shared some amuse-bouches; Christian is mad about truffles, so we have slices of toasted brioche sandwiched with truffle, and truffle shavings on flat bread. It’s INSANE.

Then the piece de resistance arrives: first the waiter proudly presents a platter on which are most of the fish which will be in my soup, then it arrives. It is scattered with massive potatoes and a rogue crab which looks like it’s trying to escape. It is without a doubt the best bouillabaisse I’ve ever had; spiked with saffron, and with little croutons spread with rouille (a spicy, garlicky mayo) floating on top. N’s Tournedos Rossini is cooked to perfection, and we make lots of grunting noises. Then dessert is proposed, so we cave. I have the Poire Belle Helene, which is a poached pear smothered in hot chocolate sauce on top of vanilla ice cream, while N has a hot lemon soufflé. They are both amazing. Maybe I should move to Marseille. It has a hopping arts scene, and the weather (even in early January) is balmy. Let me look into this…