Saturday, December 02, 2006

Eating at La Coupole - Lasagne with white goat cheese (chévre )and smoked ham

At this point my sister and I had stopped being creative. We both wanted this treat for ourselves. The lasagne was made with less tomatosauce than usual. But! On top of the layers of the bechamel sauce was placed thin slices of chevre that melted as it roasted in the oven. To the tomatosauce was added wonderful Jambon Cru. This was certainly more than a mouthful, but I bravely opened my throat and swallowed the goat!

Eating at La Coupole - Salmon Raviolis with a creamed leek sauce

This was the most normal dish we ate at La Coupole. That is, the least extravagant, but still it was delicious. Red raviolis filled with salmon. I am not sure whether the filling was smoked or plain salmon filet. Still it tasted great, with a good sprinkle of black pepper and freshly grated Parmeggiano Reggiano!!

Eating at La Coupole - The Gourmand Salade

For those of you that think salad always is a healthy option, think again! This is definetely not a salad health prophets would recommend!! Three large slices of Foi Gras de Canard on toast, on side smoked, and lightly salted duck breast, thinly sliced. On top a quails egg, and to emphasize that it really is a salad different varieties of the leaves with an oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. A gourmands dream come through, and I'm still dreaming.

Eating at La Coupole - Ducks legs in peach sauce, with fried aubergines and roasted potatoes and leeks

I was surprised by the peach in the cream sauce. Cream and peach sounds more like pudding time than duck time. Still, the cook, once more knew what he was up for. The Duck legs were roasted so tender that they melted in your mouth. The aubergines were cut into strips, probably lightly salted to dry them a little, then breaded and roasted in oil. The diced potatoes and leeks were fried soft. It all worked perfectly. Another hit on the same day!

Eating at La Coupole - Honey and lavender glaced Duck Breast with grape sauce

I have never in my life tasted such a "Margret de Canard"!! It was glaced with wonderful honey and on top it was garnished with dried lavender flowers. I asked the breast to be bien cuit (well done), as I am sceptical to undercooked poultry. In spite of this, it was tender and beautifully moist. The sauce was made from whole grapes and grapejuice and it harmonized perfectly with the sweet glace. Served with perfectly roasted Friench Fries and a herb-roast tomato, I was lost for words, and I still am!

Brasserie La Coupole - our favourite

We ran into La Coupole by accident. It is situated in Rue Haxo, a few streets up from the Vieux Port. It is only open at lunch, and my sister and I were grateful for that. If it had served dinner, we would not have dined elsewhere, and that would not have been creative.

La Coupole has a great meny of meats, fish, pasta, salads and desserts. In addition to the menu, they serve two or three specials every day, and they are new every day. We chose these dishes, as they were delicious to eat. The Price? €12-15 for each dish. A bargain if you ask me. And we were so delighted that we ordered different dishes and shared them in order to enjoy all the tastes.

I will present the dishes we ate here. And we start with honey and lavender glaced Ducks Breast with grape sauce.

Where to eat in Marseille - and where not to eat

As we asked the waiter at our favourite restaurant La Coupole where to eat dinner (The restaurant was only open for lunch), he answered - go to the Vieux Port. The Old Harbour Area is the centre of the citys gastronomic life, but it turned also out to be the home of some serious tourist traps

We had not done our homework before we left. Having no clue where to get real quality food, we were therefore depending on the advice from the staff at our two hotels. They adviced us to eat fish and shellfish. At both sides of the old harbour there were a large number of restaurants. They all offered menus for less than €20, with three or four dishes. We found some good restaurants and definetely one or two we would not recommend. Here are our restaurant score.

**** Brasserie La Coupole, 5 rue Haxo (Lunch only)
*** Une Escale à Marrakech, 26, Quai Rive Neuve
*** La Coquillage, Rue St Saens
*** La Daurade, 38 Rue St Saens
* New San Remo (No adress - do not waste your time)

Places to stay in Marseille: Hotel Maschotte

There were no rooms avaliable at hotel Alizé from tuesday November 28th to thursday November 30th. So we booked a room at Hotel Mascotte Vieux Port. This is the view from our 5th floor room at Hotel Maschotte. We chose this hotel as it was given favourable reviews by previous residents on www.venere.com. The Alizé, however, got better reviews and we do agree. Good, but not as good as staying down by the harbour.

It has a three star rating , situated by Rue Canébiere, one of the citys main streets.

The hotel has easy access for guests as there are just a few steps up to the ground floor reception area. The rooms are situed on the 3rd to the 6th floor. The lift was very small, having room for two small people with two suitcases. It did not feel very reliable as it was very slow to start and the doors tended to open and close at the strangest moments. The breakfast room was situated at the 5th floor. Breakfast is not included in the price. We paid around €180 for two nights.

We had room 509, facing the large Stock Exchange. It had french doors and a small balcony. Using this is not for those of you with fear of heights, though. The room was spacious, with grey wallpaper and wall to wall carpets in the same colour. It had a larger bathroom than at Alizé with a bathtub and a niche for the toilet.

I found, however, the room less clean than the room at Alizé. There were dust along the edge of the carpet. It was a bit shabby with stains on the floor. The bathroom had marks from a previous leakage leaving large brown stains on the ceiling over the toilet. The linoleum on the bathroom floor had burn marks from cigarettes and was also seriously stained.

The big pré of this room was the balcony. You could open the doors and enjoy the view of the busy street below. It was more quiet at night and that tempted us to sleep with the windows open. Be adviced not to. We got mosquito bites that still (Saturday) itch seriously.

Would I stay at hotel Mascotte again? No, I do not think so, if I was given the same room. I know, however, that other rooms have been given a facelift, and I would reconsider my decision if the hotel would offer me one of those rooms.

Places to stay in Marseille: Hotel Alizé

We had booked hotel Alizé on venere.com. Previous guests had been given it very favourable review, and so do we!

Hotel Alizé is ideally situated, on the Quai de Belges, overlooking the old Harbour area of the city. It has a two star rating, but the standard of the hotel is, in our view much better than the rating suggests. Be aware of some facts though. This is not the hotel for you who need easy access to your room. The reception is on the 1st floor. The lift is even one floor up, and it is tiny, having room for just one person with one large suitcase.

There are rooms turning facing a very small, enclosed back area and rooms facing the harbour. The prices start at €58. The rooms at the back are very quiet, but there are not much natural light. If you need a quiet night, be adviced to choose one of these rooms. The rooms facing the street have a splendid view over the harbour. But if you want a quiet nights sleep you have to keep the windows closed, as we found the traffic outside extremely disturbing during the night. Another advantage of this is that you keep the mosquitos out, as they gave us both allergic reactions when we slept with our windows open at Hotel Maschotte (See later)

The rooms are spacious with bathroom with shower and even a bathtub. It was clean and well furnished. We even had a flat screen television.

The breakfast is not included in the price. You have to pay €7 for different pastries, jam, cereals, cream cheese and eggs - coffee or tea. Personally we found the breakfast far too sweet for our taste, and we found a charming place on the corner for panini and coffe for the same price.

Would I recommend hotel Alizé? Oh yes, it was a great place to stay and the view was to die for. A wonderful place for a romantic getaway!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Marseille - November 25th to November 30th

Last week I and my sister visited Marseille, the city Alexander the Great once called the meeting place of the world. It has more than 2000 years of history, going back to the Greek and Roman era. Marseille of today is a city of more than 2 million inhabitants, rivalling Lyon for the position as the 2nd city in France after Paris. Marseille has, to me, always been a city with a bad reputation, but after a small week it is easy to fall in love with it. So, my friends, the coming week I will share my memories, and give you information on how to get there, where to stay, what to see, and where to eat. Enjoy!

How did we get there? We took a Ryanair non-stop service from Sandefjord airport Torp to Marseille. Arriving at the Marseille Provence Airport, the smaller of the twin airports situated at Marignan, a 25 minute bus ride from the city. The Marseille Provence airport have services operated by EasyJet and Ryanair to the UK, Western Europe and Northern Africa.

This airport is also an ideal starting point to get to other cities in Provence. as there is a bus service to Aix-en-Provence three times an hour.

We arrived close to midnight and even at this time there were supposed to be a bus to Marseille every 20th minute. We waited, however, for 50 minutes for the first bus to turn up. At this point we did consider taking a taxi, but hesitated as the drivers did not want to give us an estimate of what it would cost. When the bus arrived, however, we had a smooth ride to the Gare Saint Charles in Marseille. From there we took a taxi, and the price of the 10 minute ride was €10 a person.

If we had known all this, we would most certainly have chosen to stay at one of the budget airport hotels at Marignan and left for the city next morning. So, if you arrive late - be adviced to stay close to the airport until the next day.

Where did we stay? See tomorrows blog!