We should have turned around and walked straight back out the door when we heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing. I am not against Michael Jackson per se (in fact I may have just registered to get a ticket for his London concerts) but I am against Michael Jackson playing in what is supposed to be a rustic Provencal restaurant.
We had booked dinner at Chez Maxime in Aix en Provence, recommended on both sides of the pond by both The Times and the New York Times as featuring unpretentious and reasonably priced Provencal cuisine. The interior looked charming enough, all deep burgundy walls and brightly checked table cloths but there was a suspicious dearth of customers. What’s more the menu was available in English, German and French which immediately sent alarm bells ringing that we were eating in what was essentially a tourist trap.
Perhaps I am being somewhat melodramatic. Reflecting on the food itself, it was not bad it was just not brilliant in the way that you expect food in every tiny French bistro to be. Freshly shucked oysters topped with garlic butter and cheese were undeniably tasty but were virtually obliterated by the butter and cheese to the extent that the natural flavour of the oysters was entirely lost.
The local specialty of Provencal beef stew could just as easily have been an Irish beef stew (pictured above). Admittedly it was served in a quaint little casserole dish and the beef had been cooked down into tender flakes however it was dull and lifeless. There was no delicate flavouring of Provencal herbs or vegetables, the only accompaniment to the hunks of meat were several stewed potatoes.
Dessert described as a trio of chocolate was a perfectly executed layered chocolate cake however the cake was ruined by an overenthusiastic chef who had been let loose in the kitchen with the raspberry coulis bottle and had covered the huge plate in Blue Poles style squiggles (see picture below although the coulis squiggles are out of the frame). It was even possible to fault the wine which is a rarity in France, our bottle of Beaujolais was not at all memorable and relatively speaking steeply priced at 25 Euros.
I am not sure why Chez Maxime comes so highly recommended, perhaps the travel and restaurant reviewers were working off old guides that have not been updated. However if you are in Aix en Provence I would give Chez Maxime a miss and as a general rule if you hear Thriller playing in a restaurant be afraid. Be very afraid.
Details: 12 place Ramus, Aix en Provence, France (Ph 04 42 26 28 51)
If you liked reading this you may be interested in reading about classic French bistro food at La Table Anna in the Champagne region in France or if you are looking for French cuisine in London try Cheyne Walk Brasserie.