What could be more fitting than for one of Aix-en-Provence’s most fabulous restaurants to be housed in an old Calisson factory. The Calisson presses and huge vats of sugar are long gone and replaced by the lofty warehouse space that houses Le Passage. You literally enter down a passageway that lines a sunny courtyard area filled with cheery red director chairs. Once inside the restaurant proper the ceiling soars to three stories in height and is intersected by several mezzanine levels and propped up by the raw red brick walls.
There is a sense of theatre about Le Passage but the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. Visit on a Sunday and you have an option of brunch for 33 euros this is an all you can eat menu including coffee and juice. Although I generally shudder at the thought of a buffet, this is a French buffet and each dish is exquisitely presented from the creamy aubergine salad to the delicate patisseries that are arrayed for dessert. It is a popular concept and most of the dining room is busy indulging.
Fearing the amount that I would consume if I chose the brunch menu I opt instead for the brilliant value “Duo” menu. For 23 euros you can have two courses, a half bottle of wine and coffee or tea. Our waiter looks shocked when we enquire if this is prix complete. Service in France, he assures us, is always included.
The prices may be low but the food is deftly prepared. The duo de saumon en tartare is a small round of salmon tartare topped with elegant shreds of preserved mango flavoured with ginger and lemon (pictured). The accompanying orange sauce adds a touch of sweetness to the salty salmon and acidic mango.
Supreme de volaille is Le Passage’s take on a chicken supreme, cleverly enriched with a stuffing of foie gras and a sauce of balsamic reduction. It tastes even better than it looks. Alternatively, the brandade de morue offers a light twist on a fish pie. The creamy white fish is served in a small terracotta pot and is simply topped with some lightly toasted breadcrumbs rather than stodgy mashed potato.
The accompanying wine on offer is the house white, Le Passage’s own label which has a clean taste similar to a chablis and is really quite good. We have more than eaten and drank our fill although we do manage to fit in a visit to the patisserie counter at Le Passage as they look simply too delectable to pass up. The original Calisson makers would be proud that their former factory is still enticing tastebuds from around the world.
Details: 10 Rue de Villars, Aix en Provence, France (Ph 04 42 370 900)