Mama Shelter Marseille

I spend a lot of time in the South of France, but the busy port town of Marseille has never really appealed to me, until this year. Eurostar have recently extended their service, so it is now just a five hour direct train journey from London, and with the arrival of many trendy new bars and shops it has become an exciting destination for young and hip travellers.

The Mama Shelter brand is fashionable and affordable, first opening in Paris in 2008 and opening this second outpost in Marseille in 2012. The chain now has six hotels, four in France, one in Istanbul and most recently a hotel in Los Angeles. It is the perfect option for thrifty, style-savvy nomads who appreciate modern interiors and technology-focussed amenities. The bedrooms are designed by Philippe Starck, a Parisian designer who impresses with his creative interiors in venues across France.

The hotel has 127 rooms, and start at just 79 euros a night. We were upgraded to room 311, a spacious deluxe room on the third floor of the hotel. The large bedroom was equipped with a 27″ iMac, including numerous services: TV, radio, Airplay, Skype, internet and free WiFi access. There was a minibar and a desk where you can play or work. The floor was a colourful patchwork but most other things were minimal and white. The huge bed was blissfully comfortable and had strategically located plugs for charging, and lights for reading in bed. The full length mirror had a kind message from Mama, ‘welcome, mama loves you’ and in the bathroom, ‘you look beautiful’. I also loved the other little details, amusing masks for in-room selfies and lovely toiletries made for Mama Shelter by absolution.

It was such an unexpected delight to discover that the stylish apple TV had a variety of free films. After an evening of gallivanting around town I was happy to collapse on the bouncy white bed and watch a comedy.

The restaurant is a popular haunt with guests and visitors, and always receives rave reviews for the lavish Sunday brunch.

I enjoyed exploring Marseille and Mama Shelter was the perfect place to stay for a our brief city break.

More information on Mama Shelter Marseille and book here.

Chez Bruno, Lorgues

There are some restaurants who fluke a Michelin star, but last week I visited a kitchen which strives for excellence every day and truly deserves this prestigious accolade. Visiting Chez Bruno, hidden away in the Provencal countryside, was a unique culinary experience and for me, it provided an education about the world of truffles.

Chez Bruno was opened in 1983 by Clément Bruno, a talented chef and world connoisseur of truffles. In 1999 the restaurant received its Michelin star which it has retained ever since.Chez Bruno has always been a family focussed business and three years ago Clément’s ambitious son, Benjamin took over the renowned kitchen. He continues the much-loved traditions of his father whilst creatively renewing recipes to showcase the truffle.

In summer the outdoor setting is dazzling, a beautiful haven surrounded by idyllic gardens; in winter the cosy sumptuous indoor dining room is warmed by a roaring fire and has a magical feel. We were lucky enough to be amidst the action in the kitchen at the chef’s table. We sat quietly observing as a whirlwind of chopping, cooking, cutting happened around us.

Champagne was swiftly delivered, and I relished the opportunity to chat to Benjamin about truffles and Provencal food. He emphasised that he likes to keep his recipes simple to let the fresh Provencal ingredients, and local truffles “speak for themselves”. Although he uses both local and imported truffles, and varieties of black and white, most of the produce is found within two hours of the restaurant, ensuring exceptional quality and fresh flavour. He also mentioned that only truffles found in France, Italy and Australia are really worth bothering with. The truffle season always sees a flurry of fine restaurants offering up dedicated menus, so I’ve tasted my fair share recently, but at Chez Bruno the truffles look more elegant, taste more refined, and the aroma is even more alluring.

With the just-baked rolls out the oven and the plates prepped, it was soon time for dinner service, and our eight course bespoke meal commenced. Benjamin insisted on offering us all the speciality dishes as well as a host of other sensational treats. Scrambled egg with truffle was a comforting bowl of fragranced eggy delight with cracked black pepper on top, particularly delicious when loaded onto a piece of the crusty bread. I imagine this is what royalty eat for breakfast along with the divine truffle on buttered toast which was served next.

After watching the dedicated chefs plating up the artistic Foie gras with beetroot, lentils and truffle, we tasted this colourful dish which Benjamin said he had introduced to the menu very recently. It was a more summery combination with vinegary dressed lentils, slivers of different beetroots, chives, crumbled black truffles and an immaculate slice of foie gras – the flavours and textures worked wonderfully together. Chez Bruno is best known for its secret potato and truffle dish, which visitors return for regularly. Sensationally simple, this dish only uses half a baked potato, a rich cream and truffle sauce, slices of white or black truffle, and a little seasoning. It was my favourite dish, especially with the exotic white truffles, which are the more expensive and have a more intense taste. The potato was fluffy and soft, coated in the most irresistible cream infused with truffle flavour.

A mouthful of palate-cleansing champagne and truffle granita was presented before the meat course. By this point I was too full to eat as much as I would have liked, and felt momentarily jealous of those with a larger appetite. Benjamin personally made us magical pastry parcels filled with pork and foie gras with a jus and topped with slices of black truffle. This is the kind of dish you want to come home to after a really long day at work, hearty and luxurious.

For dessert we had refreshing Italian truffle gelato, and tasted an orange and chocolate dessert, which seemed very out of place without any truffle!

When we left, the kitchen was still a hive of activity, as the enthusiastic chefs continued to grate, shave, crumble and sprinkle the wondrous black ingredient. The truffle is a delicacy that has become too common in restaurants, especially as they are often using inferior produce. Visiting Chez Bruno was an eye-opening and immersive experience, I know now that I will never think of this extravagant, distinctive little ingredient in the same way again, and urge you to visit the Truffle King if you ever find yourself in this part of the world.

More information and book a table at Chez Bruno here:

Le Relais des Moines, Provence

I have never had much need to visit restaurants in Provence. The fresh market produce and my family’s culinary enthusiasm mean a great meal is never far away. However on my last trip to the South of France I did a bit of exploring, keen to discover what Michelin star eateries offer in this part of the world.

Le Relais des Moines ticked a lot of boxes: close to home, good value lunch menu and very appealing sounding dishes. Head chef Sebastien Sanjou cooks passionately but meticulously with the vibrant flavours of Provence, preparing thoughtful dishes that are clever yet uncomplicated. This simplicity emphasises the quality of the ingredients used.

Located on the route to St Roseline in a quiet corner of the Var countryside, the restaurant is set in a beautiful preserved 16th century stone house overlooking the lush Cote D’Azur, illuminated by the southern sunshine. We sat at a calm table near the window, so we could admire the views while enjoying our food and drinking wine from nearby vineyards.

The lunch menu costs 39 euros a head and includes three courses, two glasses of wine and half a bottle of water, coffee and petit fours, and numerous little extra amuse-bouches throughout. Immediately unusual and delicious tiny tasters arrived to perk up our palates… cauliflower jelly, crispy bread-crumbed beef, and a glass vessel of mushroom soup. For starter we loved the small but rich bowl of chestnut veloute, lightly grilled foie gras, crunchy croutons, slivers of bacon and green cabbage. Despite the rich ingredients, the dish was delicate, thanks to the airy recipe and careful seasoning.

The main course was bold and brilliant, and I couldn’t believe our luck, as it was the only option on the set lunch menu – fine lean pieces of gorgeous beef dressed with braised mushroom and a foam with an intriguing woody flavour. The meat, though very pink for me, was so tender and tasty that I didn’t notice its rareness. The jus had clearly been given all the chef’s attention and had a real depth of flavour. After the waitress drizzled a little over our plates I asked her sweetly if she could leave the little jug of steaming sauce on the table, needless to say when she came to pick up the empty plates the jug was also empty.

Dessert was a more extravagant version of my favourite breakfast recipe. Pain Perdu (similar to French toast) with pear sorbet, caramel, sugary nuts and nougatine was a delight of different textures and flavours: soft warm cooked bread surrounded by a pool of sticky caramel sauce and topped with cooling fruity sorbet and vanilla bean silky cream. I scraped up every last bit with barely a breath between mouthfuls. If you are going for the more luxurious a la carte menu, I’ve heard the mandarin dessert is unmissable.

Hidden away in the hills of Provence this restaurant showcases the flavours and captures the atmosphere of the area perfectly. I can’t think of anywhere in London where a Michelin starred lunch offers such masterful food, special wine and value for your money.

More information and book a table here.