It was late November and we were visiting Marseille for Seatrade Med - a trade show for people working in all aspects of the cruise industry. It rained solid for three days and nights. We dined in the Miramar twice, once for dinner and once for lunch. On both occasions were a large group. First let's talk about our dinner experience and I'm sure you'll wonder why we went back the following day for lunch!
Our dinner booking was for 18 people. When we arrived the restaurant was busy and there was a great buzz about the place; always a good sign. However, to our disappointment we were ushered up a narrow stairs to a room above the main restaurant. The low ceiling was not a problem however there was no decor other than plain walls; we were split into two groups; not a problem.However while our companions had their order taken and their food served we sat and waited... and waited... and waited! As they were being served dessert our order was finally taken. We were then presented with an amuse-gueule, delicious truffle on a thin pastry slice; if that had been my main course I would have been completely satisfied. Our colleagues at the favoured table were leaving as we were receiving our starters. I chose Lobster Canneloni and it was rich and delicious - my fellow diners were all delighted with their choices though we did discuss the notion that perhaps the food tasted so good because we were famished! It took forever to have our plates cleared and while we again waited we began to notice that people at other tables were also beginning to grumble about the poor standard or rather lack of standard of service.
For my main course I chose Sole Meuniere. It too was presented and then filleted; my sole was delicious though lukewarm. For wine we choose two of the least extravagant wines (rouge et blanc) on the list and they were superb. I can't remember the names!
Two colleagues had ordered Bouillabaisse (the Miramar claims to serve the best Bouillabaisse in Marseille, the place where this famous dish originated many centuries ago) and that arrived first. The liquor produced in cooking the fish was served as a starter. At the same time the large dish of whole cooked fish was presented and then removed to a side table to be filleted and prepared for eating; this procedure was a performance; when the fish was prepared it was plated with great aplomb and then covered in the rich liquor (sauce) that the fish produced in cooking. The liquor had been kept hot on a burner however the fish had grown cold in being filleted. The addition of hot sauce to the cold fish did nothing to enhance the dish.
For dessert I chose Souffle Grand Marnier and it was a classic; it was so fresh it had not even begun to collapse and it was served, as it should, with flaming Grand Marnier. I was in heaven and would have forgiven everything for that beautiful dessert and the gorgeous truffle.
The cost of my meal was 120 euro; outrageous considering the horrendous lack of service. As we left the restaurant I noticed that almost 5 hours had passed.
The following day we returned for lunch - partly because we knew the food could be good and we hoped that it would be great, perhaps even excellent.
We were a party of 8 for lunch and we were seated in the front of the restaurant where the previous evening the smokers had been seated; that worried me as I have an abhorance of smoking in the presence of food - and me! It proved not to be a problem. Perhaps because the restaurant wasn't as busy as the previous evening the service was excellent - then again perhaps it was because we were under the eye of staff who cared? The lunch menu was the same as the dinner menu so choosing was easy; I choose the dish that had been my second choice (or joint first choice) the previous evening. Lunch was excellent and it was everything that dinner should have been the previous evening. Being lunch I skipped the starter and chose for my main course Lobster Tortellini. Again we were served truffle and it was delicious beyond words; my main course was excellent. Because my dessert the evening before had been so memorable I knew I had to have dessert so I ordered a Millefeuille with Raspberries. I sat back to wait and to enjoy my wine; suddenly we were all served what I can only describe as a house dessert... it can't be described as a sorbet to cleanse the palate because it was what I can only describe as an amazing French Trifle in a cocktail flute; then my Millefeuille arrived and the presentation was breathtaking and from a hotelier that is some accolade! It tasted as good as it looked; one of my compainions had Souffle Grand Marnier and he was as happy as I had been the previous evening.
So there we are... this restaurant can be outstanding, memorable even fabulous but it can also be lacklustre, pretentious and outrageously expensive without a hint of service and hospitality - I suppose that all adds up to being inconsistent and that is a shame because this restaurant has the capability of being truly great. And few people are willing to eat the parson's egg in the hope that the good spots will outshine the bad. I would love to say be adventurous but the price is too great!
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