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Allée Leon Gambetta is a street branching off from Stalingrad Square in Marseille’s Réformés neighborhood, located around the corner from Gare Saint-Charles which, like most train station areas, is a bit rough around the edges. Past the unemployed men working on packs of Heineken in front of the grocery store, regulars lingering at the sandwich joints and cafés, Golda shines like a beacon, her beach-yellow parasols almost airborne over the pavement of this tree-lined street of elegant, worn buildings.

Flaunty Golda, newly opened in June 2022, is in fact a relaxed, pretty corner bistro with an ample terrace bordered by leafy plants. Its door is wide open in every sense, displaying the interior’s handsome, multicolored mosaic counter, as well as the open kitchen in the back with chefs Or and Margaux at work. The ambiance is welcoming, too, with Golda’s entire cadre practicing genuinely friendly, warm professionalism. People come by for a brioche in the morning (and soon they will have a selection of homemade cakes as well), and stop in for coffee all throughout the day. “We are still working out our identity,” explains restauranteur Ilan Loufrani. He plans to open things up even more. Two more chefs are training in Golda’s kitchen, and soon the restaurant will be able to welcome people all day, including regular lunch service, and adding mezze options in the afternoon and through dinner. With its train station neighborhood location, this would enable travelers to find fresh, good food at any hour they arrive in Marseille.

Ilan is hands-on in the restaurant and with the books, making sure his newest venture takes form. He has considerable experience as a Marseille restauranteur: it was he and an associate who first established the successful Café L’Écomotive – an organic vegetarian restaurant and café located at the bottom of the train station’s magnificent staircase. Ilan then moved on to found George eight years ago, a commendable bistro in Marseille’s Chave neighborhood. Ilan wanted to choose a woman’s name this time, and borrowed his best friend’s daughter’s name for his new venture on Gambetta. Golda fits perfectly with the name of the chef, Or (which means gold in French). “This neighborhood is too masculinist – too many men here,” he noted. “It needs yellow – this bright gold yellow I love [also the trademark color of George] to counter such urban triste, drab shades,” he adds, sweeping his hand across the streets before him.

The couscous we ordered accords perfectly with Golda’s Mediterranean menu: a pilaf steamed in a rich broth, instead of classic semolina, with scallops and shrimp, black olives and dill, and home-made harissa (chilis crushed in garlic and spice). The entrées are simple, with few ingredients, fresh and inventive: crisp lettuce with pecorino ricotta, nectarine, and dashi dressing. Strips of gravlax Ardèche trout (marinated and dried in the Nordic tradition), cream of yogurt, roasted tomatoes, dill, and liberally dusted with carrot-orange shavings of poutargue (a Mediterranean delicacy, a sausage of dried red mullet, cut paper-thin, and popular from Italy to the Maghreb and Greece).  Over ninety percent of Golda’s ingredients are sourced locally. Chef Or explains that they get all their grains, chickpeas, and lentils, for example, from a female farmer in Fontevieille (near Arles), like the tasty wheat they use to make focaccia for dinner, as well as the couscous they served that day.

Like many who cook using in-season farm produce, Or does not strictly “develop” or follow recipes, rather he experiments with putting together market finds. The menu changes almost daily, depending on which ingredients they source. Or is Israeli, and started his own bar/restaurant in Tel Aviv. Wanting to leave Israel, fed up with what he considers to be its intolerable policies, he launched himself first to London, then Paris and Arles (where he cooked and managed Hotel Voltaire’s restaurant), and now Marseille, a city he loves and where he would like to stay. But he maintains his knowledge and taste rooted in Levantine cuisine, which he shares with Ilan (who also lived in Tel Aviv for a number of years in his youth). Golda’s daily menu is French-Mediterranean, with notable Levantine influences. It is dotted with Arabic and Ottoman words like mezza (multiple dishes of little salads hot and cold), poisson de kefta (minced). For dessert, we ate “mehalba” (muhalabiyyeh), a milk-based pudding made with maizena corn starch, which Margaux made vegan by using almond milk, following Or’s directive, as well as orange-blossom water, topped with fresh peach slices. It was refreshing, and not too sweet. In fact, all the culinary creations at Golda are easy to eat, satisfying, and flavorful.

The team is keen to navigate the neighborhood considerately. For a while they had a minor problem with someone passing by to break plant pots in the early morning, and Ilan guesses it may have to do with the terrace’s location on what had previously been used (illegally) as sidewalk parking spaces. Golda manages to get along with its diverse neighbors, although the neighbors do not necessarily get along with one another, he observes. He points to the corner café next to Golda: “This one is Algerian,” (where men drink coffee and play cards the day long), “and the business on the other side of me is Kabyle. And they do not converse. And the next one down is Kurdish.” The sandwich place is always packed, and Ilan admires the owners for serving fresh, homemade food, and generously suggests trying the food there sometime. Indeed, to fit in reasonably on Gambetta, Golda must be just the kind of open, easy-going restaurant that it is.

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Jenine AbboushiJenine Abboushi and Marion Péhée

Published on November 04, 2022

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