Photography Adrian Bautista

Laura Vidal

Sommelier, restaurateur and multitasking Marseille resident Laura Vidal makes up a third of The Small Group alongside partners Julia Mitton and Harry Cummins. Following several years of guest spotting around the globe, the collective of close friends now operate a trifecta of permanent, produce-driven venues in the city, while concurrently overseeing an assortment of other projects and collaborations. “We've grown from doing nomadic pop-up restaurants in 2013 to owning four businesses in 2022 without a single penny from outside investors and have been fortunate to sustain our autonomy.”

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Marseille: A City With a Strong Maternal Energy

There’s a very strong maternal energy in the south of France, especially in Marseille. I can’t really explain it but there’s a force that’s very supportive, encouraging and inspiring. I feel it more here than in other city I’ve been to. Women are empowered to open their own spaces which led to there being a lot of female entrepreneurs. We all know each other and help each other out. There’s a church called La Bonne Mère which oversees the whole city and it feels like the eye of a mother watching over us all. It’s also really mixed around here but communities of different backgrounds kind of live together and it doesn’t feel that way in other cosmopolitan cities. Businesses keep popping up everywhere and are getting more interesting and diverse. There’s also a lot of movement around artistic energy, which is really beautiful and exciting to be part of.

Let’s Start With Coffee

There are two local coffee shops that I really like. Deep Coffee Roasters is really close to us and is renowned for its Black Ginger Latte, made with a black ginger syrup that’s imported from Japan. La Brûlerie MÖKA is a bit further up in the fifth district, sources its beans from small, sustainable producers and serves its coffee with a nice selection of sweet and savoury snacks. Both shops are really cosy and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. We’ve recently opened our own coffee shop and bakery: Pétrin Couchette. We make sandwiches with our own sourdough bread and locally source as much of the produce as possible. We make all kinds of treats – buns, brownies, quiches and tarts – and serve them with specialty coffee and teas and delicious kombucha from Ardèche.

Marseille’s Best Pizza

Pizza has become a true Marseille staple thanks to the strong Neapolitan influence on the city. I really love La Bonne Mère, owned by my friend Mahéva and her Neapolitan husband Jérémy. They make the best pizza I’ve ever had outside of Italy so I’m there as often as I can. Everything is done as naturally as possible using only the best ingredients. They regularly go to Italy to buy flour. They ferment their dough overnight and top their pizzas with a blend of two organic tomato sauces, adding only organic olive oil and a little salt to the mix. When you walk into the shop, you feel like you’re walking into their apartment: it’s really welcoming and homely. 

Good for the Planet, Great for the Community

Maison des Nines is a gorgeous concept store owned by three girls who are all really entrepreneurial and courageous. You can buy clothes, perfumes and candles and everything is really well-sourced, eco-friendly and made in France. It’s a multi-use space so there’s also a kitchen where they prepare simple, market-inspired fare that changes regularly. It’s only open during the day and since it’s right next to our restaurant we’re always hopping over to say hi and to have our impromptu meetings. I also really like Provisions which is an épicerie fine (deli) owned and operated by two incredible women: Saskia and Jill. It was an old bookstore that reinvented itself: you’re still surrounded by a lot of books but they’re now all about food, wine, ecology and sustainability. It’s a really cool space that’s also stocked with carefully curated food products, fresh flowers from the region, cruelty-free cosmetics which are locally made and many other delights. One Sunday every month they organise an event called Collectif Hors Champs, a market where local producers gather to sell their artisanal goods. It’s an incredible initiative.

The Maghreb Connection

There’s a large North African community in Marseille and so excellent food from the region is quite accessible. There’s a Tunisian restaurant in the heart of the Noailles neighbourhood called Chez Yassine. People from all walks of life go there and it’s a place that we send people to often. It’s very homey and very well-known for its authentic Tunisian dishes such as kefteji made with slow-roasted eggplant and ojja (an egg-based concoction cooked with tomato sauce, olives and onions). It’s great value food that’s really good quality too.

Crudos and Natural Wine

There’s a place called Le Vivier that was opened by our friend Alexis, who was working with us as an extra during the opening of our wine bar Livingston. He’s a ball of positive energy and is so generous, caring and humble. The whole staff at Le Vivier is amazing actually: they’re kind of like family at this point and it’s just really good vibes so I love it there. The chef is young and creative and the menu is very focused on the sea. There’ll be things like fresh crudos with calamansi juice, or oysters with homemade seaweed butter and they’ll encourage you to grate pepper on your oysters. It’s a little trick that I would have never thought of doing and it’s so delicious. They serve really good natural wines too. 

Orange Wine, Small Plates and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Livingston was born out a long-felt desire for an orange wine bar. I really like the scope of orange wine: it’s very adaptable to spicy, acidic and salty food. Chef Valentin Raffali did a season at Chardon, our chef in residence programme in Arles, and we loved what he did there. When it wrapped up, he expressed wanting to do his own thing, so we floated the idea of an skin-contact wine bar with small plates. He and my business partner Harry Cummins have a very similar outlook on food and it all fell into place. We found a space really quickly: it was for sale so we bought it. Valentin is only 25 years old so he’s just rocking it out: the music is on the louder side, the vibe is young and it’s all a bit rock and roll. There’s no “appetiser, main and dessert” format – it’s just different small plates that you choose from. There are 50 or more orange wines on the list, a little bit of white, red and sparkling wine, and a bunch of digestifs, cocktails, beers and soft drinks. You can stop by on your own for one plate and a glass of orange wine or you can come with friends and stay for three hours and have the whole menu three times over with a bunch of wine. 

Produce-driven Food and a Massive Wine List

While Livingston is very accessible, La Mercerie is a bit more polished, comfortable and leaning towards the fine-dining side. The space is much larger too – twice as big as Livingston. There’s an open kitchen with 40 seats inside and 40 more on the terrace in the summer. We do an appetiser, a main and a dessert for lunch and a tasting menu in the evening (five courses for 62 Euros). There’s a huge wine list with over 400 references. Nominoé Guillebot, our head sommelier, is largely responsible for the wine list’s breadth and depth: we have a hard time trying to reduce our wine list because he just keeps buying more.

After-Hours in Marseille

Marseille has really great bars and I send our guests to two of them when they want one last drink before calling it a night. Bar Gaspard is one of them. The atmosphere there is really fun, the music is always really good and the cocktails are amazing. CopperBay is not too far and is an avant-garde cocktail bar where the cocktails are prepared with extreme precision and care. The bartenders approach drinks the way great chefs approach food and they end up being like liquid dishes.

Photo Credit: Adrian Bautista

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