French cuisine is considered by many to be the best in the world, but for vegetarians, options can often seem limited.
When Debbie and Daniel came to Normandy on holiday just over fifteen years ago, they’d booked a stay at the Maison du Vert in Ticheville, a vegetarian restaurant and hotel. On arrival, they discovered that it was up for sale. When they checked into their room and took one look at the incredible view across the Touques valley, it took Debbie and Daniel approximately five minutes to offer the asking price and buy the place.
A re-location to France and taking on a hospitality business had not been on the cards for the couple. Shortly before that fateful holiday, they’d bought and moved into a new home back in England. They didn’t speak French and in spite of being keen cooks, they’d never run their own restaurant.
They set to work on modernising La Maison du Vert before moving onto the overgrown garden. As professional horticulturalists they transformed the 6 acres into an idyllic oasis.
When they developed their kitchen garden, they discovered that the soil here was excellent for growing top quality produce. Their organic vegetable and herb garden, berry bushes, apple and pear trees supply most of the salad, vegetables and some of the fruit for their restaurant.
My colleague Carole and I visited the restaurant at lunchtime on a stunning autumnal day. It was so warm and sunny that we opted to eat outside in the beautiful landscaped gardens. In summer I could imagine that the colours of the many flowers planted throughout the garden make a riot of colour but we enjoyed vibrant green and burnt autumnal shades.
After an aperitif we started our meal with stuffed vine leaves served with fresh salad from the garden and toasted seeds. Far from the usual Norman restaurant fare, Debbie told us that their cooking is inspired from all corners of the globe to keep it deliciously tasty, varied and interesting. Almost everything on the menu is homemade and apart from a few exotic ingredients that they buy on their annual trip back to the UK, they only use local produce.
Our main course was a potato rosti served with sweet red pepper sauce, grilled courgette, goat’s cheese and sundried tomato. Not only did it look pretty on the plate, it was absolutely delicious.
For the first three years after opening, the locals were shy to come to the restaurant and try these exotic dishes. Initially their main clientele were visiting Brits, Germans, Belgians and Dutch. Then, the French seemed to arrive, word spread and now they make up almost half of their diners. Debbie had been warned that the French aren’t too keen on spicy food but when they tried it here, they seemed to love it. She soon noticed that local customers would always choose the most unusual dish on the menu and the exotic choice was perhaps the reason they most enjoyed coming.
I continued onto dessert and opted for a ginger and honey ice cream. It was creamy, zingy: exquisite.
During the summer months they serve afternoon tea and homemade cakes outside. The gardens are immense and are cleverly landscaped with hedges and trees to create lots of small intimate spaces with their own table and chairs.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.