L’Hermière restaurant, deep in the countryside between Étretat and Le Havre, is a real find. I went recently with my local partner Ivan from the Seine-Maritime Tourist Board, and as I was the only non-French person there, it definitely felt like the type of place only locals would know about.
Husband and wife team Jean-Charles and Noémie run the restaurant, with Noémie in charge of the kitchen and Jean-Charles managing the front of house.
What’s most special about L’Hermière is that it is a traditional 16th century half-timbered building that is part of a clos masure, a traditional farmstead found only in the Pays de Caux area of Normandy, which stretches east along the coast from Le Havre to Dieppe and inland to the town of Yvetot. Surrounding the farmstead are rows of enormous beech trees that act as a windbreak, protecting the crops and farm buildings. Given the unique heritage and dying tradition of the clos masure – the département of Seine-Maritime has made a bid to UNESCO to protect these farmsteads with heritage status.
Jean-Charles’ family has lived at L’Hermière for generations. His grandfather was born in the farmhouse where his parents still live; the restaurant is housed in what was once a cowshed and a third barn is used for storing the farm’s fruit and vegetables.
When Jean-Charles’ parents felt the clos masure was too big a property for them to manage on their own, the young couple suggested opening a restaurant as a way to continue the farmstead tradition. L’Hermière has been fully operating as a restaurant since 2013 and it remains, first and foremost, a family business.
Jean-Charles’ father manages the enormous kitchen garden, next door to the restaurant and this supplies almost all of their fruit and vegetables for the most part of the year. They grow leeks, squash, potatoes, carrots, courgettes, beetroot, quince, apples, berries, pears and much more besides. What they don’t grow themselves, they source from local producers who are proudly listed on a chalkboard at the entrance to the restaurant.
We came for lunch on an autumn day and the menu featured plenty of seasonal squash and wild mushrooms. There were two different menus with two or three choices for each course. I started with an onion, bacon and cheese tart followed by a tagine style sautéed lamb served with buckwheat. This was absolutely delicious – a break from traditional French cuisine with lots of seasonal vegetables and stewed prunes, it was packed with flavour. For dessert, since I would be paying a visit to the Palais Bénédictine that afternoon, I decided to warm up with a crème brulée à la Bénédictine and pieces of crystallised orange. I don’t think you can ever go too far wrong with a good crème brulée and here the zesty alcoholic spike worked brilliantly.
After our meal, when the lunch rush had calmed down, Jean-Charles spoke to us about his restaurant venture. When L’Hermière first set out in 2011, they only hosted private lunches for large groups on weekends. Jean-Charles explained how a clos masure is ideally designed for families since the natural barrier of the beech trees mean it’s very safe for children to play outside while their parents enjoy lunch. At L’Hermière, there are two plots for pétanques (think bowls, French style) and a patio that’s ideal for an aperitif on sunny days. The private lunches were such a success that Jean-Charles and Noémie then decided to open their restaurant to the public, and ever since, L’Hermière has gone from strength to strength. These days, it is now open for lunch from Tuesday to Saturday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.
For a truly memorable dining experience at a traditional clos masure farmstead, I’d highly recommend booking a table at L’Hermière – be sure to visit the restaurant website and check out all of the seasonal dishes on offer!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
All photos © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Maggie McNulty