It takes a dedicated foodie to map out their dining experiences before leaving for a holiday, researching restaurants through reviews and booking tables in advance. As rewarding as that is, I’ve had some great meals in Normandy in restaurants I’ve found by accident: when hunger strikes – especially when you’re in the company of small children – you’ve just got to get on with it.
Thankfully, France’s culture of family-run bistros, its abundant farmers’ markets and its plentiful picnic areas make impromptu dining a pleasure. One of the best meals I’ve had recently was in Courseulles-sur-Mer, where my husband and I had visited the excellent Juno Beach Centre. Rain was just starting to fall as my we walked out of the museum onto the beach itself, our hearts weighed down by the moving stories we’d heard. As the rain got heavier, we dashed to the town centre nearby and arrived, drenched, at the restaurant Au P’tit Mousse just in time to catch the end of lunch service. We were quickly served a huge pot of moules au cidre accompanied by hot, salty frites and the tender shellfish in a cider and cream broth proved to be food for the soul, a warming treat before we travelled on to Bayeux.
In Deauville, later on the same trip, we arrived just as the buzzing morning market was packing up. It’s usually a great place to snap up local cheeses, fruit and cider – its elegant timber-beamed roof enclosing the lively atmosphere and sheltering it from the sun and rain. A picnic was out of the question, so we looked into the nearby delicatessen Casa Romeo and admired its Italian antipasto, all glossy olives, salty charcuterie, fresh salads and a superb wine list.
On another trip to the Orne, we made a brief foray into the sleepy town of Argentan. Hunger struck just as we came into the town square. Our two young children weren’t going to wait too long for us to scope out the local eateries, so we bowled into the nearest one, a standard bistro called Café de Paris on the Place du Marché. With no tables available on the terrace (filled with locals – always a good sign) we heaved the push-chair through the door where the ebullient owner rushed to greet us, helping us carry it up the stairs to a table for four. He was as friendly as if we’d been long lost friends. We ordered the usual staples, omelette au jambon avec frites, steak-frites and were brought four plates of freshly prepared, home-cooked, hearty food. Uncomplicated, filling and absolutely delicious.
Also in Orne, on a trip to explore the brocantes, antiques shops and vide-greniers of the Perche, we dropped into La Verticale, a restaurant and wine cellar tucked into the corner near the church. Inside the cosy space, there was a buzzing atmosphere, friendly waiting staff and a menu that used fresh local produce. We dined on mackerel rillettes with a zing of lime, then crispy fries and a tender steak; a meal so filling there wasn’t room for dessert. All of these experiences stick in the memory as much as the gourmet meals, proving when it comes to restaurants in Normandy, and indeed France as a whole, the care and dedication to hospitality can be found everywhere.
Carolyn Boyd is a writer and editor specialising in France. Visit her website at carolynboyd.net for further articles and recommendations.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourism | Text © C. Boyd