Travel writer Barnaby Eales enjoys a socially-distanced gourmet day in Dieppe…
I am seated by a window in Dieppe’s Le Bistro du Pollet, one of the best fish restaurants in this refreshingly spacious Normandy seaside resort. Strolling over to the restaurant for lunch, I was struck by the fresh sea breeze and the broad streets lined by bright white, yellow and red 18th-century stone buildings. Arriving in Dieppe by ferry from Newhaven had been such a delight; it is easy to find a parking space here, and parking is free.
Unassuming in appearance, Le Bistro du Pollet is one of the superb fish restaurants found in Le Pollet fisherman’s quarter, away from the town centre, where chefs buy fish directly from the boats. Sipping on a glass of Petit Chablis, my pink lobster arrives. Fished off the coast of Normandy, it is deliciously seasoned with herbs and served with a subtle, bright yellow sauce. My first course was a seasonal fricassée of fresh mussels and the highly regarded, almost golden, Girolles mushrooms, cooked in a supreme marinière sauce with Normandy cream and butter.
Chef Xavier Hericher’s cooking of fresh simple, seasonal cuisine is faultlessly exquisite. A contented Dutch family at the far end of the restaurant laughs and jokes, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.
Dieppe is a small town, but it is a key fishing port in France for both shellfish and fish, especially Coquilles Saint-Jacques. Scallops are one of the ingredients used for good luck in Marmite Dieppoise. No, this isn’t a local version of the sticky yeast spread! It is a delectable stew, a feast of shellfish and white fish cooked in a white Normandy sauce. ‘Marmite’ is the name of the traditional belly-shaped French cooking pot. Other local dishes include sole ‘à la Dieppoise’ served with a white wine sauce of shrimps, mushrooms and mussels, and ‘Lisette à la Dieppoise’, small mackerel marinated in cider.
These dishes are often listed on the menus of Dieppe fish restaurants Le Turbot, La Cale, A la Marmite Dieppoise, and Le Bistrot des Barrières. For a wide range of oysters, try the Comptoir à Huitres.
Up the hill is the Michelin-starred Les Voiles d’Or, situated next to the church overlooking the sea, which displays plaques in homage to fishermen who have lost their lives at sea.
The town’s fish market at Quai Henri IV is the best place to see the array of local fish,and then there is Dieppe’s main Saturday market, which was voted France’s finest market in a TV poll carried out this year.
Walking through the centre of town, I find locals bathing in the sunlight on the terrace at the hip Froggy’s, a colourful café found on the corner of Quai Duquesne. Others sit at café terraces in the shade of the trees next to the Saint-Rémy church. Dieppe is not overrun with tourists; in the time of Covid-19, there is plenty of room in Dieppe to maintain social distancing.
The quality of my lunch has sparked an interest in all things Norman. Opposite the cafe is the shop Conserveries & Terroirs, where you can taste pâtés, conserves and thick creamy honey.
At Chocolatier Roussel on Grand Rue, I indulge in Bouchons Normands, rich almond biscuits filled with a praline of chocolate and hazelnuts.
The Roussel family invented the original Caramel de Pommes Dieppois range of three caramel jams; just try the delicious intensity of the salted butter version.
On Rue Saint-Jacques, I find the legendary Épicerie Olivier, a grocers and wine shop known in Dieppe as the bastion of Normandy produce. There is a range of local organic ciders and high-end artisanal Calvados made by top producers, including Roger Groult. I taste a delicious new range of Calvados infused with coffee.
There is the famous Neufchâtel, a local creamy cow’s milk cheese, and Olivier’s own extraordinary take on Camembert: the skin of the cheese has been removed and washed in Calvados to produce a uniquely intense flavour. ‘Keep this out of the fridge to mature when you get home,’ Madame Olivier tells me.
Attractive mounds of Normandy butter and crème fraîche are displayed, but it’s the Crème Fermière Cru du Pays de Caux that reminds me of the freshly whipped cream used in my dessert at lunch. My waitress had left a bottle of dark rum on the table, and I poured it over the Rum Baba, sultanas and Normandy cream. The taste lingers.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
All photos © B. Eales unless otherwise stated