A passionate advocate for Granville where she owns a second home, journalist Karen Woods pays a visit to the seaside resort’s brand new restaurant La Contremarche…
The busy resort of Granville is famous for lobster, crab, mussels and all kinds of seafood. That’s not surprising as it is France’s premier shellfish port. Restaurants along the quay are rightly proud of their vast plates of iced ‘fruits de mer’, enough to feed an entire family of gourmets. But the tide is changing in the narrow lanes of the historic Haute Ville with a new restaurant that will be of interest to all foodies, whether fans of fish, meat-lovers or even vegetarians.
33-year-old Hugo Bailleul runs La Rafale, the popular bar in Place Cambernon in the Old Town. For years, he thoughtfully gazed across the square at the near-derelict building opposite. Built in 1827 as a fish market, this imposing but crumbling structure was occasionally used for art exhibitions. It would make a wonderful restaurant, he thought. Once plans were drawn up and finance secured, the young entrepreneur set to work.
Now, thanks to a million euros of investment, the 19th-century building has been transformed into La Contremarche. The beautiful Parisian-style bistro has a magnificent modern spiral staircase, designed by Hugo’s associate Alain Cordier, in an art nouveau theme. The restaurant can seat 80 diners and most tables have USB and power points. On the menu is stylish contemporary French cuisine, using local produce whenever possible, all crafted with care by chef Bastien Pinel.
The €20.50 three-course menu du jour in early September was a delicious combination of terrine de veau maison à l’estragon, pickles and verdure, followed by Effeuillé de cabillaud, pommes de terre et haricot verts, pesto and finally Madeleine à la vanille, glace caramel demi-sel et confiture de lait.
‘Our chef and I share the same vision,’ explains Hugo. ‘We want to prepare great food using the best fresh ingredients and always prepared with passion. Our menu reflects what is available in season, a simple set lunch and more complex dishes in the evening. We buy fish from the fishmonger in Granville, of course, a butcher provides us with meat from farms in Brécey and we use local companies as much as we can for other supplies.
‘We want to introduce our customers to different dishes and we even had a vegetarian choice on our lunchtime menu du jour last week, all using the wonderful produce of Normandy.’
Diners at La Contremarche can enjoy lunch or dinner on two floors or outside on the terrace, where they can watch the world go by. The Haute Ville is home to artists and craftspeople and the Place Cambernon also has a lively tabac and souvenir shop celebrating the links between Granville and Monaco as well as the bar La Rafale.
One further challenge lay ahead for Hugo who welcomed his first customers in January 2020. He hadn’t reckoned on Covid-19 changing the world in just a few months: ‘We were open for only two months before we were forced to close but that helped us to introduce ourselves to people in the town. Then we opened again when it was allowed in the summer. Business is good.’
Although travel restrictions mean visitors from the UK have been thin on the ground so far, the new bistro in town has been popular with holidaymakers from Germany and the Netherlands as well as with discerning French diners.
‘My ambition is for La Contremarche is to flourish and become known for the quality of its food, the restaurant of choice for lunch and dinner,’ says Hugo. ‘Come and find out for yourself.’
Why the name? A contremarche is the vertical part of a flight of stairs between the individual treads. Each contremarche on the spiral staircase is decorated with an intricate art nouveau motif designed by Alain Cordier. Hugo has incorporated it into the décor of tables, water bottles and other features.
For more information on La Contremarche in Granville, visit lacontremarche.fr
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website
All photos © K. Woods / H. Bailleul / La Contremarche