Apple, cider and cheese, what more do you need?

Autumn in Normandy means food festivals galore. As one of France’s biggest apple-growing regions, there are apple festivals across the region almost every weekend in September and October! Last September, I accompanied a journalist on a trip to research the traditions behind Normandy’s ubiquitous apple. Our travel plans happily coincided with the popular Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage [Apple, Cider and Cheese Festival] in the pretty town of Conches-en-Ouches, so we decided to stop by.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon and as we arrived in Conches, we realised that the word was out – cars were parked on every spare bit of pavement. After circling the main town square several times, we found a parking place and then followed the crowd. After descending a winding flight of stairs to the bottom of the valley, we arrived at the festival. The event takes place in a huge park that was bathed in sunshine. Hundreds of people had gathered and there was a sense of festivity in the air and, of course, apples everywhere.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches
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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

We grabbed a cup of delicious apple juice and wandered on, before coming across a stage where traditional dances were being performed in traditional Norman costume. Between the dances, a presenter was talking the spectators through the different outfits, much to everyone’s amusement.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

We moved on to the market stalls to browse the fabulous fare from producers who had come to Conches from all across the region. I spotted a couple of people whom I had already met, including Patricia of Les Saveurs Retrouvées, who had by now sold the vast majority of her macaroons, and the Cidre de Glace stall was doing a roaring trade. I also recognised the familiar faces, or fabulous costumes rather, of the Confrèrie des Goustes, aka the apple pastry brotherhood.

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© Mairie de Conches-en-Ouches

As we left the park, queues were beginning to form next to the food stalls and the vast seating area, bathed in autumnal sunshine, was packed. There was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, as families chattered over a cider and some cheese and foodies caught up on the latest culinary innovations from the region. All in all, it was the perfect food festival and we wished we didn’t have to leave so soon, but we knew that as we were in Normandy, another appley adventure was sure to be waiting for us just around the corner!

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The Fête de la Pomme, du Cidre et du Fromage takes place on Sunday 29th October this year so be sure to stop off if you’re over in Normandy for half-term! For more information on food festivals in the region, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © philipimage / Fotolia.com | Writer: Maggie McNulty

10 reasons we can’t wait for All the Sea on a Plate

1. The Toute la Mer sur un Plateau [All the Sea on a Plate] festival takes place on the port of Granville, meaning that you can pretty much eat fresh fish and seafood straight off the fishing boats…

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© M. Coupard / Fotolia

2. Granville is France’s number 1 shellfish port, so if anyone can put on a cracking shellfish-themed festival, it’s certainly this town!

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3. Last year, no fewer than 50,000 people flooded into Granville for this popular festival – we reckon that’s an endorsement if any.

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4. Several tons of oysters, scallops, mussels, shrimps, whelks and lobsters are caught and brought into Granville for the festival, where visitors can then enjoy them with a refreshing glass of kir.

5. All the Sea on a Plate attracts not just Frenchies, but people hailing from all over the place (including my three journalists and me!) so the event has a real cosmopolitan feel to it.

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6. Live music will be played all weekend right on the quais, so why not enjoy a jog to a sea shanty or two?

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© Pierre Jeanson

7. Also on the agenda are cooking workshops, a food market, tastings, activities for children, film screenings and an exhibition that looks into the life of a fisherman.

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8. Around the harbour is an assortiment of restaurants and food stalls, so visitors can dine al fresco and look out over the picturesque port, whether from a terrasse or one of the many benches set up especially for the festival.

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9. In addition to all the fab food on offer, you can also peruse the many wine, clothes and arts and crafts stalls, and take back home some souvenirs of Granville.

10. You could even make the most of your stay by visiting the Christian Dior Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to the famous designer’s childhood in Granville and his 22 post-war collections.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

‘All the Sea on a Plate’ takes place on Saturday 30th September and Sunday 1st October. For more information, visit the Granville Terre & Mer website.

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © Normandy Tourist Board unless otherwise stated | Cover photo © Kevin14 / Fotolia | Writer: Fran Lambert

Foraging for mushrooms in the Orne

The prize: the Cèpe d’or, or rather, the Golden Porcini mushroom in English, though that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it… No, this particular mushroom is not edible, but you can win it at the Mycologiades Internationals, the International Wild Mushroom Festival, which takes place at the end of September in the village of Bellême, the home of all things mushroom in Normandy.

Often in autumn, I’m stuck for ideas on what to do – winter’s on its way, and the bad weather with it. Of course, it is apple season in Normandy but I’m looking for other fresh foodie ideas. Why not mushrooms? I can already picture the colours of the forest and hear the crunch of leaves under my feet!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

Since 1953, the International Wild Mushroom Festival in the Perche Regional Natural Park has been welcoming visitors on a mushroom foraging quest led by a mycologist (that’s a mushroom expert to you and me). So it was that my friend and I took a basket one Sunday last autumn and played Little Red Riding Hood for the weekend. After the mushroom foraging, all of our foodie treasures were laid out and we were given a presentation on all of the different mushrooms that we had found. Alas, our efforts were not quite enough to win us the coveted Golden Porcini, but we were proud of ourselves, and now felt far more confident about telling the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms!

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

I could well have enjoyed eating some tasty mushrooms at the festival but there was a nearby mushroom hot-spot that I wanted to try whilst I was in the Perche: La Tête Noire restaurant in the nearby village of Saint-Germain-de-la-Coudre. Only 15 minutes from the International Wild Mushroom Festival, La Tête Noire offers an intimate, buzzy atmosphere and serves fresh food sourced from local artisan producers. In keeping with the theme of the day, I opted for the restaurant’s speciality: soft-boiled eggs with fried wild mushrooms. Yum yum, it tasted like grandma’s homemade cooking and gave a real taste of Perche terroir.

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© J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board

At the end of our dinner, the waitress passed our table with some mouth-watering dauphinois potatoes with mushrooms and Normandy cream – it smelt irresistible! When I saw the couple who had ordered it enjoying their meal, I knew I should not miss out on this experience – that’s what I’ll be ordering next time! One strawberry baba dessert later, I left the restaurant, pleasantly full and satisfied with my lot, readier than ever to face the coming week.

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© Joe Gough

This year, the International Wild Mushroom Festival takes place from 28 September to 1 October, and offers all sorts of fun mushroomy activities like exhibitions, seminars, and of course the Cèpe d’or competition! If you are interested in taking part in this foraging extravaganza, visit the website to sign up: www.mycologiades.com (website in French only).

Alternatively, if you fancied an autumn ramble in the forest and a leisurely lunch at La Tête Noire, why not browse the Perche Regional Natural Park website for walking routes and book a table? Bon appétit!

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © J. E. Rubio / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Marie Buchet

It’s a family thing: Camembert with a twist

It’s not every day that a new cheese hits the stalls. In this case, we can’t exactly say that the variety itself is new, as we’re taking about Camembert, but read on and you’ll understand what we’re all excited about.

A year ago, Charles Bréant and his four brothers decided to open a cheese production line in a bid to diversify the family farm located in Bermonville, at the heart of the Pays de Caux, north west of Rouen. Instead of inventing a new variety, they chose to go back to basics and settled on making Camembert, Normandy’s most famous cheese. The idea wasn’t revolutionary, but it marked the opening of the only Camembert production site in the Seine-Maritime département.

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© Le 5 Frères

‘Fifty years ago, there were still many producers in Seine-Maritime,’ explains Charles. ‘However, most of them disappeared when Camembert was granted AOC [Controlled Origin Certification] status in 1983.’

What makes the Bréant family’s cheese so special then? First, it’s a Camembert fermier, meaning the entire production process is completed on the farm. All the milk comes from the family’s own herd of 200 dairy cows, and Charles knows exactly what they’ve been fed. Only raw milk is used, and the cheeses are moulés à la louche (moulded by ladle), just as they should be. After a month’s ripening, they are boxed and packaged on site, bearing a very distinctive label. Unlike most Camembert boxes, which picture a lazy cow or an idyllic Norman village, the Bréant brothers’ logo is minimalist and trendy. ‘We really wanted to try something different and our main aim was to target a younger audience with our packaging,’ says Charles. The blue and white triangles sure do stand out!

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© Charles Bréant
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© Le 5 Frères

As for the name of the cheese, it speaks for itself: Le 5 Frères. The family cut to the chase and Charles swears that the name isn’t just a gimmick: ‘All five of us really do work on the farm and we all have different tasks to complete.’ At present, 150 Camemberts a day are produced on site, but the number is growing month by month. ‘People really enjoy the product and word of mouth is our only marketing and sales strategy at the moment,’ Charles explains. Le 5 Frères is mainly sold at local markets, cheese shops and épiceries fines, and is also on the menu in several restaurants across Normandy.

Now that Normandy has fallen for their tasty Camembert, Charles and his siblings would like to introduce the product to British cheese-lovers. ‘We are working with a distributor and we would both love to start exporting our Camembert to the UK,’ says Charles. In the meantime, if you want to meet the team, taste the cheese or stock up for the winter, head to the Fête du ventre et de la Gastronomie normande [which literally translates to ‘Festival of the Stomach and Norman Gastronomy’]  on 14-15 October in Rouen, where the brothers will be running a stall. And if you’re ever passing by Bermonville, near Yvetot, when you’re next in Normandy, why not pop in and see the family-run farm for yourselves?

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© Le 5 Frères

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © Tesseraud / IRQUA-Normandie | Writer: Ben Collier

Love food? Love Le Havre!

When you think of foodie destinations in France, Le Havre is not exactly what springs to mind. Yet this buzzing coastal city in Normandy is fast finding its feet as a popular weekend destination for foodies, families and francophiles. Not only is it super simple to travel over to Le Havre from the UK – a mere 6-hour ferry from Portsmouth, to be precise – but the city is also celebrating its 500th anniversary this year, so there’s all sorts of fun to be had there.

Le Havre’s concrete facades lend a modern feel to the city centre, 90% of which was destroyed during the Second World War and completely rebuilt in the years that followed. Designed by Auguste Perret, a leading architect of the time, pristine low-rise blocks give us a remarkable sense of space here not often found in cities – the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville is one of the largest squares in Europe, and the Avenue Foch, which leads down to the beach, is wider even than the Champs Elysées. So impressive is Perret’s post-war reconstruction that in 2005, UNESCO classified Le Havre’s city centre a World Heritage Site.

But back to the food! As you might expect, being by the sea, Le Havre boasts a whole host of places to eat fish and seafood. It is also a great place to savour all the Norman classics, and showcases local specialties such as marmite dieppoise (fish stew) alongside meat dishes, topped off (of course) with an apple tart. From the rue Racine and the Saint-François quarter in the city centre to the bars and restaurants lining the beach, there is certainly something to suit everyone’s tastes.

So whether you fancy fish or could murder some meat, the following recommendations have got you covered!

Le Grignot

Opposite Le Volcan [The Volcano] in Le Havre’s bustling bar and restaurant district, Le Grignot is one of the most famous brasseries in Le Havre. Specialising in seafood platters, delicious traditional recipes and organic food, its dishes are seasonal and cooked fresh. Grab a table on the terrace and enjoy views of the Volcano, which lights up blue at night!

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Situated right on the promenade overlooking the beach, Saison 2‘s unfussy menu features classics such as burger and chips, meat and two veg, and the must-have dish when at the beach in France: moules-frites. Enjoy with a glass of chilled white wine while watching the sun set over the sea – what better way to spend an evening?

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Le Grand Large

A little way out of town in the stylish neighbouring town of Sainte-Adresse, Le Grand Large, which means the open sea, boasts a maritime menu of epic proportions against a a panoramic view of the Channel. Be sure to try the prawns with citrus fruit followed by this restaurant’s pièce de résistance, the mighty marmite dieppoise.

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Le Bouchon Normand

The word bouchon may make you think of Lyon, but fear not, this restaurant is all Norman! With all ingredients sourced in the region, a particular favourite of ours is the feuilleté de pommes tatin Pont l’Evêque (that’s apple and cheese puff pastry to you and me). For those especially partial to a bit of pomme, there’s also apple tart on the menu…

La Taverne Paillette

Founded in 1596, the Taverne Paillette is almost as old as the city of Le Havre, and is therefore a local landmark in itself. Serving food throughout the day, seven days a week, this lively restaurant is renowned for three things, its delicious seafood (to which we can attest), its sumptious sauerkraut and its refreshing home-brewed beer. Santé !

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Le Bistrot des Halles

Right on the market square, Le Bistrot des Halles is somewhat of an institution in Le Havre. With its parquet floor, wooden bar and wall plaques, it is the very epitome of what we Brits think of as classic French décor and with its vast selection of tasty salads, main courses (we opted for sea bream) and desserts, its food doesn’t disappoint either!

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If you’ve got a taste of Le Havre and now fancy a foodie break there, click here for more inspiration! The city’s 500th anniversary celebrations are going on until 5th November this year so don’t miss out on all the fun!

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Photos © Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Fran Lambert

Mad for madeleines

This weekend, France celebrates Saint Madeleine’s Day on 22 July. I should confess to having a particular soft spot for madeleines; not only do I love eating the melt-in-the mouth cakes but my teenage daughter is called Madeleine. This first name seemed an obvious choice for a little Brit born and growing up in France as it was understood on both sides of the Channel… but back to the cakes! Legend has it that a certain ‘madeleine’ made the very first of the said cakes for pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and she used a scallop shell mould, the symbol of the route, to give the madeleines the distinctive shape they have to this day.

 

Normandy boasts its very own madeleine producer, the Biscuiterie Jeanette 1850. Based just east of Caen in Démouville, this company has been making biscuits since 1850 and, like most businesses, has had its ups and downs over the years. In 2015, the workforce together with the financial backing of a local entrepreneur Georges Viana, determinedly fought off bankruptcy  to save its 150 years of traditional savoir-faire. The new company is now going strong and is a real local success story. One of the main reasons for this is their supremely yummy madeleines, which combine the traditional cake with quirkily modern flavours such as almond, chocolate, pistachio and citrus fruits. A luxury range of madeleines, created for Jeanette by the master chef, Philippe Parc, comes in flavours like Damas rose, Asian citrus fruits, chocolate with pistachio, rapsberry, mandarine and vanilla, and a range of organic madeleines is new for 2017. And now I have whet your taste buds, would you like to know where to get hold of these madeleines?

  • Visitors to the Jeanette factory can take full advantage of its shop, which is open on weekday afternoons from 1pm to 6pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 5pm
  • Elsewhere in France, Jeannette madeleines can be found in many outlets across Normandy and in the surrounding areas
  • Outside France, madeleine enthusiasts can get their fill by ordering via the Jeannette mail order service (shipping overseas is possible on request)

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Now for a little cultural history with a madeleine moment. Marcel Proust, the author of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, sets a key scene in the novel around the sensory experience of eating the madeleine and drinking the tea offered by his aunt, which makes the narrator go back to his childhood memories. Room 414 on the 4th floor of the sumptous Grand Hôtel in Cabourg was Proust’s summer home for seven summers in a row from 1907, where he retreated to Normandy from the heat and hubbub of the capital. It is here that he is said to have written much of the A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. If you would like to sip tea and nibble on madeleines like Proust’s character, why not treat yourself to a few days in the Grand Hôtel in the very room which inspired the novelist? Situated on the promenade, the Grand Hôtel is a wonderful place to stay, combining five-star glamour with the informality of a family-friendly,  seaside hotel. The Sunday buffet lunch is a banquet fit for a king with its seafood spread being the highlight for me, together with the tinkling musical accompaniment from the regular pianist on the resident baby grand.

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© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
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© Grand Hôtel Cabourg

Finally, here is a short video which shows you how to make your very own madeleines if you would like to celebrate in spirit with me and my daughter this weekend: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOIiR_zYbEc

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© YouTube / Gourmandize UK & Ireland

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And if your madeleines are a storming success, why not enter the amateur madeleine baking competition held in Cabourg this September at the tea room La Maison Dupont avec Thé?

Bon appétit et bonne fête Madeleine !

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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All photos © Biscuiterie Jeannette 1850 unless otherwise stated | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

Eggcellent omelette at La Mère Poulard

A thousand years of history, faith, and talent have shaped the Mont-Saint-Michel, the ‘Wonder of the West’. Legend has it that in 708, the Archangel Saint-Michel appeared before Bishop Aubert and commanded that a sanctuary be built on Mount Tombe, an island in the middle of the bay that saw some of the highest tides in the world.

Thus the Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel was built, and over the coming centuries a village grew up around it. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay has since become a site of spiritual and cultural pilgrimage for Christians and non-believers from all over the world, so much so that in 1972, UNESCO classified them both as a world heritage site.

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© L. Leloup / Normandy Tourist Board
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© Normandy Tourist Board
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© D. Dumas / Normandy Tourist Board

Today, the famous La Mère Poulard restaurant and inn on the Mont-Saint-Michel is an important part of this world heritage. In 1888, local lass Annette Poulard, previously a chamber maid at the abbey who had married the local baker, opened an inn in the medieval village on the mount. Annette became renowned for her culinary talents, and over her lengthy career at the inn she rustled up some 700 different dishes, from savoury delights (more on that shortly) to her famous biscuits. Her efforts earnt her the title of ‘Mère’, reserved for exceptional cooks. Lo and behold, ‘La Mère Poulard’ was born!

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

One thing in particular for which La Mère Poulard is renowned is her famous omelette, which is somewhat of an institution. But did you know that it was never intended to be anything more than a starter? In the nineteenth century, guests at the inn (for the most part, pilgrims) were only able to reach the mount at low tide, so would arrive at the inn at all hours of the day and night. When they arrived, Annette would quickly prepare her special omelette as an appetiser before cooking her guests a more substantial meal.

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

That same fluffy, souffléd omelette is served at the restaurant to this day, and anyone can watch the omelettes being made over the open fire. Firstly, eggs are beaten for at least five minutes until they’re light and fluffy. The mixture is poured into a copper skillet and cooked over the open fire until the bottom is browned, but the inside is still slightly frothy. The omelettes are served either plain or with a choice of bacon, potatoes, Camembert (naturally), ratatouille, foie gras, shrimps or lobster.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

Combining tradition and simplicity, La Mère Poulard’s omelette was surprisingly contemporary for its time, and is still seen as one of the most original French dishes. For this very reason, the restaurant remains one of the most best known in France and across the world. As many as 4 million French and foreign tourists and gourmets come to the Mont-Saint-Michel each year, and most visit either the restaurant to sample La Mère Poulard’s delicious omelette or the biscuit shop across the road to buy her tasty biscuits.

For more information on La Mère Poulard, click here. For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection | Writer: Fran Lambert

La Renaissance’s star is rising

It is not often that you get to eat in a Michelin-starred establishment. Which is why, when offered the opportunity to do just that, I jumped at it. On 1 February 2016, Arnaud Viel, chef at La Renaissance restaurant/hotel in Argentan, was awarded his first Michelin star, bringing the total number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Orne département up to three!

Fittingly, Arnaud hails from Argentan. Making his debut in Paris at the 5-star Sofitel Hotel at the Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT), he went on to be a finalist in the French Dessert Championships in 1996 and the Lauréate d’Or in 1997. But he never forgot his roots, and returned to Normandy to work as a chef at Argentan’s Auberge de l’Ancienne Abbaye.

In 1998, Arnaud opened his own restaurant/hotel La Renaissance with wife Cécilia. Together, they came up with a stylish design for the hotel and devised a whole host of delicious specialties to serve at the restaurant.

So it was that earlier this month I found myself dining with three journalists and my colleague at La Renaissance, enjoying a deliciously refreshing cocktail of Calvados and tonic with lemon and lime, accompanied by what can only described as the most intricate canapé selection of foie gras, carrot purée, feta parcel with caviar and horseradish with soured cream. One word in particular came to mind – yum!

We were then led into the sumptuous dining room, which looked out onto the hotel grounds (and might I add, a rather appealing spa), sat down at our table and were presented with the menu and a delectable sorbet and popcorn amuse-bouche.

And what a menu!

Tuna tartar served with cold cucumber soup and creamy burrata cheese:

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A choice of either line-caught loin of yellow pollock with fried red onions, artichokes, wild mushrooms, oyster croquette and creamy garlic sauce or the chef’s choice of meat fresh from the market (which was pork on this occasion):

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The ‘pre-dessert’ – praline pastry, chocolate cherry lollipop and pistachio macaroon:

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And to finish, the first Gariguette strawberries of the season served with caramelised rhubard, rose, basil and strawberry and rhubarb sorbet:

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Suffice it to say, Chef Arnaud’s cooking is the epitome of haute cuisine – visually stunning and innovative – and his gourmet menus boast the best quality Normandy produce, all sourced locally and all delicious!

La Renaissance is open seven days a week, lunchtimes and evenings. To book a table online, click here. Or why not make a weekend of it, and eat at the restaurant, stay at the hotel and enjoy the spa and swimming pool? Prices start at €95/night, to reserve a room online, click here.

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert | Writer: Fran Lambert

Happiness at Le Bréard in Honfleur

Many casual visitors to Honfleur congregate on the restaurant terraces around the picturesque Vieux Bassin. You can’t blame them for soaking up that glorious view, but take the trouble to explore the narrow streets that lead gently uphill behind the wooden church of St Catherine and you could be in for a treat, especially if you’re lucky enough to bag a table at Le Bréard at 7 rue du Puits.

Billed simply as a ‘Restaurant Gastronomique, Le Bréard’s motto translates as ‘Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness.’ And what happiness! Read the menu beside the door and it’s impossible to imagine the subtle flavours and creativity that chef Fabrice Sébire puts into every dish, a fusion of French and Oriental cuisine.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office
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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

Local lad Fabrice trained in Caen before working under some of the top chefs in Paris, but he has also been heavily influenced by time spent in Japan. In 2004, Fabrice and his wife Karine – who manages front-of-house – took over Le Bréard and made it their own. Today it is one of the must-try restaurants in Honfleur.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

The décor is elegant but understated, decorated with soothing, natural colours, but this is an address where all are welcome. A French family with two impeccably behaved small boys ate dinner at the next table to us and we could hear the odd contented gurgle from a baby beyond the partition wall, whilst a solo American businessman tucked in at a nearby table.

Seasonal local produce features prominently on Le Bréard’s menu, which offers sufficient variety without being overwhelming, and spices and textures make every course into a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Menus are priced at 32 euros for three courses and 48 or 58 for four, with amuse-bouche and gourmandises included.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur
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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

I began with salmon with beetroot and radishes a delicate balance of flavours which complemented each other perfectly. To follow, I couldn’t resist the breast of guinea fowl served on a bed of Chinese cabbage and bacon, with vegetable ravioli and ginger – a thoroughly good choice. And after the cheese plate, my hot passion fruit soufflé proved a dream dessert, fluffy and flavourful with a delightful hint of decadence.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

Le Bréard is closed all day on Monday, as well as lunchtimes from Tuesday to Thursday. Every table was taken when we visited on a Thursday evening, so it clearly pays to book ahead – it would be a real shame to miss out on such satisfying but subtle food!

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur | Writer: Gillian Thornton

Eat like a king at the Étape Louis XIII

I love a good restaurant recommendation, especially when it comes from a local. I was planning a trip deep into rural Normandy in search of a new Norman foodie trend – red flesh apples – and needed a stop for lunch. My local partner Capucine suggested the restaurant Etape Louis XIII in the village of Beaumesnil, approximately halfway between Lisieux and Bernay. Chef Sébastien is part of a chef’s association, the Toques Normandes, who are passionate about working with Norman produce and exist to promote Norman cuisine.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

No sooner do I arrive in the village when I round a corner and am suddenly awe-struck by the magnificent Château de Beaumesnil. It may be lunchtime but I have to stop for a photo.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I see a sign for a potager (kitchen garden to you and me) just down a path from the entrance to the chateau so I go to have a look. I learn later that they grow over 500 varieties of vegetables here, including some that are near extinction, and they host a vegetable festival every September.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Back in the car and in no time at all, I pass through the main hub of the village, and arrive at my destination. I park up and walk through a beautifully kept garden to reach a very pretty traditional Norman building with half-timbered façades and geraniums spilling out of the window boxes. The building dates from 1612 and was originally intended as a rectory – I then realise that the name alludes to this building dating to the reign of Louis XIII!

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I step through the front door into a dimly lit wood-paneled entrance hall and am greeted by the lovely Aurélie, who ushers me into the dining room. A huge fire place dominates the room and acts as a divider between what must once have been two smaller rooms. The fire is lit and the room is cosy and intimate with a touch of sophistication.

There’s a very calm atmosphere as classical music plays gently in the background and the restaurant’s diners have hushed conversations across tables.  The service is equally discreet and attentive.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

There’s a good selection on the menu and the starters and deserts feature quite a few French and Norman classics with a bit of a twist. For starters there are warm oysters with Camembert, Saint-Jacques scallops or Andouille tart with apples and creamy Pommeau sauce, home-made foie gras on toast with a cinnamon biscuit.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I go straight in for the main and choose the plat du jour: salmon with a carrot purée and seasonal vegetables. It is deliciously tender and I detect cumin, a squeeze of orange and a garnish of fennel that liven the accompanying vegetables. It’s rich, flavoursome and just the right amount.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I would have been more than satisfied to stop there but when I declined a desert, the gentleman on the table next to me intervened and said that I couldn’t leave the restaurant without trying the calvados soufflé – he always orders two! My arm is sufficiently twisted…

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Wow! I’ve tried calvados is a few culinary forms but this by far tops them all. It’s light, fluffy, melts in your mouth and emits a heavenly aroma. When I meet Chef Sébastien after my meal he tells me that when he took over the restaurant a few years ago, he learnt this recipe from his predecessor as it was a firm favourite with previous clients.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

So there you have it, the Etape Louis XIII is well worth the journey, if only for the calvados soufflé! I expect you’ll be won over with the rest of the menu too. Two courses are priced at €25 and three are €33. Given the quality of my meal, this strikes me as excellent value.  L’Etape Louis XIII is open for lunch and dinner every day except for Tuesday and Monday evenings. And while you’re there, why not pop by the Château de Beaumesnil? It’s known locally as the little Versailles and with its beautiful gardens, it’s well worth a visit.

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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Cover photo © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Maggie McNulty