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.

IMG_0584.JPG

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!IMG_0587 - Copy.JPG

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!

IMG_0586.JPG

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

IMG_0590.JPG

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):

IMG_0592.JPG

IMG_0594.JPG

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

IMG_0596.JPG

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

IMG_0597.JPG

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.log_normandie_gb1

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

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.

20170126085427(6) FREE

© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

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.

portrait du chef Fabrice Sébire.jpg

© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

20170301144857(1) FREE

© 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.

20170126085426(2) FREE.jpg

© 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.

20170301142330(1) FREE

© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

20170126085625(2) FREE

© 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.

bréard.jpg

© 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!

This post was written by our lovely guest writer, Gillian Thornton. To read more of Gillian’s work, visit her website.log_normandie_gb1

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

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.

IMG_6690.JPG

© 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.

IMG_6701.JPG

© 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.

1.JPG

© 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!

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.

6..JPG

© 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.

5.JPG

© 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.

IMG_6669.JPG

© 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…

IMG_6686

© 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.

IMG_6675.JPG

© 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.log_normandie_gb1

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

 

Lunch at Le Bec au Cauchois

Set in lush Normandy countryside between Étretat and Fécamp, Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant is not an address you’d stumble upon. Instead, with a Michelin star and a formidable reputation built by chef and owner Pierre Caillet, this is a spot where foodies make pilgrimage. One Friday night I was lucky enough not only to dine here but to sit at the chef’s table and watch the magic happen…

IMG_7444.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The first thing that struck me was how calm and controlled the kitchen was – a far cry from how I’d imagined most professional kitchens. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Gordon Ramsay but there was zero evidence of the hot-headed chef barking orders whilst the rest of the team was gripped with panic.

There were several set menus of differing sizes all the way up to a nine-course tasting menu as well as à la carte. Stuck in a state of indecision, Chef quizzed me on my appetite, checked if there was anything I didn’t like and said that he would take care of my menu choices. Phew.Despite being fully booked on a Friday night, Chef Pierre happily talked me through what he was preparing, discussed how he’d paired flavours and introduced me to the ingredients that he was most excited about.

I was amazed to see that three or four of the team might work on one single dish. Each was plated to perfection and nothing left the kitchen without final approval from Chef Pierre.

After a selection of amuse bouche, I started off with foie gras coated in a jelly of reduced beetroot served with the shaved cedrat zest – a sharp Japanese citrus fruit, and garnished with tiny fresh flowers. It was a beautiful sight – the red round of foie gras looked like a giant sweetie and Chef Pierre explained that the bitter citrus flavour balanced the richness of the paté.

IMG_7498.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next came scallop from Fécamp, marinated in the juice of kalamansi – another exotic citrus fruit, lightly poached and served with parsley root mousse and crisps – an old fashioned and nearly forgotten vegetable.

And then another dish came my way, Jerusalem artichoke with a white truffle ice cream. Chef Pierre informed me that truffle season had just started and I was eating part of his order of five Alsatian truffles that would last him three months. I’d not tried a savoury ice cream before and Chef explained that the ice cream mellowed the strong flavours of the truffle and artichoke – and it did!

IMG_7523.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

After a dalliance with an enormous cheese board, it was onto dessert: a light mousse of baked apple served on a yummy layer of something resembling a biscuit base and served with a cider coulis. It was light, fresh and ridiculously yummy.

IMG_7488.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Between courses Pierre explained that his cooking is based around reworking the big French classics inspired by exotic and forgotten ingredients. Originally from Paris, after spending two years in Tipperary, Ireland, Pierre and his family returned to France and settled in Normandy to be close to his in-laws. When Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant was for sale, they snatched it up. Pierre explained that along with the advantages of running a country restaurant – he grows much of his own vegetables and all his herbs- it poses challenges too. Building a reputation was key to winning customers and after many years of hard work, in 2011 he was awarded the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This national competition, overseen by the French Ministry of Labour, takes place every four years to award outstanding ability in a number of fields. Hundreds of chefs enter but after 18-months of examinations, Pierre was one of only eight chefs to be awarded the life-long title. Soon after in 2012, Le Bec au Cauchois was awarded one Michelin star.

IMG_7481.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Its reputation is now sealed and Pierre and his team cook for a full house most nights. For an unforgettable culinary experience, be sure to book ahead at Le Bec au Cauchois!

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Les Saisons, a belle époque bistrot in the beautiful Pays d’Auge

The Normandy countryside is full of surprises and Les Saisons restaurant is definitely one of them. The tiny village of Cambremer is in the heart of the lush Pays d’Auge countryside. This is true picture postcard Normandy, where in spring you’ll spot the native brown and white dairy cows grazing in the blossom-filled apple orchards.

6451-Vache normande (c) Calvados Tourisme-(c) Calvados Tourisme.JPG

Normandy cows © Calvados Tourisme

I was touring this beautiful spot with a group of journalists and we were heading to Les Saisons for a spot of lunch on the recommendation of my local tourist partner, Armelle. The road to Cambremer had taken us through villages of pretty half-timbered houses, passing by fields, farms and orchards, and we’d barely seen any traffic for a good twenty minutes. It was 1pm and we were already well into the lengthy French pause déjeuner; no wonder nobody was about!

We arrived in a picturesque and deserted Cambrember, parked up and headed to the village square to find our restaurant. From the outside, Les Saisons looked a like a classy belle époque bistrot that wouldn’t look out of place in the Latin Quarter. A small outside seating area was eagerly awaiting the return of summer and I imagined this would be an idyllic spot for sipping a cider and watching the world go by.

We stepped inside and indeed the front room was like a Parisian brasserie with its high ceiling, benches, red velvet curtains, tiled floor and beautiful wooden bar. We were immediately greeted by the friendly Italian giant, Fabio, who ushered us through to an annex that was much more spacious and, like the first room, packed with chattering locals. Word of this great lunch spot must have spread – it was lucky we’d booked! The second dining room was cosier and more rustic than the first with its ochre-coloured walls, straw baskets hanging from the ceiling and dressers laden with pretty crockery.

The menu was not extensive and by the time we arrived for lunch (late by French standards), there were just two options left for dessert. This was more than made up for by the fact that the dishes changed daily to ensure super fresh and seasonal ingredients. Unusual for a French menu too were the number of vegetarian dishes both for the starters and the mains. And the best bit – three courses would set us back just €18 a head. No wonder it was so busy! We started with a bottle of delicious chilled local cider and ordered our food. I ordered the carpaccio of fresh beetroot served with flakes of toasted almonds and parmesan. It was simple, delicious and felt more like home cooking – a welcome change after so much rich restaurant food on our travels. My fellow diners opted for the pumpkin muffin with salad, which also looked good.

For my main, I’d gone for poached fish, served with braised leeks and fennel and potatoes. It was almost like a stew, packed with flavour so good that I needed to order an extra basket of baguette to soak up all the yummy sauce. My lunch buddies had ordered the Norman smoked andouille (chitterling sausage) stew and vegetarian quiche, and were all very happy with their lot.

6414-Gastronomie andouilles de Vire (c) Calvados Tourisme-(c) Calvados Tourisme.JPG

Andouille © Calvados Tourisme

By the time it came to dessert, I was already feeling pretty full. It would normally have been a totally unnecessary indulgence, but in the name of research, I thought I’d better order one! The choice was between chocolate brownie with cream or rice pudding with salted caramel sauce, known in Normandy as teurgoule. I opted for the latter; it came recommended by Fabio, after all. I’m not a habitual rice pudding eater, normally finding them a bit too heavy, but this version was surprisingly light and deliciously creamy, perfectly offset by the salted caramel sauce. By the time we finished our meal, most of the locals had moved on and headed back to work. We finished with an espresso and a chat with the lovely Fabio before hitting the road, happy with our new find.

image1.JPG

Teurgoule © Normandy Tourist Board

So if you’re exploring the Norman countryside, perhaps following the 40-mile cider route that passes through Cambremer, why call in at Les Saisons for a delicious, good-value meal in a charming setting?log_normandie_gb1

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

Normandy’s Black Pudding Festival

One of my favourite comfort foods for the wintry months is black pudding, so I was really happy to set off to the Foire au Boudin annual black pudding festival this time last year. This three-day food fest is a well established event in the Normandy calendar and aficionados have been heading to the boudin ‘mecca’, Mortagne-au-Perche in the Orne region, every spring for over 50 years.

SONY DSC

© Orne Tourisme

Originally the festival had come to my attention when I listened to the excellent weekly radio show, the Food programme on BBC Radio 4, and had whet my appetite to see for myself just what the fuss was about.

Mortagne-au-Perche is a pretty town in the Perche Natural Regional Park, the Cotswolds of Normandy (FYI there is a wonderful weekly market held every Saturday morning). A gentle stroll through the winding, medieval streets reveals the kind of stylish French town houses in sandstone with their own courtyards that I would just love to own … Look out for the sundials quirkily scattered throughout Mortagne-au-Perche. As the town is just over a two-hour drive from the capital, this quaintly rural part of Normandy is a popular bolt hole for discerning Parisians at the weekend. The undulating countryside is perfect for rambling and cycling and antique bargain hunters will love the local brocantes. A particular favourite haunt of mine is the beautiful old court house, appropriately named the Hôtel du Tribunal, which in addition to being a very comfortable hotel, is a top-notch restaurant whose chef enjoys incorporating boudin into many of his recipes.

Every year the festival highlights are the prizes for the best international black pudding and the person who is able to eat the most black pudding! As Mortagne-au-Perche is home to many a charcutier specialising in the fine art of boudin making, there is lots of yummy local produce to tuck into. You can amble around the local food stalls, nibble at the free offerings and taste some unexpected food combinations with the ubiquitous boudin. Or for those who enjoy a sit down meal in the company of the locals, head to the food tent and grab a seat on the tressle tables. The rustic set menu includes local meat and boudin grilled on the barbecue, a slice of camembert and apple tart, all washed down with a glass or two of cider.

Foire au Boudin - Mortagne au Perche (7845) ©Adèle Lamiroté

© Adèle Lamiroté

The love affair between black pudding and Mortagne-au-Perche goes back centuries and there is a special chapter of local charcutier and boudin specialists in the town, la Confrérie des chevaliers du goûte boudin de Mortagne-au-Perche. They are to be seen in their ceremonial robes and velvet hats around the fair and are the proud organisers of the international black pudding competition.

Foire au boudin - Mortagne au Perche (7444 ) ©Adèle Lamiroté

© Adèle Lamiroté

The rest of the family enjoyed the fair rides and the slightly incongruous zumba demos after lunch. The Hip Hop battles I left to the experts. On the Monday afternoon, there is a boudin fair bike race through the surrounding countryside and streets. So for those who might overindulged over the three day fair, this would be the perfect moment to work off those extra calories!

This year’s Foire au Boudin takes place this weekend from Saturday 18th to Monday 20th March – for more information, click here. For general information on Mortagne-au-Perche, visit the tourist office website.

Affiche Foire au Boudin_2017 ©Mortagne Tourisme

© Mortagne Tourisme

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Fine dining at the Logis de Brionne

My most recent (foodie-themed) press trip took me to the Logis de Brionne, a restaurant and hotel situated in the town of Brionne, 50 km south-west of Rouen.

Cosy and inviting to look at, the Logis sits opposite Saint-Denis Church, within easy walking distance to the town centre. We were greeted by the hotel owner, Joëlle, and shown to our rooms where my journalists promptly settled in for a quick forty winks before dinner. Preferring to take advantage of the open fire downstairs, I curled up in a large armchair and ordered myself a glass of tasty local cider to while the time away.

IMG_7033.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Coming to sit with me, Joëlle tells me that her husband Alain is the Chef at the Logis, and that thanks to the elegance and innovation of his cooking, the restaurant is proud to feature in the Michelin Guide. All vegetables come from either the Logis’ own vegetable garden or the market garden at the nearby Ferme des Amaranthes, a certified organic food supplier. All meat and fish is sourced locally, fruit is delivered from Jumièges, and chocolate from Normandy’s very own Maison Cluizel. Alain even uses organic saffron grown at the nearby Domaine de Gauville for one of its signature dishes, coquilles Saint-Jacques au safran. And of course, he makes all his own bread from scratch.

“Cooking using ingredients from your own garden not only combines practicality with pleasure, but also stimulates your creativity – it’s all about looking after yourself and nature,” Joëlle tells me, as my journalists emerge from upstairs, looking somewhat more lively.

We are led to our table in the middle of what was surprisingly a full restaurant. It being November, I had expected us to be among the only customers in the room, but it would appear that Alain Depoix was renowned in the region!

All menus at the Logis are changed each month based on the availability of quality, seasonal products. We went for the Taster Menu (Menu Dégustation), which consisted of an amuse-bouche, starter, main, the all-important cheese course and dessert:

Mascarpone and truffle amuse-bouche

img_5890

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Fish terrine wrapped in artichoke, topped off with savoury shortbread and caviar accompanied by salad and green tomato chutney

img_5891

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Caramelised apples with guinea fowl, with Alain Depoix’s famous foie gras

img_5892

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Cheese platter – all the Norman classics (Camembert, Neufchâtel, Pont-l’Évêque and Livarot) plus Comté, Tomme de Savoie, Munster, Valençay and oh-so-creamy Chèvre

img_5893

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Panna cotta with pistachio mousse

img_5899

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Throughout our meal, the attentive staff at the Logis kept our glasses full (French wine, naturally) and were there to explain what everything was and how it was prepared. It was truly a pleasure to meet people who so clearly knew and loved their food!

At the end of the meal we were in for another surprise, when who should come out to meet us but Chef Alain Dupoix himself. It was the perfect opportunity for the journalists to ask him all their foodie questions and of course, take some photos. All in all, an absolutely delicious dining experience and Joëlle and Alain were the perfect hosts. We retired to our rooms, pleasantly full and definitely already looking forward to breakfast the next day!

img_5906

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

The Logis de Brionne hotel and restaurant is open all year round. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12pm until 1pm and for dinner between 7:30pm and 9pm. A set lunch menu starts at €22 and a set dinner menu starts at €39.50. The restaurant is closed on Saturday lunchtimes, Sunday evenings, Mondays and Tuesday lunchtimes. Hotel rooms start at €88 per night (breakfast: €13).log_normandie_gb1

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

Eat à la Végetarienne at the Maison du Vert

French cuisine is considered by many to be the best in the world, but for vegetarians, options can often seem limited.

When Debbie and Daniel came to Normandy on holiday just over fifteen years ago, they’d booked a stay at the Maison du Vert in Ticheville, a vegetarian restaurant and hotel. On arrival, they discovered that it was up for sale. When they checked into their room and took one look at the incredible view across the Touques valley, it took Debbie and Daniel approximately five minutes to offer the asking price and buy the place.

IMG_5981.JPG

Photo credit: M. McNulty

A re-location to France and taking on a hospitality business had not been on the cards for the couple. Shortly before that fateful holiday, they’d bought and moved into a new home back in England. They didn’t speak French and in spite of being keen cooks, they’d never run their own restaurant.

They set to work on modernising La Maison du Vert before moving onto the overgrown garden. As professional horticulturalists they transformed the 6 acres into an idyllic oasis.

When they developed their kitchen garden, they discovered that the soil here was excellent for growing top quality produce. Their organic vegetable and herb garden, berry bushes, apple and pear trees supply most of the salad, vegetables and some of the fruit for their restaurant.

My colleague Carole and I visited the restaurant at lunchtime on a stunning autumnal day. It was so warm and sunny that we opted to eat outside in the beautiful landscaped gardens. In summer I could imagine that the colours of the many flowers planted throughout the garden make a riot of colour but we enjoyed vibrant green and burnt autumnal shades.

IMG_6051.JPG

Photo credit: M. McNulty

After an aperitif we started our meal with stuffed vine leaves served with fresh salad from the garden and toasted seeds. Far from the usual Norman restaurant fare, Debbie told us that their cooking is inspired from all corners of the globe to keep it deliciously tasty, varied and interesting. Almost everything on the menu is homemade and apart from a few exotic ingredients that they buy on their annual trip back to the UK, they only use local produce.

IMG_5982.JPG

Photo credit: M. McNulty

Our main course was a potato rosti served with sweet red pepper sauce, grilled courgette, goat’s cheese and sundried tomato. Not only did it look pretty on the plate, it was absolutely delicious.

rosti-italianla-maison-du-vert

Photo credit: La Maison du Vert

For the first three years after opening, the locals were shy to come to the restaurant and try these exotic dishes. Initially their main clientele were visiting Brits, Germans, Belgians and Dutch. Then, the French seemed to arrive, word spread and now they make up almost half of their diners. Debbie had been warned that the French aren’t too keen on spicy food but when they tried it here, they seemed to love it. She soon noticed that local customers would always choose the most unusual dish on the menu and the exotic choice was perhaps the reason they most enjoyed coming.

I continued onto dessert and opted for a ginger and honey ice cream. It was creamy, zingy: exquisite.

IMG_6007.JPG

During the summer months they serve afternoon tea and homemade cakes outside. The gardens are immense and are cleverly landscaped with hedges and trees to create lots of small intimate spaces with their own table and chairs.

Maison du Vert is located in Ticheville, not far from Vimoutiers in the Orne region of Normandy. The restaurant and hotel are open everyday from Easter through to mid-September.log_normandie_gb1

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

Give a Xmas cheer, Rouen Givré’s almost here

Rouen is a firm favourite with tourists to Normandy. There’s just something about those multi-coloured, half-timbered houses, and gothic churches on every street corner. As French cities go, the ‘city of 100 bell towers’ (as Rouen was once called by French writer Victor Hugo) is up there with the prettiest of them.

Rouen Givr+-«e 2 (c) Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congr+-+s.jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

For that reason, it came as no surprise to me to learn that Rouen pulls out all the stops when it comes to Noël. The festive fun, known as ‘Rouen Givré’ [Frosty Rouen] takes place over one week on 24‑31 December, and is well worth the ferry crossing/train journey. We’re talking masses of magical street lights here, all over the medieval city centre. In fact, more than eighty streets and squares are lit up for Christmas in Rouen. That’s a lot of light bulbs!

Rouen Givr+-«e (c) Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congr+-+s _ JF Lange.jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

Best of all is the traditional Christmas market which takes place in front of Rouen Cathedral. This is Rouen at its finest – around 70 chalets selling local produce (cheese, cider, caramels…) as well as traditional arts and crafts, jewellery, nativity figurines and Christmas tree decorations galore. Have you ever wanted to hang a miniature Camembert on your Christmas tree? Well, now you can.

Rouen Givr+-«e (c) Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congr+-+s.jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

And mulled wine? Forget mulled wine.* At a Normandy Christmas market, there’s mulled cider in abundance, made with delicious apple juice and just the right amount of cinnamon. Those feeling brave could even go for hot Calvados and honey, a somewhat Norman take on a hot Toddy.

Rouen Givr+-«e (c) Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congr+-+s 3 _ JF Lange.jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

Having exhausted the foodie options at the market, I then headed over to the Place du Vieux Marché. Dominated by the huge modern church of Saint Joan of Arc, this square is where the doomed Maid of Orléans met her fiery fate. Between 24 November and 8 January, it is also home to a big wheel, from which you can enjoy a breath-taking panorama over Rouen’s higgledy-piggledy rooftops, the Gros Horloge (Rouen’s ornate astronomical clock) and the gothic towers of Rouen Cathedral.

La Couronne (2).jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès

The big wheel also has the added bonus of being on the same square as the oldest inn in Rouen, in fact, the oldest inn in France, La Couronne, which dates all the way back to 1345! Hiding behind a traditional half-timbered façade is a medieval world of wooden beamed ceilings, lead framed windows, worn upholstered chairs and heavy red curtains. It was like stepping back in time. Picking up the menu, I realised why the place had been such a hit with Sartre, Dalí, John Wayne and Princess Grace of Monaco, and why it’s so popular to this day! Lobster, langoustine, lamb… my mouth was watering just looking at the options.

La Couronne.jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès

I decided to go with the menu recommended to me by Rouen Tourism Office, the ‘Saveurs Impressionnistes’ [Impressionist flavours] taster menu. Dishes included Normandy beef, some more of that famous Camembert, oysters caught in the Manche, Rouen-style duck marinated in the popular Normandy aperitif Pommeau, and they just kept on coming.

I left the restaurant, and Rouen Givré, feeling fulfilled, full and slightly thankful that I didn’t live in foodie Rouen all year round… I would certainly be considerably larger if I did!

Rouen Givr+-«e 2 (c) Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congr+-+s _ JF Lange.jpg

© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

For a full list of activities going on during Rouen Givré, visit: www.rouen.fr/rg2016 (website in French only)

log_normandie_gb1For information on travelling to Normandy, visit: http://bit.ly/howtogettonormandy

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

*For those with an aversion to appley goodness, there is mulled wine as well.

10 things to eat & drink on a cycling holiday in Normandy

  1. Marmite dieppoise in Dieppe

Legend has it this Normandy classic was created in the 1960s in a mariners and sailors’ tavern called La Marmite Dieppoise on the quays of Dieppe. The owner, Madame Maurice, was renowned in the region for her delicious fish dishes à la dieppoise (Dieppe-style). Named after the restaurant in which it was invented, Madame Maurice’s dish is to this day prepared using local fish and seafood: sole, red mullet, turbot, prawns and mussels, which are complemented with fresh celery, parsley, leek, onions and spices such as paprika and cayenne pepper. This rich and hearty Norman fish stew could certainly give its Provençal counterpart bouillabaisse a run for its money!

Cycling tip: Dieppe is situated on both the Avenue Verte and EuroVelo 4 cycle routes so why not stop off for a bite at La Marmite Dieppoise en route?

1

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Calvados in the Pays d’Auge

The Busnel Distillery is one of the oldest producers of calvados (apple brandy) in the Pays d’Auges, a ‘controlled designation of origin’ (AOC), meaning that anything produced in this area receives a quality label. The distillery arguably performs nothing short of a miracle, turning apples into cider, then distilling cider to producing eau de vie, then distilling eau de vie in oak casks for years until it becomes the golden calva that is used to make calvados. The Busnel Distillery runs guided tours in English which lets visitors see the different stages of distilling and sample a selection of the distillery’s best-selling products – but best have a break before you hop on your bike again!

Cycling tip: The Busnel Distillery is located in the town of Cormeilles, which is 12km away from Saint‑André-d’Hébertot on the EuroVelo 4 cycle route. Why not combine your tour of the distillery with a lunch break at nearby foodie hotspot and brainchild of Chef Alexis Osmont, Gourmandises?

img_5840

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Chitterling sausage in Vire

Chitterling sausage (known in French as andouille) is a Norman specialty. Made from pig intestines, regarded as somewhat of a local delicacy, and seasoned with Guérande sea salt, andouille was first cooked by local butchers in the town of Vire, and its distinctive earthy taste has contributed to the popularity of this French region with foodies! A staple dish in many Norman restaurants, this tasty sausage has been perpetuating the traditions of gastronomy in the region for centuries. Enjoy it cold with farmhouse bread or warm with a salad, caramelised onions or apples. For lovers of simple, rustic French food, sampling andouille is a must!

Cycling tip: Vire is located on the Tour de Manche, EuroVelo 4 and Plages du débarquement>Mont-Saint-Michel cycle routes. Why not visit the annual andouille festival late October/early November or visit a local producer to discover the secrets of its production?

6414-Gastronomie andouilles de Vire (c) Calvados Tourisme-(c) Calvados Tourisme.JPG

© Calvados Tourisme

  1. Poiré in the Pays de Domfront 

Poiré (or perry) is apple cider’s more refined cousin. A pale yellow, lightly sparkling beverage, poiré may not be as popular as cider but has earned itself the nickname ‘Normandy’s answer to champagne’ thanks to its light, bubbly character. Poiré has been produced in Normandy for hundreds of years; in fact, the first records of pears growing in the region date back to the 11th century! With more than 100,000 pear trees and almost 100 varieties, the Pays de Domfront produces around 25,000 tonnes of pears that are then used to make poiré.

Cycling tip: Domfront is situated right on the crossroads of the Vélo Francette and the Véloscénie so is a great place for an overnight stop-off. Be sure to sample the local tipple at a nearby poiré farm such as the Ferme des Grimaux and explore Domfront’s beautiful medieval town centre!

img_4355

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Mère Poulard’s omelette on the Mont-Saint-Michel

The Restaurant de la Mère Poulard on the Mont-Saint-Michel is somewhat of an institution and its famous fluffy omelette is the stuff of legends. Founded in 1888 by Annette Poulard, the restaurant was originally an inn where pilgrims visiting the mount would stay, and among a multitude of other delicious dishes, she would make them an omelette that had been cooked over a wood fire. To this day, chefs at the restaurant still follow her secret recipe, and visitors from all over the world come to the restaurant to sample Mère Poulard’s omelette, roast lamb, fish, seafood, and other delicacies.

Cycling tip: The Mont-Saint-Michel is conveniently situated at the end of the Vélocénie and D-Day Beaches>Mont-Saint-Michel cycle routes, and is also on the EuroVelo 4 and Le Tour de Manche cycle routes, so there’s plenty of scope to incorporate a trip to the mount into your itinerary!

20160921_130938_resized.jpg

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Neufchâtel, the heart-shaped cheese

Made from cow’s milk, this soft, slightly crumbly, mould-ripened cheese is one of France’s oldest varieties, dating back as far as 1035. Usually sold in the shape of a heart, legend has it that the young farm girls of Neufchâtel-en-Bray fell in love with English soldiers during the Hundred Years War and started making heart shaped cheeses for them to show their affection. Neufchâtel’s taste and texture is reminiscent of its more famous cousin Camembert, only with tones of nuts and mushrooms, and it is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of cider or red wine.

Cycling tip: Neufchâtel-en-Bray is situated on the Avenue Verte route, about 35km inland from Dieppe. Why not go for the full-on cheese experience and visit the annual Neufchâtel-en-Bray Cheese Festival held every autumn, or see how Neufchâtel is made at one of the local cheese factories?

6.JPG

© Normandy Tourist Board / D. Dumas

  1. Saffron at the Domaine de Gauville

Saffron production became very important in the 17th and 18th centuries in France, and between then and now, several saffron farms have cropped up in Normandy. The Domaine de Gauville is one such farm. Founded by Myriam Duteuil, who in 2014 quit the hustle and bustle of Paris to embark on a more rural way of life, this organic saffron farm has gone from strength to strength, and Myriam’s delicious saffron is even served up at restaurants in the area. Take a guided tour of the farm, enjoy a saffron‑themed weekend away in Myriam’s gite, do a saffron cooking class, and take full advantage of all the tasty saffron treats on sale in the farm shop!

Cycling tip: The Domaine de Gauville is located just 8km off the local cycle track that runs from the city of Evreux (which has direct train links to Paris) up to the town of Pont‑Authou. Why not stop off at restaurant Le Logis de Brionne on your way back to the cycle route and try Chef Alain Depoix’s famous scallops, prepared with saffron from the farm?

fullsizerender

© Normandy Tourist Board / F.Lambert

  1. A seafood platter in Ouistreham

There’s no better place to enjoy all that the sea has to offer than on the coast, and when it comes to seafood, Le Channel in Ouistreham has it all sussed out. This restaurant, situated just five minutes from the ferry terminal, has brought together an impressive medley of mouth-watering dishes, such as oysters with shallots, mussels served in a choice of wine, cider or camembert sauce, and of course, the flagship seafood platter, all caught that day! Always happy to recommend a calvados aperitif or small glass of pommeau to go with your scallops, manager Pascale Charpentier and her team give a warm welcome and a wide selection of all the Norman classics.

Cycling tip: Ouistreham is situated on both the Vélo Francette and EuroVelo 4 cycle routes so is perfect for a post-ferry overnight stop-off or simply a bite to eat before you head off again!

8.jpg

© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Black pudding in Mortagne-au-Perche

Mortagne in the Perche Regional Natural Park is surely the world’s black pudding capital. Said to be the oldest refined meat product in Europe, the story goes that boudin noir, the French’s superior version of black pudding, was first made by ancient Celts out of the blood of their enemies. When it’s done right, as it certainly is in Mortagne – boudin noir is gloriously rich, tender and flavoursome, and thanks to the Black Pudding Festival which has been held in the town every March since 1963, it is well and truly an integral part of any Norman menu. It even has a dedicated fraternity with their very own robes: the Brotherhood of Black Pudding Knights.

Cycling tips: Mortagne-au-Perche is situated just 2km off the Véloscénie cycle route where it passes Saint-Langis-lès-Mortagne. Spend the night at the beautiful former courthouse, the Hôtel du Tribunal and try Chef Freddy Pommier’s delicious take on the famous boudin noir of Mortagne!

9

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

  1. Oysters in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue

Did you know that oyster farmers in Normandy produce roughly a quarter of all oysters produced in France? If you’re a lover of oysters, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue in the north-east corner of the Cotentin Pensinsula is a particularly good place to go. Saint-Vaast oysters are well known for their subtle nutty flavour, and are delicious eaten raw, whether with zingy lemon juice or sharp shallot vinegar. Particularly popular in the winter months, no Christmas table in Normandy is complete without them. In summer months, local oyster farms run tours of the oyster farms in the area, and visitors flock to the pretty harbour area of Saint-Vaast to enjoy oysters outside on the restaurant terraces.

Cycling tip: Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is located on the EuroVelo 4 cycling route and is the perfect place for an overnight stop-off. Sample oysters at Le Débarcadère, enjoy the views out over the harbour and taste the sea!

10

© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, and for a list of all of the main food festivals in the region, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.