Conquering Bayeux

Bayeux: this medieval city is undoubtedly best known for the world-famous UNESCO-listed Bayeux Tapestry, which resides there to this day, and is a fascinating 70m-long embroidery depicting the story behind the Norman Conquest. The tapestry itself, which now resides in the Bayeux Museum, is a marvel to behold. For an artifact that dates back to the 11th century, it’s in impeccable condition, and I would recommend anyone visiting Bayeux to go and see it!

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© Ville de Bayeux

In the heart of the old town, the marvellously preserved Notre-Dame Cathedral is a gem of Norman architecture, and the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry. The cathedral was consecrated in 1077 in the presence of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England. It was later extended in the Gothic style, which is how you see it today.

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© CB / OT Bayeux Intercom

Always keen for an excuse to spend time in this quaint city with its half-timbered houses and turrets, I was delighted to be invited to a new event last Christmas, called William’s Cathedral. This spectacular winter event, which took place in Notre-Dame, involved a spectacular display of the Bayeux Tapestry, projected onto the cathedral walls with the aid of cutting-edge technology. The light show begins with an overview of William’s epic adventure. On either side of the nave, where it is believed the Bayeux Tapestry first hung, both the tapestry and architectural details of the nave are brought to life, while the stained glass windows in the choir are highlighted in vibrant colours. Period music adds to the whole medieval ambiance. William’s Cathedral is returning to Notre-Dame in Bayeux this year on Saturday 2 December, so make sure you don’t miss it!

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© GW / OT Bayeux Intercom
La Cathédrale de Guillaume © C. Beauruel OT Bayeux Intercom (9)
© GW / OT Bayeux Intercom

Bayeux is spoilt for choice when it comes to good places to eat. Despite its small town feel, the city is in fact home to 15,000 people and it certainly knows how to keep them happy! Here’s a selection of my favourite haunts:

Le Volet qui Penche: Tucked away down a narrow medieval street by the river Aure, this little gem of a bistrot serves delicious tartines and daily specials, as well as an impressive selection of wines. Its extensive charcuterie board is a must for the meat-eaters! Impasse de l’Islet, 14400 Bayeux. www.bistrot.levoletquipenche.com

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L’Assiette Normande: Within easy walking distance of the cathedral, this popular lunch spot serves all the Norman classics, from cheese and chicken to fish and seafood dishes, some even garnished with a slice of proverbial Normandy apple. Reasonably priced,  good hearty food! 3 rue des Chanoines, 14400 Bayeux. www.lassiettenormande.com

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Chez Paulette: In the heart of the old town, this lunch spot’s quirky decor is heaven for anyone with a penchant for bright colours and 1950s formica. The food is pretty amazing too: fresh salads, tarts, quiches and bagels, generous portions and reasonably-priced set menus. 44 rue des cuisiniers, 14400 Bayeux. www.facebook.com/chezpaulettebayeux

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Le Pommier: Two doors down from Chez Paulette is the elegant Le Pommier, where Norman fare is given a modern twist. Whether you choose a set menu or go à la carte, Chez Paulette’s cuisine, with its fresh, locally sourced ingredients, is sure to delight your taste buds. 40 rue des cuisiniers, 14400 Bayeux. www.restaurantlepommier.com/en

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Au P’tit Bistrot: This cosy spot opposite the cathedral is very popular with tourists and locals alike thanks to its central location and delicious cuisine! With a new menu every six weeks and a great selection of wines, it’s easy to see why its regulars keep coming back.  31 rue Larcher, 14400 Bayeux. www.facebook.com/auptitbistrot

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Tempted to conquer Bayeux this festive season? William’s Cathedral begins on Saturday 2 December 2017 and will run on Fridays and Saturdays until Saturday 6 January 2018 (plus Tuesday and Thursday evenings between 26 December 2017 and 4 January 2018). Shows are at 6pm, 6:30pm, 7pm, 7:30pm and 8pm, and entry is free. For more information, visit the Bayeux Tourist Office website.

Visit Normandy Tourist Board’s How to Get to Normandy webpage for tips on the best ways to get to Bayeux, or check out our Food and Drink webpage for more information on all of the culinary delights in the region!

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Cover photo © GW / OT Bayeux Intercom | All other photos: CB / OT Bayeux Intercom | Writer: Fran Lambert

Andouille de Vire, a bit of a banger

Vire is a cosy market town in the bocage hinterland of Normandy and is world famous for being home to andouille, the local smoked chitterling sausage. Over recent years, andouille has become increasingly more popular over the Channel and is now quite a trendy ingredient for foodie fashionistas. Vire is the nearest big town to my rural retreat, where my kids go to school and where I do my weekly shop, usually on a Friday when it’s market day. My son is particularly fond of this unique charcuterie, and used to call andouille ‘the black sausage’ when he was a lot younger because of its dark skin, a result of the smoking process.

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

Pork chitterlings are used to make the sausage and it’s well worth taking a look at the Asselot Andouille factory website to see just how the andouille takes shape. For those who would like to see the andouille artisans in action, it is also possible to join a guided tour (in French) of the Asselot factory in Vire, which takes place Tuesday-Friday in the mornings and afternoons and costs just €2 per person. This is a great way to see just how andouille is made, sample some sausage at source and buy some to take home. There is also the excellent Paul Danjou shop in Vire which sells andouille to local charcuterie connoisseurs, prepared on-site and displayed elegantly in the shop window.

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

My husband likes a few thin slices of andouille served with a glass of full bodied red wine as an appetiser. Andouille is an acquired taste and it is best to eat a few slices and not the whole sausage in one sitting. If you are feeling adventurous and happy to brush up on your French, Paul Danjou have a YouTube channel with some fun recipes to try out!

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© Office de Tourisme du Bocage Normand

If you become a true fan, you could always head to Vire for the annual Fête de l’Andouille which is generally held at the end of October and is fun for all the family. This year, Portugal was the guest of honour and there were lots of cooking demos with local chefs, tastings and a special competition to find the person who makes the most realistic pig noise!

For lovers of good food, Vire is also home to some wonderful restaurants, including the sumptuous Manoir de la Pommeraie run by the dynamic young chef Julien Guérard who has previously worked in the UK and speaks excellent English. With his Japanese wife, who is a wonderful pastry chef, they serve exquisite food and use all locally sourced ingredients. The three-course lunchtime menu costs less than €30 and is excellent value for money. Vire is also home to Degrenne who produce fine crockery and cutlery in their local factory and who are proud to count the Elysée Palace and Air France among their clientèle. A factory visit (in French) or a spot of shopping in the factory shop make a trip to Vire complete!

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The pretty Norman town of Vire © Calvados Tourisme

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

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Cover photo © Calvados Tourisme | Writer: Alison Weatherhead

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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Saison 2

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

L’Hermière, foodie heaven in the Pays de Caux

L’Hermière restaurant, deep in the countryside between Étretat and Le Havre, is a real find. I went recently with my local partner Ivan from the Seine-Maritime Tourist Board, and as I was the only non-French person there, it definitely felt like the type of place only locals would know about.

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Husband and wife team Jean-Charles and Noémie run the restaurant, with Noémie in charge of the kitchen and Jean-Charles managing the front of house.

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What’s most special about L’Hermière is that it is a traditional 16th century half-timbered building that is part of a clos masure, a traditional farmstead found only in the Pays de Caux area of Normandy, which stretches east along the coast from Le Havre to Dieppe and inland to the town of Yvetot. Surrounding the farmstead are rows of enormous beech trees that act as a windbreak, protecting the crops and farm buildings. Given the unique heritage and dying tradition of the clos masure – the département of Seine-Maritime has made a bid to UNESCO to protect these farmsteads with heritage status.

Jean-Charles’ family has lived at L’Hermière for generations. His grandfather was born in the farmhouse where his parents still live; the restaurant is housed in what was once a cowshed and a third barn is used for storing the farm’s fruit and vegetables.

When Jean-Charles’ parents felt the clos masure was too big a property for them to manage on their own, the young couple suggested opening a restaurant as a way to continue the farmstead tradition. L’Hermière has been fully operating as a restaurant since 2013 and it remains, first and foremost, a family business.

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Jean-Charles’ father manages the enormous kitchen garden, next door to the restaurant and this supplies almost all of their fruit and vegetables for the most part of the year. They grow leeks, squash, potatoes, carrots, courgettes, beetroot, quince, apples, berries, pears and much more besides. What they don’t grow themselves, they source from local producers who are proudly listed on a chalkboard at the entrance to the restaurant.

We came for lunch on an autumn day and the menu featured plenty of seasonal squash and wild mushrooms. There were two different menus with two or three choices for each course. I started with an onion, bacon and cheese tart followed by a tagine style sautéed lamb served with buckwheat. This was absolutely delicious – a break from traditional French cuisine with lots of seasonal vegetables and stewed prunes, it was packed with flavour. For dessert, since I would be paying a visit to the Palais Bénédictine that afternoon, I decided to warm up with a crème brulée à la Bénédictine and pieces of crystallised orange. I don’t think you can ever go too far wrong with a good crème brulée and here the zesty alcoholic spike worked brilliantly.

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After our meal, when the lunch rush had calmed down, Jean-Charles spoke to us about his restaurant venture. When L’Hermière first set out in 2011, they only hosted private lunches for large groups on weekends. Jean-Charles explained how a clos masure is ideally designed for families since the natural barrier of the beech trees mean it’s very safe for children to play outside while their parents enjoy lunch. At L’Hermière, there are two plots for pétanques (think bowls, French style) and a patio that’s ideal for an aperitif on sunny days. The private lunches were such a success that Jean-Charles and Noémie then decided to open their restaurant to the public, and ever since, L’Hermière has gone from strength to strength. These days, it is now open for lunch from Tuesday to Saturday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.

For a truly memorable dining experience at a traditional clos masure farmstead, I’d highly recommend booking a table at L’Hermière – be sure to visit the restaurant website and check out all of the seasonal dishes on offer!

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

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All photos © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board | Writer: Maggie McNulty

 

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

 

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…

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© 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.

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© 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!

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© 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.

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© 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.

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© 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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© 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.