I had not taken the ferry from Dover to Calais for years, last weekend I decided to put that right and I must say I found the whole experience rather grim. The boat was rusty, tired & packed, no waves of sweet nostalgia here. 'Langan's brasserie' provided limited sanctuary, watery smoked haddock & rubbery poached eggs. Thankfully I had booked the tunnel for our return.
The three days & two nights in France that followed were however superb, despite the grey, rain filled skies. We had some super meals; La Matelote in Boulogne was excellent; old school, classic Michelin star, rich French food in immaculate & appropriately garish surroundings. Lunch in Le Touquet on Sunday at Perard was a joy, fantastic fruits de mer & their famous Soup de poisson. I hadn't been to Le Touquet before, what a charming little place. The real star of the weekend though was an old Auberge in Montreuil just a few miles east of Le Touquet, La Grenouillere.
Situated in a pleasingly rural location one could be miles into the vast countryside of France here...the fact is you are a mere hour from Calais.
The restaurant is owned by a father and son combination, Roland and Alexandre Gauthier, the latter seemingly in charge of the general direction of the food and indeed the Auberge as a whole. Alexandre was present on arrival, throughout dinner running the pass and there to say goodbye on our departure.
It is within the last year I believe that the incredibly theatrical new kitchen and dining room have been added to the old parts of the building. If you imagine 'The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover' you won't be far away from the ambiance of this amazing space.
The old parts of La Grenouillere (The froggery) are also stunning... dark, stylish & moody. The paintings on the walls in what was the old restaurant (now the lounge) are illustrations of Fontaine's fable of the Frog who ate until he exploded, it sets a wonderful scene.
We stayed in one of their 'huts' in the gardens, at one with the countryside all earthy and wooden, La Grenouillere mixes old with new brilliantly well.
Dinner provided a gastronomic journey; sight, sense & taste were at times delightfully aroused. We opted for the eleven course tasting menu, eight out of those courses were show stoppers... highlights of the appetizers were a brilliant ball of poached squid with peas, a pressed form of avocado & seabass.
The three main dishes were all sensational; first a plate piled with smouldering pine & juniper arrived, encouraged to lift a few twigs off a fat lobster tail was exposed, the spikey greenery a genius faux shell; we were told to eat the buttery, bulbous, rich wonder of the sea with our hands...... this was a very fine moment. Next another innovative plate centred around chicken 'oysters' with hop shoots & a light hoppy jus, delicious. Finally beef, we were told from a female beast, just older than veal but not quite a cow, I can't remember the French name. Served with just a few pieces of cut spinach with a garlic puree, it was brilliant.
Strawberries served in a strawberry pasta shell, the lightest chocolate mousse coated with pistachio crumbs the deserts continued to impress. The final desert was delivered with a twist, our impressive & knowledgable waitress nonchalantly dropping a transparent egg on the plates in front of us. It smashed, we were startled, she was not, clever delivery breaking the sugary shell so we could devour the cleansing sweet, herby ice cream inside, brilliant.
To finish a pile of giant parsley was presented to us, hiding were long, thin, green macaroons, a fitting finale.
Wine was superb, a fine Meursault then a great sweet wine of the house made with just local honey, water and yeast, decanted from a giant bottle with a test tube by our splendid wine waiter.
The meal was memorable, it was light, fresh & theatrical, all of which I cannot say I have really connected with French food over my years of culinary indulgence. The dishes were all uncomplicated which I really liked, two, maximum three ingredients. There was elements of Londons fine 'Young turks' about the experience.
All this just a tad over three hours drive from London town.....I will be back.
La Madelaine sous Montreuil, Montreuil sur mer,
tel- 0033-3-21 06 07 22
NB Alexandre Gauthier is a partner in the nearby more casual 'Froggys tavern' Montreuil. We ate lunch there on the way home....it just serves simple rotisseried meat & fish; we both had a great slab of a pork chop with fried potatoes, sharp green salad and a giant pot of mustard. Bloody yum.