In an earlier post, I described a phenomenon, which I call ‘palate-lag’, in which foods that usually please your palate, taste bland for up to two weeks after you return from a foreign country.
If you too would like to experience a dose of ‘palate-lag’, I recommend that you visit the following restaurants in France. We dined at each of these during the fortnight before we flew home to Melbourne.
We spent two nights in Amiens during our program of visits to First World War battlefields, cemeteries and commemorative sites. On the first evening, we ate in the dining room of our hotel, the Mecure Amiens Cathedrale. The atmosphere was a bit ho-hum but the meal was very good.
Bistrot du Boucher
On the second night, we dined at a restaurant close to our hotel and only a couple of doors from the famous cathedral. After we had returned from our day of visiting sites, we took a late afternoon stroll around the centre of the city and studied the menus and looks of several restaurants, before settling on Bistrot du Boucher. The menu was biased towards meat-eaters, which suited our appetite. Maggie enjoyed an excellent piece of grilled beef while I tucked into a whole roasted spatchcock. Uncomplicated but delicious. And generous!
Saumur, Loire Valley
We explored the Loire Valley from another Mercure hotel, located on the small island that stands in the middle of the Loire River in the heart of the town of Saumur. On each of our three nights in Saumur, we dined at a restaurant that was within walking distance of our hotel.
La Reine de Sicile
Our first restaurant was rated highly on Trip Advisor and by staff at our hotel. And the menu read well when we made the short walk there late in the afternoon. Although our meal didn’t quite live up to our expectations, I was happy enough with my dish of Sole meuniere, a dish I had been wanting to try ever since I saw Meryl Streep going into raptures over it in a scene from the movie Julie and Julia.
Restaurant la Pierre Chaude
This was the first of two excellent evening meals at restaurants that were unpretentious and operated by a husband (chef) and wife (maitre d’). At La Pierre Chaude, we both enjoyed a perfectly-cooked beef steak, accompanied by a generous array of vegetables and even some baked apple, plus a pot of intoxicating sauce (blue cheese in Maggie’s case). The red wine was local, fresh and flavoursome.
Le bouche a Oreille
We had wanted to dine here on our second night but the restaurant was closed, to give the owners a breather after a particularly busy week, as we later discovered. It was well worth the wait! ‘Madame’ had quite a personality, was a welcoming host but was also protective of the quality of the food and service, so she determinedly turned some prospective customers away on the premise of being fully-booked.
(I was impressed by this. Many years ago, I worked at a fine dining restaurant where the owners were too greedy to resist overcrowding the dining room, leaving me to manage the frustrations of customers waiting for their meals to emerge from the overworked kitchen.)
Although the vegetables on the plates of food were more typical of what we have seen in French restaurants, ie a distant second behind the main ingredient, our three courses were all delicious and, progressively, more eye-catching! In order, Maggie ate prawns and scallops in a cream & garlic sauce; perfectly-cooked duck breast with a plum sauce; and baked figs with mango ice-cream. I had a warm mushroom salad, veal steak with a wild mushroom and brandy sauce; and poached pears with coffee ice-cream.
Mont St Michel
Le Relais du Roy
We had dinner at our hotel after spending the afternoon exploring both the iconic Mont St Michel and the hamlet that is clustered on the mainland end of the causeway. Our expectations of the hotel’s kitchen were modest – there was nothing about our room or the general appearance of the hotel that hinted at fine dining. This proved to be a potent reminder that you should never judge a book by its cover!
I swear that we had no intention of eating three courses each! -We just got caught up in the moment; the moment the entrees arrived, that is.
We loved Honfleur. Everyone loves Honfleur. And the old town’s inherent charms are supplemented by the generous number of opportunities to eat well.
We had three very good evening meals, all at establishments rated in the top 20 of Honfleur’s 140+ restaurants by the Trip Advisor community.
We chose Le gambetta having studied its menu where I found a dish I had been itching to try for many years – bouillabaisse. It did not disappoint! Meanwhile, Maggie enjoyed the fact that we were in Normandy at the height of oyster season.
L’homme de bois
On the following evening, it was Maggie’s turn for a special treat – lobster! My feed of prawns with a spicy tomato sauce was also delicious.
Le Gambetta and L’homme de bois were both comfortably in the category of ‘classic French bistro’, with crowd-pleasing favourites on the menu, friendly staff and a cosy atmosphere, including street-side tables to take advantage of the warm weather. But you need only look at our entree plates to recognise that Le Breard was anything but ‘classic’.
We had looked at the menu early in our stay, as its was on our hosts’ short list of recommended restaurants. And we walked past it each day, on the route from our lodgings to the harbour. However, it took us until late on our final afternoon to get our heads around its distinctive menu and reserve a table. Good decision. Very good decision!
The decor is modern – clean and crisp, but not too minimalist. The wine list by the glass is acute and elegant. The service is refined, yet welcoming. And the food? Sublime, taking familiar ingredients and transforming them into delights of of look, texture and flavour.
When we were making plans for the self-driving part of our 2016 travels in Europe, my father said that he would happily help meet the cost of a high-quality meal on our last evening in France. We gratefully accepted his generosity and investigated options for dining out in Rouen, where we had booked to spend one night in the the city’s old heart, just a few doors from the medieval cathedral, which Monet famously depicted in a series of thirty paintings.
We settled on Gill, a restaurant with one Michelin star and a menu to match that lofty rating. And only s short walk back to our hotel after dinner.
We chose the five-course degustation menu, which was pushed out to seven courses by an ‘amuse bouche’ and a bonus dish by way of apology for a bone I discovered in a piece of fish. (As you might guess, the maitre d’ was deeply mortified.)
Here is a sample of what we ate, culminating in a selection from the stunning cheese trolley.