Well, we greatly enjoyed our vacation, with a lot of memorable experiences and nice things to eat and drink. I'll include some general travel commentary, but I'll focus on the food and drink side of things. If anyone wants more details on a particular aspect, just ask.
I'll start by saying we didn't go to the eastern part of Calvados, where I had thought we'd do cheese and cider tasting. We just didn't have time. Likewise, we didn't even set foot in Caen, because we were too occupied with D-Day stuff and Bayeux. There was still cheese, and plenty of cider, but you could do a whole separate trip to the inland parts of Normandy and have plenty to keep you occupied. We also felt we spent far too little time in Rouen and Rennes (more on those later) and could happily go back to both places for a few days each, to do them justice. I won't go into obsessive detail about every meal we ate, and apart from one exception mentioned below, I don't photograph food so this won't be a slideshow, just food for thought.
We stayed at a place called Les Mas Normand, not far from Courseulles-sur-Mer, a comfy and rustic guesthouse with just a few rooms. The owners are very friendly and welcoming, and we'd certainly stay there again. Breakfast was a real treat, with a hunk of different cheese and something homebaked every day, along with the other staples and fresh fruit. A highlight for me was baguette with salted butter (something I'm used to) and honey from Provence. The interplay was absolutely delicious. You're more than welcome to bring some food back and have a little picnic in the evening too, if you've had lunch during the day and just fancy snacking in the evening.
Before we checked in, we had dinner at a place in Bayeux (I need to check the name) that was recommended in Lonely Planet for Norman specialities. I had tripes a la mode de Caen, and while it wouldn't be for everyone it was a very enjoyable meal. Soothing and soupy, I really enjoyed it and didn't find the texture offputting at all. The mustard served with it really made it sing. On another visit to Bayeux a few days later, we had lunch at Le Pet't Resto, just down the street. This really is an appropriate name; there are maybe 8 tables, and there isn't room to swing a cat, but we had an enjoyable and inventive lunch. The food wasn't amazing, but it was very reasonable, with some creativity in the preparation and presentation. Not everything 'worked', and the lunch menu was basically an 'either or' for three courses, so we didn't get to try some of the interesting dishes on their a la carte menu, but I'd certainly go back there. Incidentally, the Bayeux tapestry is well worth a visit.
A short walk away, there's a place where you can try cider and Calvados without driving out into the country (also possible at the market) at Logis Les Remparts http://www.lecornu.f...FR/default.html
. Having tried some apple products elsewhere, I preferred some of the other ciders and Calvados I tasted, but it's certainly convenient if you're staying in Bayeux. When driving along the coast, and in the area in general, you will see signs for plenty of places selling cider and Calvados, and I'd recommend you stop and try them. I hadn't anticipated so many places where you could do so in that area (hence my initial comments about heading more to the east for cider tasting), but there are some lovely things to drink if you're prepared to make a stopoff. Another unexpected highlight was apple jelly (with cinnamon, or mixed with other fruit), often available where you can buy cider and Calvados, and delicious either as a jam for breakfast or with cheese.
After a few days in that area, it was time to head west. Shortly before we were due to leave, we got bumped from our hotel in Mont Saint Michel, necessitating a change in plan. Since we had lunch reservations for Les Coquillage, it made sense to stay in Cancale the night before, rather than driving there on the day from MSM as we had originally planned. I'd recommend a trip to Cancale to anyone, but for food-lovers especially. It's literally wall-to-wall seafood restaurants along the seafront, serving (apparently) very good and very reasonable food, mainly in platter form. We had lunch at one place, again a guidebook recommendation, and really enjoyed it. I can't really do a compare and contrast; I'm sure some are better than others, and we mainly chose it because it was better value than the others, but prices overall were much cheaper than many other seaside resort towns you could care to mention, anywhere, and the quality is clearly very high.
You can also just walk to the end of the seafront, near the pier, where there are several stall selling shellfish (mainly oysters) where they will open your oysters of preference for you and serve them on a platter for you to eat. We didn't do this, but there were certainly many enthusiastic customers. Prices depended on the size of the oysters, but were in the range of 6 to 15 euro per dozen, plus a token charge of 50 cent or a euro per dozen to open them, and 50 cent for lemon. Good value I think you'll agree.
After lunch, we wanted to find Grain de Vanille, which we duly did, and had coffee and some pastries. If any of you have seen the episode of No Reservations where Les Coquillage, Grain de Vanille, and Chez Jacky feature, then you'll know what to expect, but all I will say is that you need to go there to really do it justice. We planned on going back there for some breakfast the following morning, where we were treated to the sight of a team of commis assembling their millefeulle. These are usually made to order, and I think all the large ones are, but they also had some mini ones that were available for walk-ins. We 'only' had the regular vanilla cream version (I think there are about a dozen flavours available), but it was frankly incredible. One of the best things I have ever eaten, for about 2 euro a piece.
In the summer, there's a gourmet market every Thursday evening in Cancale, just around the corner form Grain de Vanille, and we happened to be there for the last of the season. A nice group of single-product artisan producers had a lovely array of mouth-watering food of all types, without it feeling like a typical French market. As luck would have it, the charcuterie place from No Reservations had a stall there, and we were able to get some of their products to try: a lightly cured, paprika-laced rolled pork belly, and lightly cured roast pork, in slices, with some pork rillettes. These were eaten with some bread from a nearby bakery, and chilled cider picked up from another market stall, while sitting on the seafront as the sun set. One of the best meals I've ever had, and you should certainly track them down at the markets they visit if you're ever in the area.
We really enjoyed Les Coquillages; the setting and building are fantastic, and the staff are excellent (as you'd probably expect). Only the 135 euro super-duper tasting menu was available at lunch (I previously thought the 68 euro tasting menu was available too, along with the seafood platter), so we went for the a la carte menu (I'll mention their daily lunch menu here: we saw several tables having this, and it looked like incredible value for about 28 euro per head). We honestly could have gone for any combination of starters and main courses (there were about 8 of each, including specials), but in the end I had a sardine tartine to start and agneau pre sale (served with beans in a tomato sauce), and my wife had two fish dishes (i'll check, but I think it was a dish of smoked pollack to start, followed by seabass; they were both very good, especially the pollack as it had two different cuts of fish with different levels of smokeyness). We weren't amazed by any single dish, but they were very well executed and balanced.
We both opted to go for the cheese course, and for 12 euro this is a bargain. Any cheese fan will literally drool when the trolley is rolled into the room, and they are very willing to prepare a tasting platter with a little input on your likes and dislikes. An array of jellies and chutneys to match each cheese is also available. Dessert is also served from the trolley, and heads turn when this makes an appearance. It's hard to make the cheese trolley look second best, but the dessert trolley manages it. Don't try to taste everything; you'll never manage. Pick a few favourites, and just enjoy it. Highlights for us included more millefeulle, profiteroles filled tableside with ice cream then liberally covered in chocolate sauce, and chocolate tart.
After that, it was on to Rennes, which I'll describe in due course after I check some of the names of place I've mentioned above...