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Normandy, Brittany, and Champagne


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Hi everyone, I'm hoping that I can get some up-to-date information for my vacation in France next month. I have some draft ideas (and a reservation for lunch at Olivier Roellinger's place :biggrin: ) but I'd like to hear where you'd recommend for any food-related topic. We'll be staying on the coast near Caen for a few nights to begin, then MSM for a night, then Rennes for a night, before driving on to Brittany for a week. We'll be staying roughly between Lorient and Pontivy while we're there. We're planning on driving back (to Germany) via Rouen and Champagne.

On the list so far are:

  • Calvados, cider, and cheese-tasting in Normandy
  • Roellinger, obviously,
  • Chez Jacky and Anne de Belon when we're in Brittany

I've read some recommendations online, and have the Michelin Red Guide, but I'd love some recommendations for anywhere from Honfleur/Lisieux in the east to Quimper in the west (the northern coast of Brittany, including places like St. Brieuc, will be a little too far away I think but generally distances aren't a problem), and any hidden gems or less well-known Champagne producers that are worth a visit would also be gratefully received. I'm happy to share my experiences when I get back, and I'll post some other places we're considering in due course.

Thanks in advance,


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IA, not sure if I can provide too much specific information for you as it has been 4 years since we were in the area.

We stayed in Trouville, which is just outside Caen, at the Beach Hotel Trouville. Outside the hotel walking into town on the main street, there is a long line of restaurant on the left before you get to the grocery store. There is one that has an enclosed outside sitting area, for smokers, (done in yellow awnings when we were there) with a smaller inside dining area. They have the greatest mussels. Sorry I don't remember the name.

In Honfleur there is a terrific Saturday morning market. It is just outside the Sainte-Catherine's church which is definitely worth seeing for its historical background. We got sausages and cheeses which we used for lunches for several days along with bread and wine. We were there the end of Sept or early Oct and there was a shrimp festival and a lot of the vendors had shrimp dishes for sale. There were even fireworks in the evening to celebrate the event. I just found some notes and it is the Fete de la Crevette that we were there for. Not sure how you trip matches up to those dates.

Definitely try Pont-O'Eveque cheese from Normandy, if you haven't already had it, It comes in a small wooden box of 220g. Really creamy and great. Other cheeses are Livarot which has a strong odor.

We also stayed in Blois. Really enjoyed the area and the tagines in the restaurants are great. We ate in one of them two nights. Still working to figure out which restaurant that was but we stayed at the Mecure Blois Hotel so I know it was within an easy walk of that hotel on that side of the river. Will post later if I find the name.

Hope this helps some. Kay

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If you are driving through Reims, do try to fit in a lunch at L'Assiette Champenoise. Arnaud Lallement does an excellent and ridiculously generous four-course lunch for 65 euros. And of course, there is a great selection of champagnes if you care for a glass or two. The default seems to be Les Crayeres but I opted for L'Assiette instead on a day trip and have never regretted it.

Julian's Eating - Tales of Food and Drink
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It sounds like a great trip, now you have me thinking about something similar. I can only offer second-hand info or general recommendations:

On his blog, John Talbott’s recently reported his food highlights on a trip to Brittany.

I’ve never done a real tour of Champagne (that must be remedied) but I do buy a lot of small estate champagnes, so I know which producers I’ll seek out when I finally get there. Favorites include Camille Savès, Aubry, Paul Georg and Lallement.

There are a couple of old discussion topics here that might be helpful:

L'Assiette Champenois - Lallement -near Reims

Champagne restaurants and accommodations

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Thanks for the replies and the helpful information. Our return trip is slightly crimped by the fact we're travelling over the weekend, so for example, quite a few places in Reims are closed on Sunday and Monday, and Origine in Rouen is closed at the weekend too.

Our current plan is to try and get a table at Gill for Saturday evening in Rouen (they were on vacation until yesterday), and perhaps eat at the brasserie at Les Crayeres when we're in Reims. L'Assiette Champenoise looks fantastic (better than Les Crayeres IMO), but I don't think it'll fit the schedule. It will definitely be in the plans for a return trip, perhaps next year. The few days in Champagne are basically reconnaissance for a future trip (since we're based only a few hours drive from there), so we'll get a feel for the place and hopefully fit in a few tastings. Our preferred destination would be Veuve Cliquot, but they're closed (it seems) on Mondays when we hope to do most of the tastings in Reims.

For Tuesday, we'd like to visit the following places in Oger: http://www.mariage-et-champagne.fr, where we can get lunch before hitting the road, and http://champagne-milan.com/. I'm interested in those for no reason beyond the fact they were featured in a newspaper article I read, and they sounded interesting and welcoming.

Any other tips are more than welcome; I will certainly report my findings when I'm back.


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Update: Gill is booked; if anyone is interested, then the 7 course tasting menu on their website is 95 euro, and the 3 course lobster menu is 135 IIRC. A 5/6 course tasting menu in a * place here would cost around 70 euro, so the tasting menu there strikes me as reasonable.

Any thoughts on whether we should go for the tasting menu or the seafood platter at Les Coquillages? The price is the same, so that's not an issue.

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  • 4 weeks later...

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.fr/cave%20FR/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...

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Regarding my earlier post, the other restaurant in Bayeux was Le Pommier (it's in the Michelin Guide too).

Our trip to Rennes was mainly (unfortunately) a stopover on the way to Brittany, but I was determined to get up early on Saturday morning to go to the market there, both to experience it and to get some supplies. This was a great experience. The outside area is made up of vast fruit and vegetable stalls, with some glorious things for sale. Unfortunately, due to space restrictions we couldn't stock up on those, so we had to focus on things like bread and cheese. I should also mention the seafood stalls (outside, but in an enclosed area separate from the fruit and vegetable stalls), which were also a real treat. I'm pretty familiar with lots of different types of fish, but they had things I'd only ever heard of and the prices for fish and shellfish seemed very reasonable. If you're ever visiting Rennes, it might be worth staying somewhere that is self-catering, because you could really cook up a feast after a trip to the market. Inside were the butchers, charcuterie stalls (some had both), pattissiers, fromagerie stalls, and a few other assorted stalls selling honey, jams and so on. In some cases, stalls were selling a combination of these products and everything looked amazing, from dainty little pastries to 5 pound loaves of sourdough that were about 2 feet across. We picked up some saucisson sec from a stall that probably had 30 different types of salami, and we found the prices to be very reasonable in all cases. We really could have run riot, but we had quite a long drive ahead of us and limited storage/refrigeration. Apart from strolling around the streets near the market with the medieval timbered buildings, we didn't do a whole lot else in Rennes, but I would certainly like to visit it again and try some of the great places to eat there. I think the market is a must-see for anyone interested in food or who simply likes visiting their own local market.

Later, we had lunch in Morlaix, at Le Viaduc (also in Michelin) with some family and had a lovely meal. I had the local 'kig fa haz' stew (which was a bit like pot au feu, and very good), most of the other dishes were fish-based and all were very good. Prices were again very reasonable (lunch for 5, with wine, coffee, and water, plus a dessert or two came to about 120 euro).

I could obviously go to great lengths outlining every last thing to do in Brittany, or even simply what we did, but I'll focus on the three main highlights. On the Monday, we visited the market in Auray in the morning (worth a visit) and went to Vannes in the afternoon. As you will know, most 'good' places in France are closed Sunday (especially evenings) and Monday, but we found a very nice place for lunch near the centre of Vannes. Oddly, they were only open for lunch on Monday, I think specifically to try and fill that gap created by other places being closed. It certainly wasn't a stopgap however, with a nice mix of 'typical' bistro food (pate de campagne, good steak frites, etc.) and fish dishes. They had a range of set menus, including a slightly pricier one with John Dory or scallops, and a plat du jour, with three courses costing around 18 euro. I should point out that all these places offered cider as an accompaniment, along with wine, and it was often a perfect (and cheaper) choice to drink with the food. I'll need to check the name again, but it's a place I'd recommend even if the other options are open.

The first of the two remaining highlights was Chez Jacky, in Belon, where we had their seafood platter. I'll post some photographs to try and do it justice, but it was very impressive: we went for the 'with lobster' option, and for four people, and it was all served on a single gigantic platter. It was literally a pile of seafood. Personally, I realised that I'm not a huge fan of raw cockles, but everything else here was better than the equivalent I'd had in Cancale, and even cold cooked mussels were delicious. Obviously, things like whelks are a matter of taste, but I thought the tourteau was much better, and the langoustines were fantastic. Native and Pacific oysters were also included, and it was a great opportunity to compare the two. Both types really seemed different to others that I've had elsewhere, and were excellent, especially the natives. My wife isn't a big fan of cold shellfish, but she happily ate grey shrimp and ordered separately from the 4 of us who had the platter. She enjoyed her meal (scallop main course), and we did manage some desserts, which were a nice sugary hit after the protein overload. You certainly wouldn't miss the lobster, or go hungry if you didn't include it, but we did enjoy it.

The remaining highlight was Gill, in Rouen. As I've said previously, Rouen is certainly a place I'd like to see more of, and there were plenty of narrow lanes that looked exactly like the type of place you'd find your new favourite restaurant. Gill had already been highly recommended by someone here, and I think it lived up to our expectation. We were seated at an unusual high table, in a small and fairly secluded part of the restaurant. I have no idea if this was a sign of favour, but we enjoyed having our own little space. We have eaten in quite a few * places, and one *** place, and this was our first **. The experience was much closer to ***, but the prices weren't a million miles from the * restaurants we've been to. This isn't a comment on the pricing, more a reflection of the standard of service we received. The food was very good, but the waiting staff were absolutely wonderful, especially when advising on wine and cheese.

We went for their 7 course tasting menu, which consisted of four savoury dishes, cheese, and two dessert courses. To start, we had a pea panna cotta, with little chunks of bacon and foie gras, served with truffle. The texture was unusual, but with the meaty chunks and whole peas scattered on top, it was very tasty. Next, lobster in a smoked haddock cream. This was a delicious combination of very tasty tail meat (maybe the nicest lobster I've had) in a smooth, light, creamy sauce. It had a definite smoked haddock flavour, without overpowering the lobster at all. Then another fish dish: seabass in a miso broth. This was an unusual dish (for us at least) but very good, with the centre of the bass was barely cooked as it sat in the broth. The broth itself was tasty and certainly added to the fish but didn't dominate it. Perhaps the highlight was the dish that followed: veal osso bucco. This turned out to be different to what I had anticipated; in reality, it was a neat little cylinder of veal, a little pink right in the middle, that looked more like a miniature (but very thick) filet served with a little bit of asparagus. The veal was absolutely delicious, meaty and very tasty, but also very tender. The asparagus was also very good.

Cheese was another trolley affair, with a good range and a generous touch. Again, personal taste is a factor here, but I think anyone would be more than satisfied with a selection that provided after a very engaging discussion about what was available. I asked if there was another wine they might suggest to accompany the cheese, and was served a magnificent glass of 2002 Pomerol. The first dessert course was strawberry millefeulle, and it was very good, but I think Grain de Vanille had spoiled us in that regard. If you hadn't eaten the freshly-made millefeulle there, then I'm sure you would be more impressed by the one at Gill, but I would also suggest that eating one version pretty much first thing in the morning and eating the other after wine and several courses of food, plus cheese, also played a role. The last course (before chocolate was served with coffee) consisted of a roasted fig with ice cream. I like figs, and enjoyed this course, but the ice cream was rather unusual-tasting. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a grand finale by any means. My wife hates figs, so she wasn't best pleased, and didn't especially like the ice cream either. Overall, it was a hugely enjoyable experience, and one that I would certainly recommend. I look forward to going back there, and would go there again before going back to Les Coquillage, for example.

I am happy to share my thoughts and comments regarding Reims and Champagne if people are interested, but we didn't eat at any notable restaurants, and the champagnes themselves are probably even more subjective in terms of taste. One matter to report is that Le Boulingrin, apparently a Reims institution (and my hope for a good meal on a Monday), has closed down due to a licencing issue. I can't say for certain what the issue is, but petitions have been drawn up in support to try and get it reopened.

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