celebrates France’s national gastronomic weekend with a trip to its hidden foodie heart
The Hungry Weekend
For a little town, Montreuil-sur-Mer, 40 minutes’ drive from Calais, punches seriously above its weight. And if you’re watching your weight, be seriously afraid, because food-lovers return time and again for a gastronomic pilgrimage, door to door along Montreuil’s cobbled alleys.
A medieval walled city, it was the setting for Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, but nowadays the 18th and 19th-century shops, inns, eateries, bars, mansions and shuttered townhouses make up a jolly town, where people greet each other with a morning wave of an (award-winning) baguette. You’ll be glad you brought the car – with artisanal cheese, chocolates, pâté and patisserie at every turn, and duty-free wine by the caseload, fill your boot!
Where to start? Thankfully, a website has launched to take the legwork out of your long weekend. Ladestinationgastronomique.com is a one-stop shop for ‘restaurants, provisions, wine, walks, events’. The name to look out for is local hotshot chef Alexandre Gauthier, French chef of the year 2016. His father gained a Michelin star for his bucolic inn, La Grenouillère,
in the 1980s, which a young Alexandre took over, and which gained a second Michelin star this year, making it one of only two two-star French restaurants north of Paris.
Spreading his wings, Gauthier added a casual rotisserie to the town’s repertoire in 2007, Froggy’s, for spit-roasted lamb, rabbit and sucking pig, and, in 2015, the smart-casual restaurant, Anecdote,
where locals feast on bowls of monkfish stew in a cream broth with crisp baby vegetables.
A Michelin star also belongs to Le Château de Montreuil
and its chef Christian Germain (for a bit of posh). Mere minutes’ walk from each other are more wallet-friendly diners, such as Le Bistronome, with Francois’ Asian-inspired and classic French dishes; Le Clos des Capucins, where fish and offal are cooked to perfection; Le Patio, with its walled garden for intimate dinners; Le Pot du Clape, which serves simply soup… the list goes on.
Our very own British Wine Society had its only continental outpost in Montreuil, but it departed France post-referendum. La Cave
swooped up the manager and is about to take over bigger premises on the town square for its brimming stock and forward-thinking friendly customer service.
There’s no night-spot in Montreuil, but locals love to kick off their evenings with an aperitif at Le Caveau (accompanied by a slice of Alsacian pizza), a pint at Le Douglas (young people!) and an after-dinner brandy in front of the fire at the 16th-century Les Hauts de Montreuil.
You can’t do better than the chic boutique chambre d’hôte Maison 76 in the centre of town, Montreuil’s former 18th-century pharmacy. Antiques, fine furnishings, a drawing room for guests to relax in with a pot of tea or a welcome drink and snacks, a lavender-filled walled garden with heated pool and a summerhouse, all wrapped up with the wit and charm – and interiors’ eye - of a British host and long-term resident. Tim will even cook you dinner with wine from his cellar, and knows everyone and everything about Montreuil.
With only three doubles and one suite, booking, as they say, is essential.
And after that
A 20-minute drive and you are at Le Touquet, home to M et Mme Macron. It’s a honeypot for sandy beaches, a serious market (Thursdays and Saturdays) and local bars and restaurants (what, more?!). Otherwise, Montreuil is the gateway to the Somme.
Need to know
for a handpicked list of where (and what) to eat and drink. On December 9 and 10 2017, Montreuil hosts a fête de la gastronomie with events and wine-tastings in the citadel and the Hermitage, along with a Christmas market in the town square. Doubles at Maison 76 from €175 B&B (maison76.com).
Take the car from Folkstone to Calais with Eurotunnel (eurotunnel.com).
This article originally appeared in London's City AM
Photos © Michael Bennett, Christian Plard