Eating out in Charente-Maritime
On a trip to the Atlantic coast, Peter Stewart seeks out restaurants making full use of the bounty of the sea
1. BAR ANDRÉ
Venture inside this La Rochelle institution and you could forgive yourself for thinking that you’re on a boat. Sapphire blue walls, wooden decking, lifebuoys, fishing nets and a ship’s wheel all give a maritime edge to this delightful restaurant in La Rochelle’s vieux port. Stretching across two streets in the old port, Bar André was started in 1950 by a Mr Georges Bourdin who, over time, continued to expand the restaurant until 1981 when his son Jacques took over the helm. Today the restaurant offers ample room for diners but it is not just a place for you to come and eat; Bar André also hosts temporary exhibitions such as ‘Land and Sea’, a display featuring a host of maritime images by La Rochelle-based reporter Cyril Jarno, which ran all summer.
With so much maritime influence inside the restaurant, it should come as no surprise then that their speciality is seafood, all of which is locally sourced. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anything else on their menu. For a real taste of the sea, the restaurant’s l’Andreyale platter is a must, overflowing with Ile de Ré oysters, razor clams, prawns, whelks and shrimps. For a real local treat try the mussels seasoned with Pineau des Charentes – a fortified wine which is often enjoyed as an apéritif. Another tasty local dish, perfect for a chilly autumn evening, is une chaudrée, which is a sort of stew featuring many different types of fish. A bottle of the Domaine de la Chauvillière merlot, from the southern reaches of the Charente-Maritime département, made for a great accompaniment to our meal with its hints of raspberry and blackberry. Even dessert is a local affair; try the sweet apple tart topped off with caramel flavoured with fleur de sel from Ile de Ré or the André Sundae made from villages surrounding La Rochelle.
Service is impeccable and always with a smile here with the management more than happy to propose alternative dishes for those with certain types of allergies. If you’re after a unique maritime atmosphere just a stone’s throw from the sea then this is definitely the place to be. Open daily, mains from €19.70.
Bar André, 5 Rue Saint Jean du Pérot,
17000 La Rochelle, tel: (Fr) 5 46 41 28 24,
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2. LES FLOTS
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the sandy beach resort of Châtelaillon-Plage – traditionally the summer playground for many wealthy Parisians holidaying in the area, Les Flots is just your average seafront stone building from the outside. A walk through the door will lead you into a whole other world, where a monochromatic interior reigns, complete with light oak parquet floors, designer chairs from Charles Eames and egg white walls, all of which will teach visitors never to judge a book by its cover. My friends and I stopped here for Sunday lunch and within ten minutes of it opening the place was full up with hungry locals, so a reservation is advisable. Dine here and you’ll quickly appreciate the variety and richness of flavours packed into every dish not to mention the attentiveness of the staff who serve you at lightening speed. While it is located smack bang next to the sea, this snazzy place offers a more general menu with rich and wholesome dishes including a large filet of beef with fennel and sweet carrot glaze, lobster paté topped off with a creamy bisque and an asparagus and smoked salmon flan marinated in a slow-cooked egg sauce. I elected for the mackerel dish covered with a lemon-infused potato purée and completed the meal with a bottle of Sancerre d’Henri Bourgeois. Make sure you leave room for dessert with options including a super sweet nougat dish decorated with chocolate macarons, homemade profiteroles dripping in strawberry coulis and a café gourmand, consisting of 5 mini puddings.
The highlight of the dining experience for us and our fellow guests was the excellent value for money here with three-course sophisticated menus starting from just €22. All that was left for us to do was to book a date to return for dinner and enjoy the evening show with the sun melting away over the Atlantic. Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.
Les Flots, 52 Boulevard de la Mer,
17340 Châtelaillon-Plage, tel: (Fr) 5 46 56 23 42,
Just a short hop across the bridge from La Rochelle lies the idyllic Île de Ré with its clusters of white stone villages and soaring hollyhocks. One such village is Le-Bois- Plage-en-Ré, situated on the south coast and home to L’Océan, a hotel and restaurant on the edge of the village centre. Decked out in turquoise-tinged wood panels decorated with surfer art, scuffed, burnt cream chairs and tables, the restaurant boasts a shabby chic look which has a distinctly Cape Cod feel about it. As soon as we ventured inside we were met with a warm welcome from the maître d’, who doubles as the hotel and restaurant owner; ‘here at Océan we like to make all our guests feel important and enjoy a unique dining experience’, Valérie says with a twinkle in her eye.
With such a warm reception it was no surprise to look round and find the restaurant full to the brim with happy diners that night. The menu here is extensive, and being just footsteps from the beach, unsurprisingly, features a wealth of interesting and often adventurous seafood dishes. For something a little out of the ordinary, try the foie gras maki with a celery and granny smith apple tartare and savour the unusual taste when it hits your palette. Popular with my fellow diners because of its rich flavour is the cannelloni with prawns and squid topped off with Provencal vegetables and a basil coulis. I opted for the delicious grilled cod dish, served with tart made from ground vegetables and a rocket pesto glaze. The chef’s interesting mix of flavours is even reflected in the desserts; for an assault of sweet and savoury on the senses then the jonchée charentaise, a local cheese made from either cow or goat’s milk, topped off with a fennel jam and cognac dressing, is a dish definitely worth trying.
Despite our eclectic range of tastes when it comes to choosing what toe at, by the time we had all finished we had all reached a unanimous decision: everything about this restaurant was superb and one that we all hoped to return to next time we find ourselves on Île de Ré. Open daily, lunch menus from €19.50, dinner menus from €27.
Hôtel Restaurant L’Océan, 172 Rue de Saint-Martin,
17580 Le-Bois-Plage-en-Ré, tel: (Fr) 5 46 09 23 07,
Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine made from grape juice and is available in white, with a honey-like flavour, and rosé, which is much fruitier. Legend has it that pineau was first created by accident in the 16th century when a vintner tipped his grape residue into a barrel of cognac and left it to ferment for some time.
La Voile Blanche
13 Quai du Gabut, 17000 La Rochelle
Tel: (Fr) 9 67 11 50 28
Located in the modern port area of the city, this restaurant-cum-bar is a great place to relax and unwind with a glass of wine. Get there early to find a table on the lovely terrasse which enjoys views towards the quaint old harbour.
Ernest Le Glacier
16 Rue du Port, 17000 La Rochelle
Tel: (Fr) 5 46 50 55 60
This coffee shop-cum-ice cream parlour in the vieux port has been enchanting locals for years with its range of drinks and sweet treats. Ernest is particularly famous for his range of ice creams which you can pick up on the way out.
Explore the markets and shops of La Rochelle and beyond to stock up on the best sweet and savoury produce for your supper or picnic
Rue Thiers, 17000 La Rochelle
Tel: (Fr) 5 46 41 14 68
The central market, open everyday in the morning and until 7 pm on Fridays, has been operating here since 1835 and features over 60 stalls selling everything from meat and fish to wines and regional specialities.
Rue du Marché, 17340 Châtelaillon-Plage
Tel: (Fr) 5 46 56 26 97
The town’s covered market, housed inside an old art deco hall, takes place everyday from 8am – 1pm and sells a wide range of regional cheeses, meats and fruit and vegetables. A particular highlight is a visit to the market’s fishmonger where you’ll find a whole wall of seafood caught earlier that morning.
BREAD AND CAKES
O Rêve Gourmand
107 Boulevard Republique,
This artisanal bakery in the centre of town stocks a wide range of homemade breads, cakes and sandwiches and is very popular among locals. Specialities include la galette Charentaise, a flat, round cake made from butter and sugar.
Confitures du Clocher
1 Chemin des Palissiats
Tel: (Fr) 5 46 29 41 35
This family-run shop just a couple of minutes by car from Bois Plage specialises in all sorts of tasty jams with flavours ranging from strawberry and raspberry to salted caramel, honey and even onion. All jams are made from fruit grown on the island and make the perfect accompaniment to your bread in the morning.
Fromagerie La Nature Au Quotidien
Rue Thiers, 17000 La Rochelle
Tel: (Fr) 5 46 41 44 96
Housed inside the city’s central market, this cheese shop stocks over 350 varieties of French and international cheeses. There are some 45 varieties of goat’s cheese to choose from with all cheeses sourced from small producers, many of which are from the Poitou-Charentes region.