Montreuil-Sur-Mer, not actually on the sea anymore, has recently been very much in the news.
One of it’s long term residents, Alexandre Gauthier has just been crowned ‘Chef of the year,’ by the prestigious restaurant Guide, Gault et Millau with the maximum ‘five hats’.
Alexandre Gauthier is at the forefront of creative fine-dining, combined with a deep-rooted respect for technical accuracy and French cuisine, his food is honest and authentic reflecting his modern approach using the freshest of seasonal local ingredients.
With it’s closeness to Calais and only a couple of hours from Paris, French and English alike are finding the charms of this French town. In the past the nearby coastal town of Le Touquet was the favourite of the French seeking fine restaurants but now they are all flocking to Montreuil and we can see why.
I felt the town had a very distinctive feel to it, the medieval ramparts, cobbled streets and timbered houses were a pointer to it’s past. During the first World War, the town was the headquarters of the British Army and then the German headquarters in the Second World War. Now the old crumbling houses are being restored and turned into Hôtels de Charme.
Where we stayed
We stayed in Maison 76, known as The Apothecary’s house, owner Tim Matthews bought this lovely Hôtel Particular and has spent the last seven years restoring the house to it’s former glory. His attention to detail shows at every turn and we were made to feel very welcome and looked after admirably by Tim.
With only three bedrooms and a suite, it still has the relaxed and calming air of a house but with the facilities of a luxury hotel. The freshest most delicious croissants I have ever eaten (and I’ve sampled many!) were served fresh from Monsieur Rodière across the street along with delicious homemade jams.
Where we ate
Our first evening we ate at the contemporary rotisserie Froggy’s Tavern which Alexandre opened in 2007, and is run by his wife, Magali. Housed in a disused granary with a communal feel it is a popular place to eat with a fairly easy menu. Good casual dining.
After a morning pottering around the town, the next day, we went for lunch at Alexandre’s third and newest restaurant, Anecdote which opened early this year. In a high ceilinged room, industrial style deco with banquette seating around the walls and a central serving area in the middle, it feels spacious.
We opted for the set lunch menu, three courses for €21.50
Entrée: Salade de Chou Rouge aux Pommes et Saumon Gravadlax
Plat: Pavé de lieu noir, fenouil braisé et buerre ciboulette
Desert: Pot de créme à la vanille.
Delicious and extremely good value. I can highly recommend Anecdote.
Problem was we still had to eat at La Grenouillère that evening, so a drive to Le Touquet to see the Christmas lights and a brisk walk around the town was in order to work up an appetite for the raison d’être of our whole visit.
The restaurant is situated in the tiny hamlet of La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil on the outskirts of Montreuil itself. The first impression is of a sleepy old auberge located amongst the bullrushes by a stream however appearances can be deceptive.
In 2003, still in his 20s, Gauthier returned home to takeover La Grenouillère from his father, Roland, himself a holder of a Michelin star up until 2001. Five years later he delighted in winning back the coveted Michelin Star.
French architect Patrick Bouchain designed the refurbishment of the old auberge into one with a cool, industrial feeling in a stylish, sleek atmosphere.
The leather tables and chairs are by Hermes design, placed in a large open dining area which is in stark contrast to the original old dining room with it’s walls decorated with collections of frogs.
Without any hesitation we went for the full eleven course tasting menu with wine pairing and I shan’t tell you the exact menu as I would hate to spoil the surprise. (You can opt for the à la carte but it would be a shame to miss the experience.) I decided that I wouldn’t take pictures of each course either as I wanted to totally concentrate on the food. Good decision as Alexandre frowns on the use of social media whilst dining.
I would like people to be living in the present, tweet about the meal beforehand, tweet about it afterwards, but in between, stop and eat. Sitting down for a meal should be an enjoyable moment shared with us, not with the social network.
Suffice to say the textures, aromas, and colours were pretty amazing. The taste of the ingredients and the playing with layers and surprise ‘pops’ of flavours inspiring, everything being light and fresh laid easily on one’s stomach. I had been worried that with the restaurant’s name we would be given frogs, snails and puppy dog’s tails, but I needn’t have worried, no frogs were harmed in this menu, or snails luckily for me!
Somehow they had got wind that it was the boyfriend’s birthday and the most delicious petit gâteau arrived complete with a candle and a chorus of Bon anniversaire to his embarrassment.
Summing up, Montreuil has an awful lot to offer, with other restaurants, delis, chocolateries, shops and new hotels opening up as we speak, there is plenty to see and do. The British Wine Society has it’s showroom here along with a great range of wines at Vinophilie. Market day is Saturday and the annual Bastille Day Antiques Fair is not be missed.
The following day we set off early to make the drive back to St Malo to catch the ferry home, it was a lovely sunny day and the motorways were empty so the journey took a lot less time than we thought, around four and a half hours.
Now back to that diet! Oh, and any suggestions for next year…