Just returned from an overnight stay at the Hotel Atlantique in Wimereux, near Bolougne, and about 20 minutes drive from the Tunnel. It has a wonderful restaurant, and I had the best meal I have had in a very long time there, so I thought I'd share it with you. The meal for four was 353Euros. A tidy sum, and not something I would do more than once a year probably, but boy was it worth it...The hotel is right on the front, and overlooks the very stylish promenade. It is smallish, with twenty rooms, but decked out in blue and white, and has the style of a thirties' liner. Could be ghastly in the wrong hands, but it is very well done, and everything looks great. Fabulous bright, breezy rooms overlooking the sea, we felt immeadiately relaxed as soon as we got there, and after a long three hour walk in the afternoon along the clifftops, followed by a hot bath and an Campari aperatif on the front, we were absolutely ready for our visit to the Grande Salle a Manger in the Hotel. About 25% of the Hotel seemed to be taken up by the beautiful, light and spacious restaurant situated on the first floor, with one whole wall overlooking the promenade, the wide expanse of smooth sand, and the sea receding leisurely in the distance. There were four of us, and we were seated by one of the elegant waiters, by one of the elegant windows, framed by huge chinese vases. Starched crisp linen, fresh flowers, huge glasses, heavy cutlery that meant business, we sipped out Kir Royales, and contentedly contemplated the menu. Being by the sea, the restaurant was known for it's seafood, and there was plenty on the menu: Red Mullet, Turbot, Lobster, Sole, and not bit of that ubiquitous monkfish in sight. I worked my way leisurely through the choices: A La Carte, a set menu at 34Euros, 49 Euros, or, The Menu 'Surprise' at 61Euros. I looked at my companions: no contest. We put ourselves at the mercy of the Chef-Owner.Being a surprise, as each course is placed in front of us, the Maitre D' proudly but seriously describes it.First Course: a square piece of black slate arrives with a crisp mound of endive in one corner, and a beautifully roasted fillet of Red Mullet, skin nicely caramelised, sitting slightly on top of a great slab of fresh fois gras, which had been seared expertly. I've never had fresh fois gras before, and it was sensational. Cutting through the crisp outside gave way to the most meltingly delicious and rich, buttery fois gras. Absolutley out of this world, and perfect with the Mullet, which had been finished with a reduced Sweet Balsamic Vinegar that perfectly complemented the richness of the fois grasSecond Course: a huge round crennelated white dish, with a smallish depression in the middle, in which are thick (and I mean thick) chunks of lobster, on a bed of tiny vegetables: french beans, carrot, fresh peas, haricots, broad beans, and fresh morrells, as they are in season. In fact, each course was full of seasonality, which made the whole meal so much more satisfying. It was dressed in a creamy, delicate but incredibly flavoursome morrell sauce - a stunning dishThird Course: A square slab of white porcelain, with upturned corners, on which was a square of turbot, plainly cooked in seasoned butter, with (again very seasonal) fresh asparagus, and a goodly few thickish slices of white summer truffle. The asparagus was alive with the delicate taste that is so easy to destroy, unless your ingredients are absolutley fresh, young, and superby cooked, and it was all of these. I have never had truffle before, except once as a few tiny black flecks in some scrambled egg, in an unmemorable but pretentious restaurant, and was never sure what the fuss was about. But these truffle slices had an intense, earthy, and absolutely delicious flavour and crunchy texture: perfect with the meaty texture of the turbot. Again, a sensational dish.That's three courses, and as the dishes were cleared, we sipped our Sauvignon, feeling a sense of free-fall, not knowing what was coming next, and not really caring, because we knew that whatever it was, cheese, pud, we were going to love it, such confidence in the Chef's abilities did we have by now. It was a wonderful feeling.Imagine our surpise therefore (surprise: geddit?) when a pale green, dappled glass plate arrived with a mound of - what? - in the middle, sat atop a puree of some sort, and an extravagant heap of needle thin, crispy fried somethings as a garnish. It smelled wonderful. We looked expectantly for the Maitre D' to tell us what we were about to receive, but he was otherwise engaged across the room. A look of horror crossed the face of our yuoung waiter, as he realised he was going to have to explain, and like an understudy thrust on the stage at the National, he falteringly piped up: "Sauteed Riz de Veau, with pureed celeriac, and topped with crispy salsify" Riz de Veau! (sweetbreads) My absolute favouritist thing, and I hardly ever get it: almost impossible to find in the UK, even in season (now of course is the season). Again it had a subtle but perfect sauce, clearly made from a beautiful reduction of meat juices (probably veal). Wonderful beyond description: each mouthful absolute bliss.Four courses down, how many more to go? The best thing was, although we'd had four courses, we were far from full. The Chef clearly knew exactly how to pace his guests, and his portion control was spot on. We'd sat down at 8.30. It was now 10.00, and we were in no hurry. The staff seemed to pick up on this, and there was about a fifteen minute break, when we seemed to discuss nothing except the meal so far.Fifth Course: the Cheese. Oh gentle reader, words cannot describe the mixture of greed, fear, wonder and apprehension that assaulted our eyes, but mostly our noses as the cheese trolley, the very, very French cheese trolley was wheeled over. The waiter started his description of each of the offerings, name, region, texture, flavour, but after a while they all blended into one (my french is pretty poor anyway). When my turn came to choose, I just pointed and grunted. I got a black-ashed Chevre (pretty safe) a piece of Chauorce (a well known Normandy cheese I've had before: hugely rich but great). A local Wimereau delicacy called something I can't remember, and the last thing I pointed at was a squat, square offering, very soft, with a dark orange rind. It turned out to be Munster, But a very very ripe Munster. A very very very ripe Munster. I'd never had Munster before, but one look at this thing as it glowered at me from my plate, and you knew you were in for a rough ride. I scooped a fair amount up and spread it on a piece of baguette, orange rind and all, shoved it in and started chomping. I now know what 'an assault on the tastebuds' means. I instantly felt violated. I felt like I had Mike Tyson on crack cocaine loose in my mouth. A hurricane of overwhelming, dark, dirty, hellish flavours screamed over my tongue: a blast from the sewer, a gale of halitosis, a salty squall of pigsty: every second or two, as I wiped the tears from my eyes, a new horror goosestepped through my head. And yet, and yet...it was horribly fabulous. I ate the lot. Unbelievable. As for the other cheeses? I have absolutely no idea what they tasted like. It took many chunks of baguette and most of a bottle of sauvignon to bring back some sense of normality to my catatonic tastebuds.Sixth Course: An ice cold shot glass of fruit salad. Tiny diced kiwi, mango, passionfruit, pineapple in a cinnamon infused syrup. A wonderful oasis of flavour and calm after the hurricane that came before.Seventh Course: The desserts, presented on an ice-blue glass slab: Pear poached in red wine and cinnamon. Rhubarb and strawberry tart. Chocolate sorbet with chocolate macaroon, port granita with melon.First, the pear. This was fantastic, and I think my favourite, but that may have been because it was the first I tried. Only about six little slices, but completely soaked through with the blood red sauce, which had a heady exotic spicy flavour: musky and rich.Next, the Rhubarb tart. About 1 1/2 inches across of crisp sweet pastry, with creme anglais on the bottom, a few sticks of intensely flavoured rhubarb, a few slices of strawberry, and a single raspberry that just burst with flavour on the tongue. Of all the dishes that evening, that burst of intense, almost lemony flavour was the most surprising. I still am not sure how it was done. Unbelievable.Next, the granita of Port. A frozen ball of port flavoured something, and underneath, two tiny balls of Chanterelle Melon, with the incredibly intense flavour of a hot, dusty Provencale summer's day market, where you just know all the produce is going to be a hundred times better than anything from the clinical cold fruit display in Tesco. BeautifulFinally, the chocolate sorbet. The smoothest possible rich dark bitter frozen chocolate. Now I don't really like chocolate, certainly not dark chocolate, and definately not bitter chocolate. But this I could not resist. It was not creamy, it was a definite sorbet. Again, how they made chocolate into a sorbet, God knows, but it worked.And that was about it. We had coffee, and they brought us a few more fabulous sweetmeats to have with it, but I was by now in such a state of sated rapture, that they could have brought me a courgette and I probably would have eaten it without protesting.Afterwards, we went for a walk down to the seashore in the pitch dark, pleasantly full, but nowhere near bloated. Dipped out toes in the icy water, and wandered back to our rooms.We left the window wide open and slid between crisp, cool, cotton sheets, the sound of the sea lulling us to sleep.Truly wonderful
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