I spent much of last week in France for work: the medieval chateau de la Bretesche above is where I was working. Yeah, I know, it’s a hard knock life, right? It was absolutely gorgeous, and we walked in the morning from the adjoining 5 star relais hotel across the moat and into a beautifully restored set of apartments in the chateau itself. The Hotel de la Bretesche is pretty stunning, with lush rooms, a gorgeous courtyard, and a breakfast buffet that included a crêpe station. I never stay in places like this and it was a weekend of real luxury. To be fair, I did actually end up working incredibly long days and sadly we didn’t have quite as much time as we might have wanted to explore the surrounding area of Loire Atlantique. In a bit of a comedy of errors, we drove in circles around Guérande looking for the rest of our party and never got to stop off in what I hear is a very pretty medieval town. Similarly, weather that can best be described as typical for the Atlantic coast rendered our tour of the salt flats of Guérande a little perfunctory.
Salt flats aren’t actually very visual, I suppose, but grim as the weather was, it was nonetheless pretty interesting to see the wild landscape of this part of Brittany. Plus, I got to buy some sel de Guérande, which is very exciting. I love good salt, and they also make decadent salt caramel. Anyway, on our last night, we passed the salt flats again on another long and mildly alarming drive. This time, though, the weather and direction gods were on our side and we arrived safely at L’Océan restaurant in Le Croisic, a peninsula with dramatic waves breaking on its rocky shore.
The restaurant is beautifully situated, right on a little bay, with giant windows on three sides. We arrived in time for sunset so everyone at the table could just sit back with a cold kir and enjoy the view. Of course, in this area you expect good salt at the table and there was a cute little bowl of fleur de sel, accompanied by pats of butter that can only be described as correct. I’m not a huge butter person, as regular readers will know, but even I can appreciate that this is how you do butter. Look at the colour of that stuff! Look at the gleaming salt crystals! Can’t you see how soft and luscious it is?
So we were primed for good things, but I was pretty blown away by what arrived next. Giant, heaving platters of fruits de mer – we were a big party but even still, there was more seafood than we could possibly eat.
The crab was so juicy and sweet, and the langoustines so very fresh. I like fruit de mer a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such a very tasty rendition. The little whelk type things are, I think, called bigorneaux. I was skeptical since I have a horror of British-style whelk stalls, jellied eels and the like, but these were salty and sweet and I ate an unseemly number of them. It should also be said that I freaked out my colleagues by eating the crab brain with an enthusiasm that would be appreciated by my crab-loving friends the Crocodiles. I don’t think it’s really brain – come on, how much brain can a crab really have? No, it’s just another tasty tasty crab part, but my fellow diners didn’t see it that way. But hey, all the more crab brains for me…
Shockingly, the fruit de mer onslaught was only the appetiser. I was more or less full by the time the main course came, and it was nice fish, but nothing exciting. Much more thrilling was the dessert, possibly the biggest souffle I’ve ever seen. This photo looks like there is major perspectival trickery at work but there honestly isn’t. That ramekin is sitting on a large dessert plate. The contrast between light, fresh seafood and rich custardy souffle made for a perfect decadent meal.
My trip to Loire Atlantique was brief but extremely pleasurable. If you had some time to pootle around visiting markets and eating seafood, it would be a really nice place to spend a few days. So long as the weather holds out.