Poor Pas de Calais. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t question its commonly-held reputation as a pass-through to Paris or as a destination for an alcohol run.
Happily, Jon’s rellies invited us to their weekend home in Montreuil-sur-Mer so we could appreciate the charms of a pretty French village located two hours by train and car from London.
Montreuil-sur-Mer has many charms, but the star attraction in my book is Alexandre Gauthier‘s one-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Grenouillere, located just outside the town walls in La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil.
The restaurant-inn is built around an idyllic courtyard that was perfect for outdoor aperos. Pretty as the setting was, things got off to a rocky start with the rice flour “chips” that were served while we looked at the menu — they were hot and crispy (plus) but sadly stale-tasting (minus).
Our hosts, who’d been to La Grenouillere before, directed us towards the menu decouverte at 95 euros a person, and we moved inside for dinner.
Once seated, our dinner started with a series of carefully-constructed courses that would be at home in any 2-Michelin-star restaurant: creative, attractive and tasty, and I’m giving all of them short shrift because of the three courses that arrived towards the end of the meal. Three courses that were mind-blowingly good.
Our server entered the room trailing smoke. He was carrying a tray of what appeared to be pine-tree branches on fire. Theatrical to the nth degree. What saved the course from gimmick was its sheer deliciousness. This was the best hot lobster dish of my life. Sweet, intensely smoky, juicy. I’m drooling just thinking about it. And to top it all off, we had to eat with our hands. It turns out that eating lobster tail with your hands is both sexy and fun. Our table couldn’t help laughing and smiling.
Waste not, want not. Our next course was lobster soup packed with lobster claw meat and perfumed with sharp, stinky cheese foam. If you understand the appeal of Cheez-Its, you’ll begin to understand what made this soup so irresistible.
And as if two memorably delicious courses weren’t enough, our meat course was yet another tour de force: ”ferré, mauvaises herbes,” which I translate as “rails, with weeds.” Served tableside were thin slices of perfectly-rare steak somehow flash grilled with an intense smoky flavor. How it looked and tasted so gorgeously grilled while staying silky and juicy is a mystery.
Steak course over, we went back to the merely clever, tasty and beautiful. Jam and toast in haute couture form.
“Bulle d’oseille” (bubble sorrel) was a highly amusing and whimsical palate cleanser. I’d hate to ruin the game, but I will say that it’s worth ducking for cover when this course arrives.
The ultimate surprise was the petit four. Mum’s the word.
Dinner at La Grenouillere was delicious and fun. It’s easy to become jaded when you eat out so often, and for a few hours, La Grenouillere brought back the wonder and joy of eating someplace special and new. So plan a weekend away and see what Monsieur Gauthier is up to in Montreuil.
- Menu decouverte (includes two lobster courses): 95 euros
- Menu degustation (without the lobster courses): 75 euros [but really, you'd be missing the point if you skipped the lobster courses]
- a la carte: 30-euro starters, 45-euro mains
La Grenouillere, La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil 62170 France; +33 (0)21 06 07 22; Eurostar runs several daily trains to Calais (a one-hour ride from St. Pancras) and then it’s a 50-minute drive south; alternatively, it’s a nice stop on the way from Paris to England, 2.5 hours northwest of Paris.