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Jan 12, 2014 08:27 PM

Dining in beautiful Brittany (and a few quick notes about Paris) in September 2013

Hello France CH board, as partial thanks for all your assistance previously -- and with this most recent trip in particular -- here’s a belated summary of dining in stunningly beautiful Bretagne (and a few quick endnotes about Paris dining) in September 2013:

We took the TGV to Lorient, then drove to Chateau Locguenole, in 56700 Kervignac, . For two nights we had a lovely (upgraded) room and one dinner in the intimate and elegant starred restaurant downstairs. We ordered a la carte; most memorable dishes: oysters in a celery root puree; lobster in local spices (was it Kari Grosse?); turbot in white Burgundy with truffles . . . . Lunch south of there, nearish Carnac: Le Petit Hôtel du Grand Large -- also one star -- but a very different and casual feel. There we had excellent seafood accompanied by an aged Muscadet, and we enjoyed speaking with the three women who run the front of the house. Then on a Monday night, with few other options, we had a totally uninspired and disappointing dinner at a portside place recommended to us -- Le Cargo, in 56570 Locmiquelic -- we should have just gone to a local crêperie.

Next on to Pont-Aven, and Le Moulin de Rosmadec,, another one-star place. Nice setting in the middle of this busy touristy town, but the restaurant disappointed a bit -- for example, a lobster dish was too fussed up and hid the taste of the lobster. Nearby for lunch after hiking the Aven river -- first upstream and then downstream to its mouth -- we had traditional crêpes in the thatched roof Chez Angele,, which we understand from Ptipois is under new ownership. It now appears to be a husband/wife operation (she does the cooking and he seriously and efficiently runs the front) and the crepes were quite good. Farther west and on the coast we had another good seafood lunch below Quimper, in 29120 Sainte-Marine (opposite Benodet) at Bistrot du Bac, No comparison with the excellent Le Petit Hôtel du Grand Large, tho.

Moving inland, we stayed overnight at the striking Manoir de Kerledan, in 29270 Carhaix-Plouguer, Finistère. Very good, and a fun table d’hote, but the nice British proprietors seem to attract mostly English-speaking guests? Still, we did enjoy dining and talking with our Dutch tableneighbors.

Until now the weather had been great, with marvelous clouds; but then it turned gray and gloomy. Off to Roscoff (forgetting iPhone cables and such in the room, if you go to the Manoir you can ask for ours). Lots of Brits in this ferry-port town. After a short local ferry ride to cold and windy Ile de Bratz (and darn, mangeur’s recommended “TyYann” has changed name and proprietor, and we were not able to lunch there), we checked in at Hotel Temps de Vivre, (their former restaurant is no more) and walked across town to dinner at the too brightly lit Les Alizes, Food and service were OK, not great, and I could not even finish the huge portion of moules. Another darn: Pitipois’ recommended crêperie, Ty Saozon, was closed on our day there (a Thursday); and so we went to another down the same street, Crêperie La Chandeleur, it was quite good enough.

Now driving east: After a quick detour thru Morlaix (what an interesting site for that interior city), and then a traffic delay in some bouchons on the N12 and hence failure to get in for lunch in St-Brieuc at either Youpala Bistrot or Aux Pesked (in that order; they both looked nice tho!) we tried to find but could not l’Arbalaise; finally, after a frustrating and not so funny comedy of errors, we ended up at a nice little dive, Le Bistro du Marin, in 22190 Plerin, where we got the last table at 13:30 and had excellent and simple salad, house white, and dandy moules-frites. We then drove on to 22400 Planguenoual, Manoir de la Hazaie,, a lovely B&B with a limited table d’hote (Christine accepts reservations for only 6 covers at three separate candelabra-set tables in this ancient manoir). Home made foie gras, etc., and reasonably priced wines selected by her husband, Jean-Yves; solid cooking, nice folks.

The sun came back, and we were off to Cancale -- probably the highlight of our lovely clockwise tour. On recommendation of DCM, mangeur, and I think also Souphie, we stayed two nights at Les Rimains,, and splurged for the Badienne room -- the most dramatic room we’ve ever experienced, with breakfast in front of our fireplace. We dined at Olivier Roellinger’s Le Coquillage (the main dish we recall: Lamb from Mont Saint-Michel, for two), located in the Hotel of Les Maisons De Bricourt -- a private car takes you to the restaurant from Les Rimains. Next night, for a change of pace, we enjoyed walking to diner at La Table de Breizh Café, the restaurant (one *) above the café -- where we sat at the bar watched the Japanese chefs prepare our costy but excellent plates.

Also in Cancale, we had two nice seafood lunches at L’Ormeau 4 quai Thomas F, and Le Troquet, 19 quai Gambetta -- both right on the harbor, both in Michelin -- both a bit touristy, but what the heck, and at least we were with French tourists.

In St. Malo, before dropping the car and taking the train back to Paris, we tried to have lunch at the Bordier place, Restaurant Autour du Beurre ,, but it was closed (Monday). We should have gone to Restaurant Le Cambusier, very nearby,; ; but instead chose the old fashioned place, Al la Duchesse Anne,, which was OK, but no more.

PS: We wanted to get over to Parigi’s recommended ferme auberge,, but it just did not fit in. We really loved these parts of Brittany, and recall fondly the dramatic clouds, tides, and great walks. We will certainly return.

By the way, in Paris, we went right away to Brasserie d’ile St Louis for our standard first small lunch of omelet, herring in oil, green salad, and Riesling; we liked Ober-Salé (about our visit, more here: ); we enjoyed Moissonier; Dans Les Landes; happily returned to H Kitchen; liked both Au Bon Coin and Pirouette; and we had a pleasing return to the simple and tiny Le Timbre. After avoiding it for many years we finally went to Café Constant, lunching upstairs with others from this board and a room of Japanese tourists. Le Cinq was a great experience, described in part (except for our impromptu post-lunch kitchen tour at about 16:00) here: Two of our other favorites this trip were Le Petit Verdot (see more here: -- and it’s just fine with us if it doesn’t become a favorite of others), and Les Climats (a Bourgogne term denoting specific vineyard sites, I believe?) -- the cooking is French with an Asian (Vietnamese?) sense, and an exclusively Burgundy list -- we were in heaven there, sitting in the beautiful atrium. -- Jake

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  1. great review and thanks for sharing
    I had a very good memory eating lunch at Maisons de Bricourt when it still held 3-star accolade

    Brittany lobster with sherry and cocoa there is still the 2nd best lobster dish I've ever eaten. I also loved Roellinger's Aubrac lamb (the "tenderest" piece of lamb's meat)
    i wonder if they still serve his gastronomy dishes although he already gave up the stars

      1. Thanks for your report including the links. I am interested in your itinerary, as I am planning a similar trip around Brittany. It seems you spent about one week on this tour. Would you do anything different in hindsight? Was this trip at the beginning or end of September - thinking about the weather - I suppose it really is just luck, tho. Cancale is obviously an important destination, does it warrant more than two nights there?

        10 Replies
        1. re: francaise

          Salut francaise, we were there 8 nights, starting Sept 8. Our four one-night stays violated our usual 2-night minimum approach -- but after researching I got greedy and could not eliminate. Even then, we missed going even farther west (where Breton is even more prevalent than where we were), which had been the original plan. That part will have to be for our next trip to this lovely region.

          Weather: It's so quickly changable -- in 15-20 minutes, it could go from clear to massive clouds to threats of rain, and then back to clear again. I think you have always got to expect rain out there. Looking back, we had 1.5 days of lousy weather, pas mal . . . .

          Would we do anything different in hindsight? Well, just that we would stay longer -- and avoid Le Cargo! -- Jake

          1. re: Jake Dear

            Thanks, Jake. As I research Brittany, it is easy for me, as well, to understand how it makes one "greedy" to visit all the lovely spots there!

            You made note of the salt meadow lamb you ate at Roellinger's Le Coquillage. Did you see this lamb on offer at other restaurants on your travels through Brittany? When we were in Normandy two years ago in the fall, we saw the lambs grazing around the salt meadows surrounding the bay at Mont Saint-Michel, but did not find it on offer at the restaurants we ate at either in Normandy or in the brief time we were in Brittany. I expect as it is a premium product, one would find it only in very select dining rooms, such as Le Coquillage?

            1. re: francaise

              Salut francaise, We had the same lamb in one of the fine dishes at "La Table de Breizh Café" -- the Japannese resto described in my OP. And we saw it offered on other local menus/cartes in and around Cancale. Speaking of Cancale, I never really did answer about spending more than two days there: We could happly stay much longer -- there is so much to experience in and around, with excusions to many other nearby sites and towns, St. Malo of course included. I'll try to post more about that (and still keep it food oriented) in a few days . . . . -- Jake

              1. re: Jake Dear

                Looking forward to more of your trip... Thanks!

                1. re: Jake Dear

                  A couple of months ago I happened to spend a couple of days in the Saint-Malo/Cancale region for a book project, and I had the opportunity to try La Table de Breizh Café, the French/Japanese "concept" restaurant on top of the flagship Breizh Café.

                  It was one of the best meals I had this year. Particularly the main dish, bursting with flavors and talent. Perfect fusion of French traditional savoir-faire and Japanese skills. It is so rare to experiences such high emotions through a main course; usually that happens with the first course when it does. Dessert was also outstanding. That was a dazzling meal and I do not experience that every day.
                  It made me think that a few of the many young Japanese chefs who now run so many Parisian kitchens producing decent but dull, interchangeable, cookie-cutter dishes (more pork belly with planchaed squid and beet leaves, anyone?) should do an internship there for a while.

                  Additional information: Breizh Café recently opened a lovely bistro in Saint-Malo, just facing Bordier's shop and restaurant. I never was a big fan of the Paris Breizh Café (galettes not "kraz" (crispy) and not buttery enough for me) but I am quite impressed by the Breton outposts.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    I'm making notes, Ptipois! For you to say that La Table de Breizh Café was one of your best meals of the year, this is a very strong recommendation. Thanks.

                  2. re: Jake Dear

                    More about Cancale: We found it a magical site and lovely town. Some pictures help tell the story, I'll attach them here.

                    First pic (you have to click on it to widen the view) is Les Rimains. Second, a piper overlooking the exposed oyster beds at low tide. Third (again, click on it to see the wide view) the harbor at low tide. Fourth, where the lambs graze, about 40 minutes from Cancale. Fifth, view from one of out two windows in the morning. -- Jake

                  3. re: francaise

                    Agneau de pré-salé is becoming more and more a special event meat. It's supposedly available from late summer to February but, in Brittany, is most usually served for Sunday lunch, especially towards the end of the year.

                    Although no good to you autumn visitors, I have been to village fêtes in July and August where barbecued salt-meadow lamb is featured. Genets on the Normandy side of the Baie de Saint-Michel and Courtils on the Brittany side. There was also another fête with a pré-salé lamb repas in Le Morbihan but so long ago that I can't remember the village name.

                    1. re: Parnassien

                      I second Genets, a secret gem.
                      "Agneau de pré-salé is becoming more and more a special event meat. It's supposedly available from late summer to February"
                      I remember having pré-salé often in May and June.
                      I thought Pré-salé could be found soon after the sheep could come out to graze in warmer weather, but I must be confused again, being the intégriste city girl that I am.
                      For several years I have been able to order pré-salé from my butcher as early as easter, and only once did the butcher tell me it was impossible because of that year's crappy weather.

                      1. re: Parigi

                        At the fête pré-salé in Genets, one old geezer told me that the lambs had to graze on the salt meadows for not less than 75 days after being weaned. But the Baie Saint-Michel pré-salé lamb is AOC and highly regulated. I'm sure that in Paris you can get other French and imported (especially Welsh) agneau de pré-salé at different times of year when Baie de St-Michel lamb is not available.

              2. This is a wonderful report. Now you've made me terribly hungry! I'm saving this thread. Still haven't been to Brittany. :(

                1. I don't know, Jake, whether you captured the spirit of Brittany or it captured you. In either event, thanks for sharing your fine itinerary and much appreciated links.

                  Brittany is singular, huge and full of contrasts. We often visit a place, enjoy it enormously but are content not to revisit. Not so, Brittany. There is something in its brooding strength that demands that you return. And did I mention that the food is pretty darned good?

                  There is a wonderful book, written by an octogenarian recalling his growing up in Brittany mid1900s that conveys the personality and character of the land and people. It is well worth the effort to find a copy. (Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village: Pierre-Jakez Helias) A horse of pride is a wheelbarrow.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: mangeur

                    This is an inspiring comment Mangeur, and I too will search for this book, thanks.

                    1. re: francaise

                      francaise, this book is probably long out of print. I requested it at our public library and they were able to put out a larger search and bring it in from some out of county branch. It really is a revelatory book, both in terms of defining the Breton culture but also about the standard of living in the 1940s in Brittany, in many ways primitive by our standards but in others so much richer in terms of family and connection to the land.

                      1. re: mangeur

                        To give an idea of what life in the Pays Bigouden was like in the mid-20th century - a time when many of the old traditions were still alive -, I can't think of any better book than Le Cheval d'orgueil. And quite a writer Per-Jakez Hélias is. I happened to read his prose long before he wrote that book, for he wrote many brochures on Breton traditions and folk tales for the Ouest-France publishing company back in the 60s and 70s. These were illustrated with fantastic vintage photos and I never forgot them.

                        Some of the brochures, to bounce back onto our main topic, were about Breton cooking and it is now at éditions Ouest-France that old classics like "Gastronomie bretonne" and "La cuisine des loups de mer" by Simone Morand are now reissued.

                        Breton cooking is extremely simple (the country was continuously plagued with poverty until after WWII) but strongly product-based. These are the two terms, in my opinion, of the equation for the best cooking, adding butter to make it complete. I think Brittany has given more great chefs to France than any other region. It has to be pointed out that many great French chefs are originally from Brittany: Alain Passard, Stéphane Jégo, Bernard Pacaud, Patrick Bertron, Olivier Roellinger, Jean-Yves Crenn, Jacques Thorel, Jean-Luc L'Hourre whom Daniel Rose often quotes as one of his main inspirations...

                    2. re: mangeur

                      More about books to get into a Bretagne mood: It won't be in the league with the book that mangeur and Ptipois are describing, but very accessible and fun to read is "I'll Never be French (no matter what I do)," by Mark Greenside -- a New Yorker/ Californian's warm and playful story about falling in love with a tiny Celtic village in the Finistere. (We only glanced into this far western area, and it's high on our list for the next visit out there.)

                      I'd been reading, and put aside, the highly regarded and interesting but, to me so far rather ponderous, "The Oysters of Locmariaquer," by Eleanor Clark -- a 1965 classic, winner of the National Book Award, about much more than Brittany's Belon oysters. -- Jake

                      1. re: Jake Dear

                        "I'll Never..." was a delight. But I have to confess that I couldn't get into "The Oysters...". Should I give it a second try?

                      2. re: mangeur

                        "There is something in its brooding strength that demands that you return." Perfectly said. I can think of no other region of France that mixes such exquisite sadness and irrepressible pride.

                        I've never read "Horse of Pride" but have some experience of the region's storytelling tradition. In Mexico, it's maraichi bands that trap you at every turn. In Brittany, I was always getting ambushed by a "veillée" (evening of trad music, dance, story telling) or finding myself in a café surrounded by a gaggle of old geezers swapping tales/ gossip (and impossible to figure out if they were talking about something that happened 300 years ago or yesterday). But whether the recited stories at the "veillée" or the overheard gossip of old men, there were running themes of loss, perseverance, and a heroic attachment to the land and sea.

                        As a schoolboy I was required to memorize Prévert's Barbara. "Rappelle-toi, Barbara/Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là/ Et tu marchais souriante/Épanouie ravie ruisselante/ Sous la pluie..." . A poem that, although referring to the dreadful destruction of Breton port cities during WWII, seemed to distill for me as a teenager often summering in south Brittany the sweet mourning, brooding sense of loss, and joyous strength of Brittany. And, of course, since it rains so much, quite an apt poem for any visitor.

                        I am less keen on the cuisine. While many of the regional specialties are ultra-delish, the lack of variety gets to you after a while. It really takes a lot of searching to find a stand-out restaurant whose menu is not the same as every other resto. That's why Jack Dear's excellent report and Mangeur's forays are so invaluable.

                        1. re: Parnassien

                          Under the heading of restaurants that provide respite from ubiquitous shore dinners and raw bars, Auberge La Pomme d'Api in Saint-Pol-de-Leon, minutes south of Roscoff, is owned by an ambitious and creative young chef. We were there year before last, and I can only think that he has grown and his cuisine become even more interesting.