Somewhat galetted and creped out, Pete and I decided to treat ourselves to a resolutely foodie lunch on our last full day in France. Finding ourselves in Vannes late that morning, I checked both my (Eyewitness) guide book and the printed recommendations I’d garnered online and found they both converged in an enthusiastic recommendation of Table des Gourmets. Having phoned to check they were open for lunch, we duly enjoyed an amble through the beautiful streets of the old town, pausing in two chocolate shops and a covered food market, as you do!
But when we finally made our way to the address (6 Rue Alexandre-le-Pontois), directly opposite the beautiful old ramparts of Vannes, we realised that a new restaurant had taken the place of Table des Gourmets. It hadn’t occured to me to verify the restaurant’s name when I’d called – I’d asked only whether they were open and if they had both a la carte and fixed price menus available.
But the menus posted outside Les Remparts looked appealing and the welcome was warm so we decided to let fate guide us. We were quickly seated inside by the window.
Lacey net curtains obscured the view out, which is a shame, given the location just across the road from the Château d l’Hermine and the beautiful formal gardens infront of it (laid out in the former moat). They also concealed the more mundane sight of constant traffic, so not entirely without merit!
The interior successfully balanced a traditional décor with a clean, modern finish. Dark panels on the lower walls and dark, bare wooden tables on a tiled floor were lifted by buttery yellow paint on the upper walls and lots of natural light. Walls were adorned with a few simple artworks and hanging blackboards listing specials, set menus and wine lists.
With our menu we were bought a pot of soft white fish meat with a basket of little toasts. Fresh, light, moist fish delicately flavoured with fresh green herbs, it was a lovely start.
As I more commonly go for seafood than fish, I was unfamiliar with many of the French names for fish but the waiter was happy to describe them to me (in French) along with their preparation. Pete had an easier choice, as he didn’t feel like fish (in which the restaurant specialises). As well as the a la carte menu we could also have chosen from a lunchtime menu, a daily suggestions board and a special set menu.
I went for the set Menu Gourmand at 36 € for starter, main, cheese and dessert. Pete ordered a starter and main from the standard menu; we decided to share the cheese and dessert from mine.
Orders taken, we were served a basket of fresh white bread and a pat of butter, perched on a large pebble. And oh, that butter! The waiter (who by then, we’d discovered was also the owner, Bertrand Séjourné) saw our delighted expressions and nodded sagely as he explained it was a local butter and that Brittany excels in producing high quality dairy. On the evidence of this butter alone, I was willing to concede superiority on behalf of the rest of the dairy producing world!
We both started with the Foie gras de canard mi-cuit, chutney carottes & dattes. We adore foie gras mi-cuit and the slabs we were served did not disappoint; buttery-rich, velvety-smooth and utterly self-indulgent.
The main on my Menu Gourmand was St Pierre smackée, blettes & aperges, marmalade de champignons. The John Dory was simply and perfectly cooked. The vegetables were flavoursome though, as is the French style, cooked softer than would be common in London restaurants. (And it’s we Brits with a reputation for boiling our vegetables to death!) The mushroom marmalade, which I’d describe as duxelles, was packed with earthy funghi flavours. I enjoyed this all the more because of it’s rarity for me – I most commonly order meat or seafood over fish, when given the choice. No bad thing for me to be channelled into a bit of a change as I really enjoyed it.
Pete chose Blanc de volaille laqué, légumes croquants, émulsion d’herbes which was so much punchier than it’s description suggests. The chicken meat was very moist and tender and most wonderfully flavoured with a red marinade on th meat and a green herb oil alongside. The vegetables were cut thinly, lightly cooked and balanced the dish well.
I’m afraid I neither took a photo nor notes on the cheese plate, though we did enjoy it. Only one of the cheeses was relatively local (from within the province but not the department). Given the high volumes of dairy production, I expressed surprise that Brittany doesn’t have the plethora of local cheeses common to most regions of France.
The Menu Gourmand allowed me to choose our dessert from either the specials board or the main menu. I opted for Gratin de fruits rouges which was a fantastic choice. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and cherries were all the best of their class – fresh, ripe and oozing berry goodness. These were blanketed in a light, sweet sabayon with gratinated sugar. Though the fruits had a wonderful natural sweetness the fruit and sabayon combination was irresistable!
During and after our meal we chatted to M Bertrand about our visit, about our difficulty in finding small local artisan food and drink producers open to visits from tourists and about many things food!
He also told us very proudly about his wine list, virtually all organic and certainly all produced using natural methods. “Des vins d’auteur”, he called them, and then, in English, “wines with soul”. This, as well as the provenance of his ingredients (something I’d have liked to discuss with him in more detail) is clearly something he is passionate about.
Bill paid, we continued on our way (to the impressive standing stones of Carnac), having been able to give just the briefest of greetings to the female chef who ventured shyly out of the kitchen once the lunchtime service had ended.
Our chance find had been a serendipitous one – this self-styled Restaurant & Bistrot à vins had delivered good quality ingredients simply and deftly prepared – certainly our best meal of the week.
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