Barneville-Carteret: Hôtel de la Marine

Barneville-Carteret: Hôtel de la Marine

Three years ago, young chef Laurent Cesne took over L’Hôtel de la Marine, on the edge of the deep tidal estuary that cuts in past sandy beaches and a steep promontory, transforming it into one of the most appealing hotels in northern France.

Guessing that the attractive blonde woman at reception was the chef’s mother, I asked if the hotel was a family affair. “Absolument, Monsieur. We’ve owned it for five generations,” she said with bashful pride. The family never pressured Laurent to go into the business, she said, and originally he studied medicine. But after two years at school he started spending more and more time in the kitchen. “Then one day he said, ‘It’s time for me to go beyond the five recipes I know how to do,’ and he went into the kitchen and put on an apron.”

Almost entirely self-taught, Cesne now has a Michelin star and a reputation as one of the best fish cooks in France. He’s just overseen a dramatic renovation of the 26-room hotel, redone along the lines of a sleek white ocean liner, with staggered terraces lined by white railings and lit at night by big white lamps that look like giant Chinese lanterns. Rooms cleverly combine modern and traditional furniture, with comfortable wicker armchairs facing out to the sea and the distant roar of the surf.

Cesne’s cooking style is similarly clean, pure and elegant. His accurately entitled starter, “Bouffée d’Iode” (Whiff of the Sea) is a beautifully conceived dish of gray-shrimp bouillon spiked with ginger and lemongrass, ladled over thin sweet slices of raw scallops, chewy bulots (sea snails) and tiny, briny gray shrimp, accompanied by large croutons topped with creamy langoustine tartare. Sea bass with artichoke caviar, roasted tomatoes, Parmesan and taggiasca olives was spectacular, too, the Mediterranean garnishes delicately parsing out the natural flavor of the fish.

In its bold new incarnation, La Marine says it all about the revolution that’s sweeping the country inns of France, making it a more delicious, and affordable, destination than ever.

Hôtel de la Marine 11 rue Paris, Barneville-Carteret, Doubles from €90. website

Originally published in the June 2010 issue of France Today; updated in March 2012

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