During the many years I’ve lived in France, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting dozens of passionate and very talented chefs, many of whom I’ll never forget. And of course, there are certain chefs who will always have a place in my own private pantheon of Gallic gastronomic glory, including Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Bernard Loiseau, Michel Guérard, Alain Ducasse and Olivier Roellinger.
I’ll never forget the long conversation I had with Monsieur Roellinger on a rainy night in Cancale after a spectacular meal at his now defunct Maison de Bricourt restaurant. Roellinger, a proud Breton, gave me a long and fascinating lesson on the history of Saint-Malo, the French spice trade and Breton cooking, which suddenly made the spectacular meal I’d just eaten in his restaurant even more resonant. His ability to meld social and political history, geology and geography with gastronomy – he was one of the original locavores – was dumbfoundingly interesting. What I learned that night became the bedrock of my understanding of Breton cooking, from the region’s Celtic traditions to its food ways and unique relationship with spices from India and southeast Asia that were introduced to the local diet by La Compagnie des Indes Orientales (French West India Company).
Today, Monsieur Roellinger is no longer in the kitchen – it’s his son, Hugo, who runs the show now – but this didn’t make me any less eager to join friends for dinner at Le Bistrot de Cancale, the family’s new restaurant in a solid old house overlooking the Plage Mer and sailboat-dotted bay, which opened this past June.
As is always true of the Roellinger family’s establishments, the hospitality here was flawless and almost poignantly sincere. And most of all, the produce used to prepare our meal was spectacularly fresh and prepared with a culinary humility that exalted its natural flavours and textures. To wit, nothing could possibly be better than our starters: a plate of grilled langoustines recently pulled from Brittany’s chilly waters; fleshy, iodine-bright Cancale oysters with a dusting of a mysterious but spectacular spice blend concocted by Épices Roellinger (the spice company founded by Olivier Roellinger); and fine slices of sea bream with toasted buckwheat and nori.
Next up, a dish that was a triumph of simplicity – turbot cooked on the bone and served with one of the best Hollandaise sauces I’ve ever eaten. My friends had grilled Breton lobster à la Cancalaise (a sauce of fish fumet with leeks and mussels); and sole in a spice-brightened sauce that was a reduction of its own cooking juices. The quality of the seafood was extraordinary, but what impressed and delighted most of all was, again, the humility of a truly talented chef who knows that great cooking is subtly enhancing and not overwhelming the flavours of nature.
Plage de Port Mer, 5 Rue Eugène et Auguste Feyen, Cancale Tel. (33) 02 99 89 64 76.
Average à la carte €65, www.maisons-de-bricourt.com
From France Today magazine
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Lead photo credit : Lobster at Le Bistrot de Cancale © Romain Bassenne/Le Bistrot de Cancale
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