The right place at the right pace. La Rochelle has begun to shrug off the shackles of winter. The skies are blue with soft white clouds, and the sun is shining. The white stone of the buildings reflect the sun into the darkest corners of the streets. The pavements are cluttered with tables and chairs from the thriving cafes. Sunglasses and cigarettes. Although the witching hour of midday has passed, which normally signals the sacred lunch hours, the market is still busy with Rochelais buying the most delicious food imaginable. This is not an atmosphere of hustle and bustle. Everything is happening in a very relaxed way. Car drivers are being civil to pedestrians and even to each other. The TomTom directs us unerringly into cul-de-sacs and down one-way streets in the opposite direction. Despite its help we find “La Marie Galante”, our lunchtime rendezvous. La Rochelle is about boats. There are so many sleek, floating tax evasions and unsecured loans in the marina facing the restaurant that it’s hard to requite the national cries of universal poverty and this halyard clacking armada. The “Marie Galante” is one of the genre of restaurants that I have grown to love since our arrival in France 9 years ago. The interior has not suffered the attentions of an interior designer. It is white with some blue, like La Rochelle. The nappery is paper and the glasses sparkle. The day’s menu is on blackboards around the room. Sunlight pours in through the huge windows that give onto the marina. Beyond the marina is the sea and then America. A mother and daughter run the front of house. Everything happens kindly. There is a proper kitchen producing this food. Not a spectacular kitchen but one that provides well made dishes, without the traditional insane decorations, of fresh produce. The fish, coquillages and crustaceans come direct from the fishing port 5kms away. No central market, just direct from the boat owners.
We have oysters and feuilleté de fruit de mer to start, followed by chunks of fresh flaky morue in a jus de viande. Nothing clever, just delicious. The creme brulée is as good as I have ever tasted. The restaurant is pleasantly full of people and the the buzz of their conversation. There is no “oohing” as dishes arrive. They are as expected. No one is here to worship, to be seen or to impress. They are here to be with family and friends and to eat the good food to which they are accustomed.