The skies are blue with soft white clouds and the sun is shining. It’s business as usual in La Rochelle. Ancient stone walls reflect the warm sun into the darkest corners of the streets. Pavements are cluttered with the tables and chairs of the busy cafes. Sunglasses and cigarettes. The witching hour of midday has passed unnoticed which is unusual as, on any other day of the week, this peace would be shattered as the office sluice gates open releasing a rushing stream of hungry, thirsty workers into the bars and restaurants around the central covered market. Today is Sunday and the waters are calm.Whatever is happening is happening in a very relaxed way. Car drivers are being civil to pedestrians…even to each other…. which is a rare and wonderful coincidence as our faithful, but superannuated, GPS directs us unerringly into cul-de-sacs and up one-way streets against the downward flow. In spite of 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 that it’s hard to requite the national cries of universal poverty with 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 some 15 years ago. No interior designer has been involved in the appearance of this restaurant which is as good as Michelin star in my book. It is white with some blue, like La Rochelle. The napery is paper and the glasses are glass and they sparkle. No padded menu, just small blackboards announcing today’s menu. Sunlight pours in through the huge windows that give onto the marina. Beyond the marina is the Atlantic and America. 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 from fresh produce on white china which is free from the signature of a paprika sprinkling, parsley scattering sous chef which, when present, is as clear a promise of bad news as is a fresh tiger’s turd to a tracker . 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 a feuilleté de fruits de mer to start, followed by chunks of fresh, flaky morue in a jus de viande. Nothing clever, just correct. The crème brûlée is as good as I have ever tasted and if it wasn’t I would still be in the mood to feel that it was. The restaurant is pleasantly full of people and 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.
An excerpt from my book “Simply Fed”.