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Pas de Calais by 2CV

Pas de Calais by 2CV
Chefs at la Grenouillere
Lunch, to be honest, was a no-brainer. La Grenouillere is currently the 54th best restaurant in the world and boasts a Michelin Star.  Lyn Funnell drives and eats her way around Pas de Calais
 
Just half an hour from Calais is a different France, still unknown to the average tourist and easily accessible from Dover.
 
Boarding the ferry at Dover I decided to begin my gastro tour there and then and beat a path straight to the self-service restaurant with its surprisingly tempting juicy roast chicken with (my farewell to England) chips and (hello France - a Nicoise salad side). All in all a simple but good start.
 
Montreuil-Sur-Mer isn’t anymore - on sea, that is. Once the sea ran up the estuary of the Canche, as far as Montreuil, and in the 10th century the town was an important sea port. Now, the estuary long silted up, the town retains its name and remains an ancient walled-town complete with ramparts and cobbled streets. Before considering which of the excellent choice of restaurants to settle on for lunch, I took a brisk walk to the top of the town wall to admire the view.
 
Lunch, to be honest, was a no-brainer. La Grenouillere is currently the 54th best restaurant in the world and boasts a Michelin Star.  Chef Alexander Gautier employs no less than ten chefs and makes use of fresh local produce. We sit down to course after tiny course, all presented like works of art on different plates.
 
First came a silver of monkfish with delicately wafered asparagus in a vinaigrette dressing made in that way only the French know how. A briny razor clam, balanced on a spoon, sat across the same bowl.
 
More asparagus – it was the season at the time of writing – comprised the next course with a dash of good balsamic. This was quickly
Pas de Calais by 2CV
Breakfast at La Grenouillere
followed by an unusual smoked spinach, which had an interesting depth of flavour, and a finger of John Dory fish, lightly pan-fried.Veggies were the order of the day as our next treat was a pea puree with the very fashionable pea foam.
 
In between each dainty course, the waiting staff discreetly topped up our glasses with just a dash of wine and water.
 
For a fun diversion there were frogs’ legs for us to nibble on and rather puzzlingly a large bowl of nettles; I was instructed to reach into the pile, I acquiesced, albeit tentatively to retrieve my lucky dip? A large green and, deliciously al dente, parsley ravioli.
 
A little stack of fried leeks and a perfectly-cooked lamb chop was the last savoury plate and we congratulated ourselves on getting this far before continuing with the puds.
 
I’d had my eye on the first one when it was carried to other tables, and I was pleased when the waitress came along, carrying a whole honeycomb. She stood it on the table and scraped honey onto spoons which she lined up at the front. Then she gave us one each while she went to collect the next course.   It was called strawberry potato, but it wasn’t really a potato. Strawberry coulis was encased in white chocolate.
 
The finale though was standout. Listed in the menu as a Bubble from the Marsh, it was a clear sugar bubble filled with mint leaves and a mint sorbet. When I broke it, all the mint leaves burst out. I can’t figure out how they made it.
 
I refused the coffee and chocolates. Then the waitress came back, carrying a large glass carafe filled with a reddish liqueur which she told us was cherry pip liqueur. She placed a long straw in it, sucked up some of the liquid, and let it drip into glasses.
 
My main interest though was watching the chefs, who come from all over the world to train there, in the open kitchen. Everything was done calmly in total silence with everyone working in their own space.
 
A system of five lights switched on in different formations informed the staff when a course was ready, and which table to take it to. None of us could work out the code.  (I fell asleep counting light variations. There are loads!)  
 
I loved the rooms. They’re huts. (I kid you not!) They’re even made to look like sheds as you approach them along a woodchip path, with hay bales and bunches of twigs. But, oh, as you round the corner and view it through the wall-sized window. Gasp! They’re done out in an almost black wood. The steps inside are huge so you go from side to side, while clutching a rope. I tried my Tarzan act after a couple of glasses of wine, but I didn’t manage it.
 
In the morning, the breakfast was served in jars, flasks, etc. with freshly-squeezed orange juice and freshly-baked brioche. Great fun.
 
We travelled on to Saint-Omer with its magnificent 800-year-old Cathedral and on to the St Omer Brewery started in 1866.
 
The factory’s well-worth seeing; practically unmanned, the bottles whizz round at some rate, being filled, capped, labelled, and put in cardboard packs. We watched, fascinated, as an enormous plastic bag was filled with air, then turned upside-down and dropped over a pallet of beer. Tres Willy Wonka.
 
Our next stop was interesting. The Marsh People live and farm on little islands in the waterways originally dug out by hand by monks in the 7th Century to grow produce on. Now there are over 560kms of waterways along which we travelled, like most of the inhabitants, in a slient electric boat so as not to upset the wildlife. Heaven for birdwatchers and nature-lovers and it’s now UNESCO protected.
 
Our lunch stop was La Baguernette in Clairmarais, on the riverbank – a simple and rustic feast of oven-baked suckling pig.  
 
Pressing on to Les Belles Echappees my mission was to check out a fleet of refurbished and really eye-catching 2CVs. Keen to get behind the wheel, I was surprised at first to find it a different driving experience; the gears of the 2CV are column-change, beside the steering-wheel, which took a few attempts to get used to. I must have looked funny at first, hopping and jittering along. I soon settled down though into a smooth driving routine and with the car roof open and a breeze blowing in, I lost myself for a while rolling along the pretty rural roads to my next gastro extravaganza – Chateau de Tilques, an imposing neo-Flemish pile dating back to 1891.
 
Dinner – the focus of my stay kicked off with Pain Perdu with marbled Foie Gras. The menu changes with the seasons and at that time the gazpacho offered in an elegant liqueur glass, which followed, was the perfect palate cleanser. Lamb was pink, sweet and deeply flavoursome, it had clearly benefited from its slow-cooking. Strawberries and mascarpone cream finished our meal.
 
A Sunday market in the nearby square with a car boot sale next to it, was worth a visit. I came away with some huge, misshapen beef tomatoes and two kilos of soft, ripe peaches. I ate some of them and used the rest for two gallons of home-made peach wine. Cherries were also cheap and plentiful, but I just couldn’t carry anymore.
 
The last leg of my trip was back to Calais for lunch at Au Cote d’Argent (named after a 1930s liner) and to watch the ferries sailing in and out. The spot is famous for local fish and seafood, and I can see why. I shared with my travel companions a vast selection of seafood; messy but absolutely delicious. There wasn’t much conversation round the table as we cracked crabs and peeled prawns.  And I have to admit that it was my favourite meal of the trip. You don’t always need hours of preparation to produce great food.
 
The 2CV tour prices cost from 59 Euros for half a day.
 

La Grenouillere Restaurant:
Tasting menu - 8 courses - €85; Discovery menu - 11 courses - €115; Lunch menu - €45; A la carte - from €55 to €85; Breakfast - €21, served in the dining room, on the terrace or in your room
 
La Grenouillere Accommodation:
Huts - from €215 to €250; Rooms - from €140 to €180;
 
Rooms from €105
 
MyFerryLink any duration fares currently start from just £19 each way for a car and up to nine passengers to book call 0844 2482 100 or visit www.myferrylink.com
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