Some of the best eating haunts in the Vendee and the Charente to suit all the family: Accommodating my little tribe and all that comes with them is never easy when it comes to eating out. This summer as usual we wandered in France including down through the Vendée, on to the Charente and out east to the Vienne and en route we managed to find and enjoy some fantastic meals out. There is surely no lovelier indulgence than passing a few hours on a hot summer day trying new flavours and delights and washing it all down with a chilled glass of wine and a strong cup of coffee to finish. It’s a dirty job but someone had to put the restaurants of the region to the test and as a result, here is my guide to our top 4 restaurants in Poitou Charente as reviewed and sampled by me, the kids and even the dogs.
Le Café de l’Aquarium, La Rochelle
I had low expectations of an aquarium café but having traipsed across La Rochelle in over 35 degree heat, dragging 3 hungry offspring behind me, we were all genuinely delighted by what we found. Up on the top floor with views across the harbour and town, the restaurant here feels like a cross between being on the deck of an expensive yacht (wooden decked floors, metal railings and glass walls) and being in a tropical rain forest. It sits on top of the tropical part of the aquarium and the plants and steaming, damp heat ooze up through a central hall to infuse the restaurant.
Calling it a café is unfair and the only downside of this fabulous restaurant was that it didn’t have any air conditioning and on a hot, hot day it was, well er… hot and obviously, dogs weren’t an option.
The menu formule is a reasonable price and I had spring rolls followed by a beautiful seafood casserole (washed down of course with a glass of wine). The kids’ meals were a little small (or my children eat a lot) but I could happily have lingered longer here as the kids watched the city go by from cool of the open balcony.
Their website is www.cafe-aquarium.com and booking is recommended. My personal recommendation would be to visit the aquarium first and then stop here for lunch. The aquarium gets very busy after 2.30pm.
La Gambille Damvix
Damvix is a small village in the heart of the Marais Poitevin and a good starting point if you want to explore the canals or if you want to head on over to the Abbey at Maillezais. Fairly centrally positioned between Fontenay Le Comte, Niort and La Rochelle a little further south, if you’re planning a boat ride from the pier and hire point in Bazoin, it’s just a mile or two down the road.
It’s fair to say, that despite its stunning good looks, not a lot goes on in this part of France. The pace of life is distinctly and luxuriously slow and having tried La Ronde for lunch which looked bigger on the map (don’t bother) we ended up by chance back at La Gambille in Damvix.
With seating outside next to the canal and lots of locals, you can never accuse the service here of being fast but who cares. They allow you to fill your 2 hours with a leisurely lunch and were happy for the dog to join us.
The menu varies and I had a fantastic and very delicate “zander” dish out of a choice that included eels, frogs’ legs and duck. The kids were less impressed that their steak haché came with vegetables (shock horror but I did persuade them to eat some and I at least was pleased). The Ille Flottante (which my son had been looking forward to since we were here two years ago) more than made up for their horror. And the Café Gourmand served here has to be one of the best I’ve had in a long time.
They don’t have a website yet but their address is Les Vergnaies, 85420 Damvix. It’s just over the bridge from the main part of the village and hard to miss.
Auberge du Donjon, Bazoges en Pareds
Equally off the beaten track, you’ll find Bazoges en Pareds a few miles south of the D949 from Chantonnay to La Chataigneraie. The main reason to visit Bazoges (the only reason in fact but it’s a good one) is the 14th century donjon or castle keep. Towering over the village, within the grounds is also a medieval garden, a quirky little museum and an impressive pigeon house. Other places to visit nearby are the lake at Rochereau, Pouzauges and the chateau at St. Mesmin.
Less than a stone’s throw from the keep is the Auberge. Again popular with the locals, they have an excellent formule which starts at 12€ for three courses. It’s a homely restaurant with simple but good local cuisine and dogs are always provided with water. The kids’ meals are a little limited in choice but they can get up and go and play while you finish your meal which always gets a thumbs up from me.
There is even a website www.aubergedudonjon.com although we’ve never needed to book.
The Glycine, Fontenay Le Comte
Walk down the long straight street from the market or main square and eventually you’ll come to this little courtyard restaurant which is part of a hotel. I didn’t take the dogs to this one (it was too hot) but I did take a veritable entourage of nephews, nieces and in laws with a diverse range of culinary demands. Brightly coloured and as you’d expect from the name, dripping in wisteria, this is a great place to finish up after a morning in Fontenay market. Then once you’ve enjoyed a long, lingering lunch you can explore the rest of the town.
Their two course formule starts at 14€ and beautiful, gourmand style presentation is the order of the day here. I had a fantastic Salade Estival with mango and prawn followed by fish of the day but the homemade burgers were equally special. hotel-fontarabie.com
What to see and do in Charente-Maritime www.france-atlantic.com