The Norman city of Rouen is brimming with historical gems. Located just a 90-mile drive northwest of Paris, Rouen is perhaps best known for its 4th-century Gothic cathedral that so inspired Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
In addition to its architecture, Rouen has a reputation as a great center for the literary arts. Authors Gustave Flaubert and Pierre Corneille were born in this city.
The gastronomic history of Rouen
Although many visitors don’t know it, Rouen is also very important in the history of French gastronomy. In fact, Rouen is home to France’s oldest restaurant: La Couronne.
La Couronne’s long history began in 1345 when it was first established as an inn. This makes it the oldest continuously operating auberge in France and one of the oldest in all of Europe. Over the centuries it slowly became the gourmet restaurant it is today. In more recent times, La Couronne gained notoriety thanks to the legendary American chef Julia Child. Julia’s first meal in France was at this very restaurant way back in 1948. Her meal was so good that it inspired her to dedicate her life to teaching the world the wonders of French cuisine.
La Couronne restaurant in Rouen
La Couronne is located in the Place Du Vieux Marché, the same town square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 AD. On the outside it is easy to overlook as it blends in with the style of the surrounding buildings. Inside it has stayed true to its beginnings as a humble inn and retains the original timber in the dining area. It makes for a very cosy interior. However, as you step inside you can tell this restaurant is not like the rest. You cant help but feel a frisson of excitement about your upcoming meal. It’s just as it was when it instilled the love of French Cuisine in Julia Child.
Besides being the location for Julia Child’s first meal in France, La Couronne has served countless celebrities and political figures over the years. Its legendary list of famous guests is represented in the signed portraits sprawled on the walls of the waiting areas and the upstairs dining rooms. Just a few of the celebrated people that have visited this restaurant include John Wayne, Salvador Dalí and Grace Kelly. Dining in the same room adds a special thrill to the experience.
What’s on the menu at La Couronne
La Couronne is the perfect restaurant for a traveler searching for the French dining experience of their dreams. And, it comes at a surprisingly reasonable price. The menu specializes in truly authentic northern French fare, executed marvelously, with a special emphasis on locally caught seafood. Although years have passed and chefs have come and gone, this restaurant is still serving “Julia Child inspiring” worthy food. If you call 48 hours ahead they even serve the elusive “Duck a la Rouennaise”. This is a dish so complex that in order to be able to serve it the chef must have been deemed worthy and inducted into a special club which protects the integrity of the dish: the “Ordre des Canardiers”.
Most of the food on La Couronne’s menu is extremely hearty and filling. The flavors and presentation would leave even Gordon Ramsay satisfied. A few staple dishes include standing rib roast, filet of sea bream, and, of course, escargot. For the true Julia Child fans, La Couronne celebrates Julia’s first meal in France with a prix-fixe menu in her honor. All of the dishes on this special menu are exactly what Child ordered in 1948, which includes oysters on the half-shell, sole doused in a butter parsley sauce and a green salad.
Rouen is a city steeped in history. All who visit this awe-inspiring region of France can’t help but be swept away in the tales of the past. Of all the restaurants in this incredible city, however, La Couronne stands above the rest. You haven’t experienced Normandy to its fullest until you’ve tasted the succulent local cuisine at this legendary eaterie.
Julia Girard-Gervois is a tour guide and owner of TripUSAFrance