The hotel Westminster, in Le Touquet on the lovely Opal Coast of northern France, affectionately known as Le West, is an Art Deco dream building and glamorous in that oh-so French effortless way.
I stayed here for a chill out weekend in September and I was invited to end my stay with an indulgent wine and dine taste menu in the fabulous Michelin-starred Le Pavillon restaurant. I travelled a well-trod corridor; before me the great and the good – Hollywood stars, international legends and royalty have enjoyed a spot of discrete extravagance here at Le West. Winston Churchill, Edith Piaf, Sean Connery (who signed his first Bond film contract here), Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward to name just a very few whose signed photographs line the halls in thanks for a memorable sojourn.
Le Pavillon is the Westminster Hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant and the Chef is William Elliot who is rather famous in these parts. Chef Elliot got his first star in 2007 after training in Alsace and then in prestigious restaurants in Paris, Deauville and Cannes.
In the elegant and effortless setting of the restaurant with its lovely terrace overlooking the iconic lighthouse of Le Touquet I had one of those impeccable fine dining experiences where it’s all about the food. Relaxed and not remotely pretentious, welcoming and knowledgeable staff, expertly prepared dishes and skilled wine choices, combined with people-watching (for me, that is – I love it!), completely faultless French fine dining.
The “Cuisine and Vins” menu is different every day, Chef Elliot prepares each dish according to the season and after you’ve been asked for dislikes or allergies, a selection of immaculate dishes, each with a different wine especially chosen to accompany the food will be presented for your total French foodie experience.
Each dish came with an explanation of where the food was sourced (in English or French), each wine described by the sommelier Yann Satin (who is competing for the best Sommelier in France title), each plate was “dressed”, the glass and porcelain chosen by a French designer to enhance the experience.
It all adds up to a very sumptuous, intimate experience where you feel as though you are taking a gastronomic journey and a celebration of the best food possible. I wasn’t surprised when I later read that this restaurant has been nominated for a Prix Villegiature for best restaurant in a hotel in Europe.
How to describe what I ate? It’s not easy to concentrate when your senses are assailed in such a sublime way, but memorable for me was a creamy chicken dish flavoured with truffle, warm, melting, crispy and delicious. A slightly warmed oyster with seared avocado; a selection of tiny baby tomatoes with a tangy tomato sauce; mackerel with crème Suisse, radish and caviar – it works perfectly if you’re wondering! A smokey bacon dish tasted joyful and made me sit back and wait for my brain to receive the pleasure signals. Two small perfectly cooked pork chops, a melt in the mouth savoury macaron with lime and sage, freshly baked bread and salted butter like I’ve never had before.
In the background the music of Miles Davis gently played, the sun went down on the terrace as I sipped champagne and ogled the homemade nougat ice cream with fresh strawberries and puréed apple, chocolates and brandy snaps. Each dish was small but perfectly formed, any more would have been overdoing it, any less and you might feel short-changed.
Chef Elliot came out to ask if we’d enjoyed the meal, I couldn’t think of the words to describe it, I think I said “fantastique” three times! A modest man of immense charm, we chatted about his training and how at the age of just 15 he knew he wanted to be a chef and where he got such an English name from, he has Canadian ancestry. He told me that he had been born close by, in Etaples, but as a boy spent time in Alsace, at his uncle’s restaurant in Mulhouse and here, working in the school holidays, he developed a passion for cooking that has never left him. He enrolled at chef school and then worked his way round France, from Le Dôme in Paris, to Normandy, Deauville and Cannes, cooking for the rich and the famous before returning to the Opal Coast and taking over the kitchen at the Hotel Westminster.
An amazing meal, one of those memorable events that will serve as a comparison for every fine dining experience ever after and will still come out on top, in a lovely restaurant, wonderful hotel, stunning resort…
See the website for Hotel Westminster for more details of the menus and opening times for the restaurant.