As you approach the little village of La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil from the historic hill top town of Montreuil-sur-Mer you can’t help but feel the stress and strife of life simply slip away as the landscape changes from cobbled medieval town to stunning bucolic countryside.
A ravishing little hotel and an internationally famous restaurant
In the heart of the tiny village of La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil, nestling on the banks of the river Canche is the restaurant and hotel la Grenouillère. No ordinary place this, it’s run with passion and panache by 2 Michelin star chef Alexandre Gauthier.
This young chef has been making waves ever since he took over from his Michelin starred father. He’s built up an international reputation for stunning food and presentation in the most enchanting of surroundings with more than a soupçon of style, flair and fabulousness. In 2016 he was voted Best Chef in France by Gault et Millau, the hugely respected and influential French Food Guide.
Pull up outside the former 16th century ferryman’s cottage and you’ll have no inkling of what awaits inside.
My lunch partner and I got there early and strolled in the garden and along the banks of the river which were decorated with flower beds and designer lamps – very fairy tale.
Then we had an aperitif in the cosy sitting room lined with froggy frescoes. Created in the early 20th century by Frank Reynolds, the London cartoonist and director of Punch Magazine, they gave the restaurant its name. Wine waiter Alexis poured me a glass of Ruinart Champagne, my partner had a local beer. We relaxed as a beam of sun came through the window and lit up the pumpkins placed on the window sill and round the log fire. It was one of those perfect moments and very romantic. We wandered into the dining room via a dark corridor with viewing holes into the busy kitchen.
A rock star kitchen
The kitchen is pure rock star. Funky lights, gleaming metal preparation bays and everything created in sight of the mesmerised diners.
The restaurant is simple but theatrical. The young staff are discretely enthusiastic. “Did you like that?” asked a waiter as I couldn’t help myself and let out a “wow” on eating a cheese ball that had so many depths of flavour I just couldn’t understand how something the size of a quail’s egg could be like that. Presented in the hollow of a scooped out entire Mimolette cheese, I’ve never had anything like it.
Lunch time on a Friday was buzzing, everyone dining there (except me and my partner) was French and local – and that is a huge deal. If the locals are willing to pay for Michelin star food, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s going to be worth every centime.
I’ve been to Michelin star restaurants where I almost felt like I was on display along with the food, but not here. The emphasis is firmly on the service, the food, the guests enjoying themselves. Its rustic and sophisticated, it’s traditional and innovative, it’s easy going but sensational. It feels calm and natural and the view through the glass walls onto the gardens is like a fairy prairie.
The tasting menu was a no brainer for me, I’d heard so much about this place. My friends from Paris often journey from the bright lights of the city to this little village in the countryside. They come for the food and to chill out at the stunning hotel and they rave about it.
The food was everything I hoped it would be. Theatrical, witty, utterly photogenic, and importantly – delicious. It’s been claimed recently that Michelin star restaurants place too much emphasis on the looks and not on the taste. Not here at la Grenouillère, both aspects are spot on. Gauthier is clearly a firm believer that we eat first with our eyes, the food is beautiful, truly beautiful. And, it smells good and tastes amazing.
I watched as, like me, diners broke into a smile as plates came round. The dishes are cooked to perfection, the flavours are conversation starters. One of my favourite things was chocolate strands with vinegar dressing (and yes it sounds weird but it so works). A spoon dragged across a tray of honeycomb straight form the hive is heavenly. This is absolutely not every day fare. Its posh but not pretentious. Everything here really is about the customer – and though just about every aspect is gorgeous, the best bit is the food.
More on Montreuil-sur-Mer
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Montreuil-sur-Mer – the perfect weekend destination
The annual Bastille Day antiques market at Montreuil-sur-Mer
Montreuil-sur-Mer, the town that inspired Les Miserables by Victor Hugo