For a small city, La Rochelle packs a mighty gastronomic punch. The streets are filled with bars and bistros, cafés and restaurants spilling out onto cobbled streets and lining pretty squares. Most visitors head for the old Port, Vieux Port, and who can blame them. The restaurants here have fabulous views over the port and the ancient towers which have watched over the sea entrance to the city for hundreds of years.
Seafood is on the menu in most restaurants here, understandably as La Rochelle is set on the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast but you can also find world cuisine in this bustling, vibrant city.
If you’re not into the tourist style eateries, then here’s where to eat out in La Rochelle with an emphasis on the places the locals go for a tasty feast…
Best places to eat in La Rochelle
St Nicolas district La Rochelle, great restaurants and bars
There are two areas I recommend, first Saint-Nicolas. This former fishing district of La Rochelle is popular for its charming small houses and narrow streets. In the evening, the area comes to life with many cafés and wine bars. It is a perfect place to meet up with friends for a drink and live music. Stop for an aperitif at the Guignette (8 rue Saint-Nicolas). It’s a real Rochelle institution with its vintage atmosphere – but beware, the bar is only open from 4 – 8 pm.
Afterwards head to Restaurant Prao next door at No. 10 rue St-Nicolas. It’s light and airy with high ceilings and funky lights but the food is the real star here. Local, fresh produce, artisan made dishes, classically French but with a twist – seriously reasonably priced food. They also have a nightly vegetarian option. It’s also great for lunch and Sunday brunch.
Rue de la Fourche
Just around the corner from Prao, in rue de la Fourche is the perfect place for a digestif, a post dinner drink. L’Imprevu is a lovely bar with a great cocktail menu, wine list and beer stock. Their romantic courtyard is perfect for a rendezvous, the inner bar is great and the terrace is roomy.
In this little road, which is really a pedestrianised square, the locals gather for the many great bars and restaurants. Le Panier de Crabes and La Solette Cour du Temple are both fabulous. They might not look posh from the outside, they’re not, but don’t be fooled – both serve excellent food. Totally authentic, very local and great ambience – it doesn’t get much better.
Rue St Jean-du-Perot
This is the second area I recommend. Just off the main drag in the Old Port, rue St-Jean-du-Perot is called ‘food street’ by the locals. It’s surprisingly easy to miss even though it’s right in the centre. Here you’ll find top class restaurants, serving French cuisine as well as world cuisine. At night this streets bursts into life, brimming with bars and bistros, terraces filled with people and a friendly, festive atmosphere.
Le P’tite Nicolas in the appropriately named rue Chef de Ville is charming, authentic and serves divine dishes. It’s a small menu using only the freshest ingredients and the days fish from the market – I had sea bream and it was the best I have ever had, perfectly cooked and served with superb vegetables. I recommend you book if possible because it’s nearly always packed, the locals are mad for this place.
If you want to go somewhere a bit special and you’re a fishy foodie, La Yole de Chris is probably the second poshest restaurant in La Rochelle. It’s a short walk from the old port area following the route out to sea. This is the second restaurant of Christopher Coutanceau and his 2 Michelin Star restaurant Le Christopher Coutanceau (the poshest restaurant) is next door. Facing the ocean, with a large terrace and a chic interior, La Yole de Chris specialises in seafood. It’s pricey (though not as much as the restaurant next door) but serves fabulous seafood platters and fresh fish dishes. If you must have meat, steak is on the menu.
Another fabulous fish restaurant which is an institution in La Rochelle, is André’s. Right in the heart of the port, at the foot of the famous towers, this is fish heaven. Flamboyantly nautical inside with a great atmosphere, their seafood dishes are quite simply the best.
At the Place du Marché, the historic market is perfect for buying picnic fayre to enjoy round the harbour or on the city beach and there are plenty of little bistros in the square. You can even buy some bread, oysters and other produce from the market and enjoy it with a glass of wine in the “à table” scheme.
If you’re hankering for simple, organic food, then Brille Soleil restaurant is perfect. The locals know it but visitors rarely, if ever, find it – it’s a short walk from the centre. Fabulous salads, home-made food, in a bohemian atmosphere with a friendly services. Address: 13 Rue des Cloutiers
Bon appétit in La Rochelle!
Top ten things to do in La Rochelle
www.larochelle-tourisme.com; What to see and do in Les Charentes: Charente and Charente-Maritime: www.atlantic-cognac.com