EAT OUT IN CAEN
Generous portions are the order of the day as Pierre de Villiers suggests the best restaurants in the Normandy city
Enjoy the hearty dishes of Normandy in our city restaurant guide.
1 Le Bouchon du Vaugueux Ask someone who lives in Caen where to go for a true taste of their city and they inevitably say: “The Vaugueux.” A tiny neighbourhood in the shadow of the castle built by William the Conqueror, the ‘Belly of Caen’ is so jam-packed with exceptional restaurants that walking down cobblestoned Rue de Vaugueux involves slaloming between wooden menu boards.
In this gastronomic hub, Le Bouchon du Vaugueux stands out, and not only because of its bright-red exterior. No place in Caen is better at championing local produce than the small eatery run by chef Émmanuel Maintenant and wife Corinne, the beaming face that welcomes you on arrival at the restaurant.
Here you’ll find only seasonally inspired dishes and wine sourced from small producers. Everything that leaves the kitchen has been prepared with the care and attention you expect from a place inspired by the bouchons of Lyon.
Start your culinary journey through Normandy with escargots, andouille de Vire and black pudding or squid stew with herbs. As a main, there is marinated salmon, poached egg with hollandaise sauce and herring caviar, or an apple confit veal steak with mustard-seed mash.
Top it all off with a flaky apple tarte Tatin with Calvados ice cream that is so decadent that you will feel compelled to climb a few steps at the castle to burn off the calories.
Three-course menu €22, four-course menu €34. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, noon-2pm and 7pm-10.30pm. 12 Rue Graindorge, 14000 Caen Tel: (Fr) 2 31 44 26 26 bouchonduvaugueux.com
2 Mooky’s Look through the window at Mooky’s and you might mistake it for a butcher’s shop. In one corner, huge chunks of ham, sausage and salami hang from hooks over a glass counter as locals impatiently queue up to buy their own body weight in cold cuts. Venture a bit deeper, though, and you will spot stairs leading up to a landing that is packed with tables overlooking the meat-lovers’ mosh pit below.
Spend a couple of hours here and you will be treated to some of the best French, Italian, Spanish and Corsican produce: mouth-watering terrines, meats, cheese, bread and desserts served with a smile in a unfussy environment. You don’t have to be a carnivore to eat at Mooky’s but, boy, does it help. You will struggle to find better steak tartare anywhere in the city, while the heartstoppingly huge meat platter should come with a defibrillator.
If you fancy something (slightly) lighter, the truffle and cheese ravioli really hits the spot. Everything is
washed down with a selection of wine that covers one entire wall of the restaurant.
If the food is simple, the fun decor is anything but. An old bicycle props up the bathroom basin and a mural of a tree creeps up one of the pillars, while a smiling pig and Pan recreate The Creation of Adam against another wall. Make sure to stop at the charcuterie counter to buy delicacies such as pata negra ham made from black Iberian pigs and cut so thinly by a manual slicer it melts on the tongue.
Three-course meal from about €25. Open from 9am-3pm and 6.30pm-10pm. 24 Rue de la Fontaine, 14000 Caen Tel: (Fr) 2 31 47 37 87
3 Le Clou de Girofle Walking through the doors at Le Clou de Girofle in the Vaugueux neighbourhood feels like dropping by at someone’s house for a home-cooked meal. The welcome is particularly friendly, the surroundings extremely cosy and the aroma of hearty fare hangs in the air. “Don’t get too comfortable,” says a waiter as he shows me to my table. “Here, you help yourself to food.”
Adding to the sense that you are not just another customer, but among friends sharing a meal, Le Clou de Girofle – which is based in a beautiful 17th-century building – prepares a buffet of a basket of vegetables, soup, two cooked dishes and a selection of desserts every day, places them on a counter and rings the dinner bell. Diners stroll over and help themselves to as much food as they can carry, using – in another homely touch – an assortment of flower-patterned plates from yesteryear.
The crockery is not the only thing that is old school at Le Clou de Girofle. Forget minimalist nouvelle cuisine. Here the portions are generous and the dishes traditional, seasonal and locally sourced. Norman delicacies such as pork cheeks are so tender that you will go back for seconds, especially if you combine it with some creamy cod brandade. For dessert, there are comforting treats such as pears in red wine, or black chocolate mousse, all designed to make you feel so at home that you might kick off your shoes.
Afternoon buffet €19, evening buffet €22. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, September to May. 12 Rue de Vaugueux, 14000 Caen Tel: (Fr) 2 31 93 20 30 lecloudegirofle.fr