Gen­er­ous por­tions are the or­der of the day as Pierre de Vil­liers sug­gests the best restau­rants in the Nor­mandy city

France - - Contents -

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 bou­chon­du­vau­

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 lecloude­

The Église Saint-pierre in Caen from the cas­tle

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