La Marine – Noirmoutier, France

A spoiling weekend away that turned into a gastronomic adventure through gardens, seas and sweet factories.

La Marine is located on the island of Noirmoutier about 4 hours outside of Paris.  From London you fly to Nante and then it’s about a 35 minute drive (or 50 minutes if you are in a Twingo as we were!).  A quant beachy town – similar vibe to West Wittering/Cornwall.  A place were Parisians go for their staycations.

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We were there for pretty much 1 reason and that was to visit the infamous La Marine Restaurant which is located on the northern most tip of the island.  Jimmy (my boyfriend and cofounder of Food For Thought 👌🏻) and I were booked to stay in the boutique hotel which was attached to the restaurant.  (I say hotel, more like a 4 bedroom luxury bed and breakfast which was so close to being awesome but some fittings and fixtures were just slightly cheap!)

We arrived literally in time for our dinner reservation on Friday night which for me is always a plus (I get far too impatient if I have to wait for food, as does Jimmy).

We sat down in the dining room.  Now, I don’t want to start off on a negative foot AT ALL, but the dining room was not exactly somewhere you would want to spend alot of time in.  Nothing whatsoever to do with cleanliness but the overall décor was like sitting in a liquorice-all-sort rather than a Michelin star restaurant dining room.  The floor was shiny square black cubed tiles (not dissimilar to a public swimming pool changing room).  It was a slight shame however, all this actually we were able to overlook as the food…well…that’s a different story….

We went full on (obviously!) for the 16 course tasting menu and from the get go it reminded me of the time I spent in New Zealand driving down the coast of the South Island.  After every corner and turn the views became more and more breath-taking and this was the same at La Marine.  Each course after another was explosion after explosion after explosion of flavour getting better and better.

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One of my favourite dishes was the grey mullet which was served on a crispy (not edible) fish bone.  It was smoky, mischievous and just extraordinary.  (Jimmy also loved this one!)

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Jimmy also particularly liked one of their signature dishes which was the Oyster in squid ink.  The flavour was like nothing we’ve ever had, totally unique.

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Recently I have not been eating that much red meat, well meat in general, but Jimmy was adamant that the pigeon was and I quote “deeply savoury, satisfying perfectly cooked”.

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After a good 13 courses, we came around to the first of 3 puddings and I am NOT joking when I say the salted caramel and fire smoked ice cream was one of the dreamiest ‘things’ I’ve ever had.  The salted caramel source was like liquid crack cocaine and the smoked ice cream was so clever.  The smoky flavour added this whole new dimension to ice cream that it was just genius.  Noirmoutier is also famous for its quality salt which I think was what also made the salted caramel source so special.

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Celine who was our Maître’d and overall hostess was a gracious and charming woman who we then found out was head chef Alexandre Couillion’s wife.  His story and the background story of the restaurant itself has been documented on an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix.  I actually made a point of not watching this until I had been to the restaurant.  However, the spirit and abundance of raw ingredients found on Noirmoutier island really are at the heart of La Marine.

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We were fortunate enough to be able to meet Alexandre after our dinner who was charming, humble and extremely kind and polite considering he had just finished a whole dinner service.

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The next day for lunch we dined at the sister restaurant of La Marine called ‘La Table D’Elise’.  It was a blazing hot day and what we ordered could not have been more perfect for the surroundings.  I had a light pea puree or soup with burrata which was delicious (however perhaps a touch more seasoning in the pea soup as it was slightly bland.)

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Then pan-fried sea bass with grilled vegetables which was good.  However, we were disappointed with our puddings…they were not memorable enough to note.

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However, something that WAS memorable was prior to our lunch at Table d’Elise we had spent the morning at the beach but had stupidly thought we were in an off roader and forgetting we were merely travelling in a Twingo, and we go the car stuck in wet sand.  So stuck in fact, we had to call Celine at La Marine and ask her to send a tow truck.  She told us that rarely do these types of people work on weekends…we were close to tears/losing our cool until Celine called back saying someone would be there in 20 minutes.

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To our/my delight and surprise a lovely silver fox 60+ year old man arrived and very kindly towed us out of the sand with the help of a passing cyclist (people are so nice in Noirmoutier). We thanked the man, Gilbert was his name, and carried on with our day….

It was not until a week later, back in London, and watching the Netflix episode on La Marine we realise that Gilbert was none other than genius chef Alexandre Couillion’s father!

In all, our trip to Noirmoutier and to La Marine was a true delight.  A lot of restaurants, (as we all know) are family run, but from our experience, La Marine was particularly special in that regard.  There was so much respect for the island, the ingredients, the sea, and all the surroundings on each plate that Alexandre served…it really was like being asked “What would you like for dinner” and replying, “I’ll have a plate of Noirmoutier please!”.

Total: €178 (£150) for tasing menu excluding wine. Including wine (€238)

Rating (0-5) ****

http://alexandrecouillon.com/

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