Cancale, Brittany - 2003
The little seaside town of Cancale is my idea of the perfect tourist destination for oysters, fish, history and memories.
The memories go back to 1966. As an unhappy teenager I was on a language exchange with a French family when I would much rather have been at home watching the World Cup. But the family took me on an outing to Mont St Michel and stirred my interest in medieval French history and architecture.
Ten years later I was back on the same coast and introduced to fish cooking north-western French style. My hosts, a shipping company by then, were somewhat surprised that I ordered the same meal on two consecutive nights but at that stage in my culinary development a plateau de fruits de mer, sea bass and iles flottantes was my idea of heaven - an opinion that has not really changed over the years.
But the combination of Cancale and the cooking of Olivier Roellinger have subsequently been revealed as the really great attractions of this stretch of Channel coast.
Cancale is for oyster lovers, a bustling, small town given over to the production of these fantastic molluscs and scores of small bars, cafes and restaurants where you can eat them ridiculously cheaply and, if you are as keen on them as I, spend an afternoon in an oyster museum.
And here too are the outposts of chef Olivier Roellinger who has so skilfully combined the history, natural resources and setting of the region to offer extreme comfort, exciting food and great views across the bay to Mont St Michel.
What distinguishes Roellinger's cooking - over and above the quality of the fish, shellfish, lamb which feeds on the salty marshes nearby and the produce of the surrounding countryside - is the twist which he brings to his food by connecting it to the more recent history of the region.
Two hundred years ago nearby St Malo was the entrepôt for the spice trade from the East Indies to the fashion-conscious court of Louis XIV in Paris where boats carrying pepper, ginger, cinammon and cloves were unloaded. Roellinger combines these, the lamb and the abundant fish into a style which he describes as 'neither French nor Breton but St Malo'.
And Cancale is not that difficult to get to, by boat, car or train although, as with all memorable holiday destinations, it is much more difficult to leave. My next visit would, however, be tinged with some sadness as it was along this coast earlier this year that bread pioneer Lionel Poilâne died alongside his wife in a helicopter accident. So before tucking into the first of what I hoped would be several plates of oysters, I would raise a glass to his memory.
Maison de Bricourt, 1 rue Duguesclin, Cancale 35260
tel +33 (0)2 99 89 64 76