Le Relais Guillaume De Normandy - Somethin' on the Dock of the Baie

As the sun ominously dipped behind La Baie de Somme, I stood outside the gates of the chosen restaurant for the evening, Le Relais Guillaume de Normandy, a chill emanating off the dark waters as night descended. I think it was at that point that I nervously intoned, ‘Uh, Co., I hate to say this, but I think we took a wrong turn in Eu and have ended up at the house of the Addams Family. . . da da da da, snap snap.’ A child neither of 1930s New Yorker cartoons nor 1960s schlock American TV, my French companion could only gaze wonderingly at this madman before her. It was that kind of week. Instead of visiting the Ferdinand Brasserie on the canal of Aarhus, Denmark as I had planned—the plans having been dashed by an Icelandic volcanic cloud of ash that served to ground my plane and 100s of others—I instead found myself spending a weekend vacation along the Normandy coast with Co. visiting a gothic seaside restaurant/hotel, among other assorted and asundry attractions. Well, I guess it could have been worse: to wit, I could have been awaiting another airport meal.

Despite the uncanny similarity to aforementioned macabre Addams house, a glance around the restaurant revealed a distinctly uncharacteristically Addams waitstaff and clientele. Although perhaps if one of our waitresses had been a bit more like Morticia and a lot less like Lurch, I probably would have enjoyed the dinner experience a bit more.

Contrary to expectations, the interior of Relais—widely rated online as a top restaurant in Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme (but definitely not a top hotel)—was sunnier than I expected, reminiscent of a decent Cape Cod seafood restaurant, but lo and behold, it offered no view of the bay as we had hoped (at least not from our vantage point in the restaurant’s main dining room).

The extensive carte offered four different menus—not including the ‘menu enfants—ranging from the 3-course 18€ ‘menu tradition’ to the 5-course 43€ ‘menu Baie de Somme.’ As fate would have it, we were tempted by the middle two four-course menus, with Co. enchanted by the 33€ ‘menu decouverte’ and me bewitched by the 26€ ‘menu terroir.’ To make a long story short, the choices comprising these two menus are reproduced below from the Relais’s website.

I started with the salad de mache, which came with two creamy circles of shrimp butter and mackerel spread and four thin slices of grilled country bread. This was a pretty simple and unimposing dish, but it suited me fine, especially as washed down with our slightly bitter choice of wine, a 2005 Victoria II Haut-Medoc (21.50€). Co. meanwhile was impressed with her langoustine and pork foot-filled pastry. The idea of anything edible coming out of a pork foot is so anathema to me that I nearly resisted tasting her dish, but Co. was diplomatic enough to have eliminated the porcine aspects of the two heaping forkfuls that she graciously set in the direction of my mouth and I’m glad she did. Moving on to the main dish, despite a disappointing mango embellished portion of barbue, a river fish on Co’s side, my filet de plie (plaice fish) in a sauce comprised of bouchot mussels and coques proved to be the highlight of the meal. This was a light and sumptuous fish, one of the tastiest I’ve had in a long time. It didn’t hurt that I followed this dish up with a circle of roasted chevre with honey and pignons on a small square of toast, which also beat Co’s choice of three cheeses and salad hands down. My gratin de pomme flambĂ© with calvados also had the edge over Co’s choice of a strawberry dessert, which came enveloped within a crepe. What can I say? When you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll, and that 26€ menu turns out to be a clear winner when stacked up against its 33€ competition. Go figure. All told, skipping coffee, our evening racked up a more than reasonable sum of 80.50€. Try finding two 4-course meals with wine in Paris for that price, I challenge you.

Overall, this was a satisfying enough dinner, and if you happen to be cruising along the Normandy coast sometime, volcano ash cloud notwithstanding, the Relais certainly warrants a detour. In and of itself, it wouldn’t justify a 2 to 2-1/2 hour drive from Paris, but I guess that goes without saying. Although our trip was a short one, my research revealed a few additional hidden gems in the Baie de Sommes environs. Our mussels/frites/ salad lunch at the Restaurant Les Canotiers (on the port) in Le Crotoy was typical and satisfying, despite my failure to locate the recommended La Grignotine (5, porte de Pont) for the same. On the road in Picardie, we took a little spin to check out the carte at Le Cle Des Champs in Favieres and it is one I’ll definitely keep on my list – good potential there. Back in Le Crotoy I was tempted by L’Auberge de la Marine, whose hotel sounds like a real Addams Family nightmare, but whose food merits a lot of praise online and in the guidebooks. In Amiens, Les Marissons (68 Rue des Marissons) caused some real trepidation – elegantly situated on the town’s central canal – Co. yin-ed, having read some strong positive reviews, while I yang-ed, having read a number of terrible critiques online before our trip. If you’ve been there, please solve the mystery. We passed this time.

Qaui du Romerel
80230 Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
tel: 03 22 60 82 36

Note: The hotel choices in the Baie de Sommes region leave a lot to be desired, but we fared more than comfortably at a B&B in Eu, a traditional manor hideaway where we reserved a 3rd floor suite for a mere 60 euros, the Manoir de Beaumont (route de Beaumont, email: catherine@demarquet.eu). Not exactly bristling with amenities (croissant breakfast, map, bathroom), no wifi, no TV, no radio. But at that price, who can complain?
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