Is this the best seafood restaurant in the world – Yes!
Apologies in advance to all of the great restaurants we’ve eaten in around the DeanWye and the world, but when it comes to seafood – “the winner is….” – La Halle on the dockside in Dunkirk on the Place du Minck. We’ve written about this place before and it has been my personal goal to test this fish and shellfish joint to the maximum. The first year I was so excited with my find, I thought it may be a fluke. You know the novelty of a new place and the ambiance of it all etc. Anyway, third time lucky and there is no need for the jury to go out. It wins. And if it never ever changes – it still wins!
Looking at it know with the hindsight of having fully scoped Bologna’s food scene on our latest Italian research trip and what’s happening in food service there, La Halle fits perfectly into the real food trend. A restaurant in the back of a fishmongers – perfect synergy of supplier meets restaurant. Actually since my last visit the restaurant has well and truly expanded into the shop with another half dozen permanent covers creeping into the fish counter rather than just at the weekends.
Sea fish and seafood has, without too many exceptions, the most delicate of flavours and it’s hard sometimes to find recipes and sauces that are sympathetic to the fish which is why there are just those few staple sauces. So at La Halle they serve whatever variety of fruits de mer (a dish traditionally served after midnight mass in France), you have chosen with a small pot of hollandaise and a small cup of vinaigrette. If you want to use them – it’s up to you.
The concept is simple. They sell great produce over the counter for you (and local restaurants) to cook at home. Or….they’ll cook it for you and serve it up on a bowl of ice. Actually they’ll also now grill the lobster for you and also offer a natty range of cold smoked fish platters – this one is for you our Norwegian and Finnish pals.
Personally, unadulterated is the way I like it. I get to taste the fish and shellfish without the adornment of anything other than a squeeze of lemon.
I love oysters (Huîtres) and I’m not a big fan of doing anything to them other than eating them. However, I have to say that from now on I will try a few with the La Halle simple onion vinaigrette!
So, my fruits de mer think time around: Breton lobster, crab claws, langoustines, whelks and half a dozen of Utah Beach’s finest oysters. I dressed the whole plate with fresh lemon and ate the lot with the occasional dip of hollandaise when I was feeling racy.
What can I report in this sea food flavour spectacular blog? Well, the lobster was firm sweet and delicate, the prawns the same (especially the super sweet hard won leg meet), the crab claws… just sublime and shows what an underrated meat this is, the whelks – meaty and robust and very “whelky”, and the oysters were the very freshest essence of the ocean. The flavours of the actual produce alone were delicate and absolutely fantastic! Accomplished cooking skills on display – Oh yes! Fine dining, tweezers arranged garnish, decorated with foraged edible flowers and lovingly crafted sauces? No. They just aren’t necessary here.
The produce itself was the support act, the introduction, the symphony and the crescendo! If the seafood here isn’t fresh enough for you – it’s time you bought a fishing boat and an alarm clock and cooked aboard a la Rick Stein!
I’m sure too, that if you knew anything about wine – which I don’t, the wine list scribbled on a blackboard would be similarly impressive. I’m a bit of wine oaf if I’m really honest and more in the Count Arthur Strong school (..what a lovely drop of splosh) than in the “I’m getting aroma of acacia wood camp fire roasted wildebeest” school. So wine pairing is not my personal strength. But I do know what I like and I like Sancerre, so I had two glasses of that with my lunch.
You can’t reserve a table by Facebook, only by phone, so I did – I think. So with equal amounts of optimism and trepidation I showed up just before one. In my best class 6F French, I introduced myself and the fact that I had a reservation – result: bemusement! That heady mix of Midlands and Mancunian wasn’t doing the French mother tongue much good it seemed. I tried again and upping the ante and went all in on the Gallic. Still not getting too far. OK says I, to Madame “that is as good as it gets, un moment while I get the translator out!
But, somewhere in all those hours on the hard chair in the drafty classroom back when school was school (and not some holiday camp, bla, bla……) listening to those scratchy records with the headphones on, something must have stuck and the light bulb came one for the young guy in chef’s blacks behind Madame who now beckoned me forth. You speak English?! She said to him with amazement. “He secretly speaks English” I responded which instantly had the English speaking French diners in fits and taking the mickey out of my lovely host, new best mate and now translator on all things to do with my visit, my travels, how long I was in Dunkirk and why I have such a big camera.
Do they speak great English? No, you’re in France get over it, dust off your school time French and have a laugh – the staff here are great fun.
Is it possible to hold the accolades of World’s Best Seafood Restaurant and World’s Best Fishmongers simultaneously? We don’t know, but if it is – you should already have a tenner at the bookies on this place while the odds are good and before the word gets out.
Call +33 3 28 63 50 01
Coming next….. we have a nice little piece about a perfect little Gloucestershire gastropub that’s a big hit with locals….