Exploring Oyster Beds & Eating Fruits de Mer in Cancale, Brittany
For the final instalment from my trip to Brittany last week, we’re heading to the coast to one of my favourite places in the world to go for shellfish: Cancale. Cancale is world famous for its oysters, so obviously as this was my first trip to Brittany since discovering that I actually really, really love oysters in Glasgow last Autumn, the thing I most wanted to do was head to the coast for a massive Fruits de Mer platter.
Usually in Cancale we lunch at Le Cancalaise, but the set menu did not really appeal so we set off in search of a new favourite, which we happily found in the form of La Mere Champlain (which also happens to look like a nice hotel, if you’re looking for somewhere to stay). The reason we chose the restaurant was because of their Fruits de Mer selections. While most restaurants on the seafront sell one towering Fruits de Mer platter for one or two people featuring all of the different local seafood together, La Mere Champlain offers about 8 different combinations of seafood (there is something for everyone, like platters of crab and shrimp for people like my Dad who don’t like molluscs, or oyster heavy selections for people who are just in town for them) that are single servings, and there is the choice of piling your selection into one great tower. My Dad and I chose what we personally fancied, but took the option of having it served up together by way of a more communal lunch.
May I present to you more spider crabs, prawns, baby brown shrimp, sea snails, langoustines, prawns and oysters than you can shake a stick at. I always love the local prawns, and while I always find spider crab a lot of effort, the claws were rich and succulent. Even better were the langoustines (so, so sweet, though rather spiky), and the brown shrimp were great, but only really worth their lovely flavour if you’re the type of person who eats the shells, as they’re a lot to peel for very little meat! It was my first time eating sea snails, and after having to ask the server how exactly you could get them out of the shells, I polished off the whole bowl. Don’t ask me to describe the delicate flavour of the molluscs in their briny liquor once I’d finally prised them out with a pin like implement, as they were unlike anything I’d ever tasted. But I really enjoyed them, and would happily have them presented to me with an aperitif.
But, really what I’d gone to Cancale for was their oysters. As I wanted some langoustines to myself too I opted for a selection that only included regular oysters rather than Cancale’s special flat oysters, but they were still some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Gloriously rich, even with a slightly buttery taste, they’re like eating great mouthfuls of the fresh, clean and slightly tangy sea air that fills your lungs when you walk down Cancale pier. Oh, and did I mention that this whole platter only cost 56 euros (about £44!)
I had to settle for a restaurant as I was the only member of my party who likes oysters, but pretty near the top of my bucket list is a Spring (April is one of the best months for French oysters as they are fat and plump from all of the extra food for them in the water, though they are great all year around) picnic on the harbour steps with a bottle of rose and a baguette, eating a platter full of oysters purchased from the market just with a squeeze of lemon. Everyone throws their discarded shells onto the beach to constantly renew the shingle.
We finished off the day with local (vanilla, coffee and salted caramel) ice creams on the seafront. They were nice, but the waffle cones cracked a bit and they were a bit overpriced as the only place on the waterfront to get ice cream you can walk and talk with. So, if I were you visiting, have a dessert in the restaurant you’re eating in (the local crepes, served with ice cream are to die for).
Go to Cancale for the oysters. Seriously, if you love oysters, go to Cancale. Though, I hope with this post I’ve demonstrated as long as you’ve got a love for copious amounts of super fresh seafood, you can also have a great foodie day out by the sea if you’re not really a fan.