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Sail away with me

Published on June 3, 2015
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Feel like a spontaneous getaway for a gourmet lunch in France? Oui, says Food‘s Gemma Chilton

‘Darling, shall we pop over to France for lunch?’ It’s the kind of statement we Antipodeans fantasize is entirely commonplace in Old Blighty.

Ok, so perhaps before actually moving here I may have overestimated just how common or practical this kind of Euro-hopping lifestyle might be. But with the distance from Plymouth to Brittany being only a tenth of that to Sydney’s nearest neighbour, New Zealand, it is certainly possible. And I do love French food.

Enter Brittany Ferries Gourmet Cruise offer – an all-inclusive overnight getaway to Roscoff, the sleepy seaside village in Brittany in north west France.

Scheduled to depart Plymouth at 8.45pm (or 20:45, as we say on the continent), we boarded Pont-Aven, Brittany Ferries’ flagship liner, with ample time to settle in to our ensuite cabin before getting stuck into a four-course gourmet meal at the boat’s restaurant, Le Flora.

If putting the words ferry and buffet in one sentence make you cringe, then you’ve clearly never eaten at Le Flora. The main course is a la carte, but the starters, desserts and cheeses are irresistibly laid out. Mountains of fresh langoustine were a highlight, while the fillet steak arrived cooked to perfection – and then there was dessert. Who doesn’t revert back to their bright-eyed four-year-old selves when stood before a heaving bounty of colourful sweets? Let them eat cake, indeed.

Unfortunately, having misread the brochure (and perhaps overindulged in cheese) the following morning’s 08:00 arrival time hadn’t quite sunk in, and so we were sleeping cosily to the rock of the waves and rumble of the engine – our clocks reading 7am (British time) – when we awoke to find pretty Roscoff outside our porthole window … and then a knock at the door informed us we had about three minutes to dress and pack and be in our car ready for departure. While this is where I should be telling you about the lovely continental breakfast included in your Gourmet Cruise package, what I can say is, if dinner is anything to go by, then breakfast shouldn’t be missed. Just remember to set your watch to French time.

Petit dejeuner was instead enjoyed with the locals – croissant, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice in a small cafe. It was a grey and drizzly day in Roscoff, which shares some of its history with Brittany Ferries – the latter was established in 1972 following the provision of the deepwater port in Roscoff. We hit the streets after breakfast to explore the shops, narrow cobbled lanes and the local botanical gardens of Roscoff (which feature, somewhat ironically, rather a lot of Australian flora).

L'Eclume Des Jours restaurant in Roscoff, Brittany

This was all ahead of the true hero of our getaway – a three course lunch booked at L’Ecume des Jours. Translated roughly to “seafoam of the days”, the restaurant is named after a 1947 French novel by Boris Vian. The interior is all timber and clean lines – classic nautical meets French colonial, with wide windows overlooking the view, reflected onto a large mirror on the opposite wall. The atmosphere was cosy but sophisticated – as if you’d been invited to a rainy day lunch at your chic French friend’s seaside house. Hey, that could happen.

And the food. I’m sure it’s no coincidence words like delicious (délicieux) and delectable (délectable) have their origins across the channel. Bon appetit.

An apéritif of the lightest, zestiest champagne was served with an amuse bouche of white asparagus mousse and a taste of tuna tartare with seaweed. We then shared entrées of fresh oysters and crab with seasonal artichoke and piquillo peppers, seaweed and crispy rice, followed by mains of roasted monkfish with sweet potato, white asparagus and lobster juice. Dessert was a mango and basil concoction that matched the flavour brought to the dining room by the French colonial-inspired framed paintings on the sandstone walls.

Happily full (our scraped-clean plates by no means reflecting the French paradox or any classy continental restraint), we ventured on to the right-hand side of the road to explore a little further afield, before boarding our ferry for a 16:30 departure. We had another ensuite cabin, which meant a much-needed siesta (wait, that’s Spanish … alright then, food coma) before exploring the entertainment on offer ahead of our 21:30 arrival on UK shores. This included a cinema, cocktail bar, free Wi-Fi or simply a good book and a view of the endless horizon – plus the occasional dash outside for a blast of salty sea air and the sound of waves crashing against the hull.

Now … who’s in the mood for paella?

Pont Aven ferry

The essentials

  • The Gourmet Cruise to Roscoff leaves Plymouth on Thursdays and returns on Friday evening.
  • Prices start at £92 per person.
  • A £20 supplement is charged for lunch at L’Ecume des Jours. The other lunch option is at Les Alizés and offers the same views and quality French food.
  • Available until June 25, 2015, and again in the autumn.

0871 244 0744

Roscoff in Brittany

Where to visit in Roscoff and nearby

In Roscoff itself, it’s worth paying a visit to the Exotic Gardens to see flora from around the world.

You know the stereotype of the stripey-jumpered Frenchman on a bike with a string of onions around his neck? This is where it originates: the Breton “Onion Johnnies” sailed from here to sell their wares in the UK. There’s a museum dedicated to them in the town and the trade is celebrated with an annual onion festival.

If you’re in the mood for more seafaring, take the 15 minute ferry ride from Roscoff to the beautiful Ile de Batz.

Further afield, it’s worth visiting Morlaix for a few hours: it’s just a 30 minute drive from Roscoff. Twinned with Truro, this lovely historic town is packed with little restaurants and shops..

Must-try Breton cuisine

We couldn’t talk about Breton food without mentioning crepes and galettes. The former are lighter and usually sweet, while galettes are thicker and usually come with savoury fillings. You can’t move for creperies in Brittany, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try them for yourself.

You might remember seeing contestants make kouign amann on The Great British Bake Off. This beautiful, buttery pastry is a real Breton delicacy, so look out for it when you visit.

Another local treat is far breton – a traditional, rich cake which usually includes raisins or prunes.

Also keep an eye out for Andouille de Guémené, a traditional pork sausage made in the region, which was created in the 18th century.

Forget wine, in Brittany it’s all about cider (or should that be cidre?). Make sure you try some while you’re there.

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