Friday, October 03, 2008

La Matelote and the Bearded Lady

You have to love a chef who is a descendant of a gingerbread selling hermaphrodite.

Such is the case with Tony Lestienne, the one star Michelin chef, who presides over the Hotel and Restaurant La Matelote in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

We visited La Matelote recently following a nine hour car journey through France and were delighted with the professional reception we received upon arrival being whisked out of our car and into our room in record time. Overlooking the port and beach of Boulogne, our room in the 4-star hotel was chic, contemporary and comfortable. We were damned happy to be there but too tired and lazy to make much use of the sauna and pool.

We did rally for a fine dinner at the Michelin one star restaurant. As one would expect, service was to a high professional standard but without the “sturm und drang” that often accompanies a high Michelin ranking. We immediately stress tested the staff’s conviviality by asking that our table be moved, given its proximity to the kitchen. Instead of treating us like trouble makers, we were moved, very charmingly, from the better room (filled with mostly French people) to a less atmospheric room (filled with mostly “rosbifs”). As an aside, the Editor hopes that the deft handling by Matelote will convince me, once and for all, to keep my mouth shut about choice of tables. We'll see.

Happily settled in what we now think of as the “rosbif” room, all three of us took the menu for €33, which in the case of the adults included fish soup and cod, and for our fish adverse daughter, featured carpaccio of veal and roast duck. Following our hard drive and with only a flight of stairs between us and our bed, we did manage to drink a lot which bumped up the bill, but as the Editor put it, “This may not be the best one star we have ever tried, but it certainly represents the best value.” Despite having consumed two bottles of excellent wine, dinner for three came to a relatively reasonable €181.

But what about the gingerbread selling bearded lady? Tony Lestienne is justifiably proud of this ancestor and has made a little brochure about Madame Lestienne, born in 1834, proudly cutting gingerbread in all her hairy splendour. It seems she was quite a celebrity in her day, selling in all the markets of northern France. In 1919 at the age of 85, she died on the job at her stall after, as the brochure puts it, “having made many young gourmands very happy with her cakes and sweeties”. In 2008, we can report, Tony Lestienne continues to make young and old gourmands very happy with his cooking and keen sense of hospitality, but, sadly, without such a fine, full face of hair.

La Matelote Hotel & Restaurant
80, Boulevard Sainte-Beuve
62200 Boulogne-sur-Mer
Tel: (33) 03 21 30 33 33
Fax: (33) 03 21 30 87 40

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