One of the
culinary delights of
the Opal Coast (as this part of France along the North Sea is
known) is a "brasserie" tucked away between the fishmongers of the
largest fishing port in France: the Brasserie Le Chatillon.
And yes, we are really talking about Boulogne-sur-Mer, in the 'North'.
The same Boulogne that was called Bononia by the Romans, and that was
connected with Cologne (Germany) by the "Via Gesoriacum ad Colonia
Agrippa". In later centuries, the city became part of the Spanish
Netherlands, and was called "Boonen" (="Beans")
Nowadays, Boulogne-sur-Mer consists of two parts: besides "la haute
ville" on top of the chalk-cliff (a reminder from the Jurassic period),
and built atop the remains of the camp mentioned by none other than
Julius Caesar, downtown Boulogne is situated along the water
the "basse ville" where the fishermen reside. During the French
Revolution, the city was renamed "Port de l 'Union", which
emphasises the importance of this port.
The upper city is still surrounded by a fortified wall (where you can
stroll along) and home to the magnificent Basilica of Notre Dame, with
a 330ft high tower from miles away to identify. There is also a museum,
a belfry, a calvary, and more. Plenty of history, to be discovered in
the "old Bean". Also plenty of restaurants uptown, but do not be
tempted by a skinny tourists menu: keep your appetite for downtown,
where the Boulonnais themselves are eating out.
Those inhabitants of Boulogne may be proud of their port. And did you
know that the famous "Belgian" crusader Godfrey of Bouillon (brother
-in-arms to Richard The Lionheart) was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer?
But let 's return to the culinary purpose of this website. Thanks to
the fishing port one can buy the freshest fish in all of France. At the
"Quai Gambetta" there are a number of seafood stalls that pamper you
daily with a variety of freshly landed fish. Warning: if you arrive
after 9.00AM, you will usually return empty handed...
If you like to watch the fish in their natural habitat, Boulogne has
the place to visit in Nausicaa
with plenty of aquariums, appropriately built on the sea front. If
after a day looking at the fish you got hungry, you can enjoy a fine
meal in one of the many restaurants around the harbor and have a
delicious (fish) dish for dinner.
The best place to do so is at Brasserie Le Chatillon. This former pub
was originally only known to the fishermen and the workers of the fish
processors. But the kitchen of this "café" was of such a
level of excellence that it gradually became known outside the port
area. Le Chatillon had to open it's top floor to cope with the flow of
gourmands. Reservation, even on a midweek day, is a necessity!
We visited "Le Chatillon" on a weekday in November without reservation.
Because we were quite early, it was just before 12.00AM, we were
fortunate to be offered the last free table in the house, in a busy
corner. The next unannounced guests were'nt so lucky and had to leave
on an empty stomach.
We probably had the worst seat in the house, in the route of waiters
with trays of glasses and bottles, but nevertheless enjoyed the
exquisit fish dish. The portions were large, the service, despite the
cacophonous bustle, friendly and correct. We were sorry not to be able
to dine on the ground floor, in the old "bar", where everything is just
that little bit more "real", with lots of dark wood and brass, as one
could imagine a marine environment.
The clientele of Le Chatillon still exists in part of workmen in sticky
jumpsuits, but office people and day trippers are also welcome. An
experience not to forget.
Recommended are the "Menu du Jour", which varies from day to day,
depending on the season and the fish landed. The specialty of the house
is a "bouillabaisse" with North Sea fish, but for those looking for
something simpler the marinated herring is not to be despised.
Le Chatillon has recently got an internet
one can now make an online reservation!