Fine Dining in Northern France
Restaurant, oyster bar, traiteur and fishmonger
62520 Le Touquet
Le Touquet is often called "Paris-Plage". This seaside resort was very popular with wealthy Parisians, at he beginning of last century, witness the extravagant residences in Art Nouveau style.
It all starts on April 25, 1837, when notary Jean-Baptiste Daloze buys a plot, simply called "Le Touquet", for the princely sum of 120,000 francs. In return the wealthy Frenchman receives 4000 acres of dunes, to make a hunting ground of it. Daloze's fortune was made long ago and the man will reside more and more in his new domain, including the 2000 acres which he planted with pine trees. In 1874 Daloze invites the owner of the French newspaper "Le Figaro", Hippolyte de Villemessant, on his property for a hunting party. The newspaper magnate asks his friend why he doesn't convert his plot into a seaside resort. Daloze decides to follow his friends advise, and renames his domain "Paris-Plage".
The new resort is a challenge for the highest paid architects of the country and soon the reputation of "Le Touquet Paris-Plage" exceeds the country's borders. In 1894, visiting Englishman John R. Whitley noticed the new resort and its potential. Whitley has higher degrees from various universities, speaks four languages (English, French, German and Italian) and loves "project starts". From the heirs of Jean-Baptiste Daloze, he buys a plot near the seafront and establishes the "Mayville Company Ltd", supported by a committee of more than fifty members, including Louis Pasteur, Sarah Bernhardt and the Duke of Morny.
On December 16, 1902 Whitley buys the remaining 2,700 acres from the heirs of Daloze and obtains the majority of Le Touquet Paris-Plage. Whitley procures that by the end of the "golden years" 1920, just before the great stock market crash, most of the British glitterati have a cottage in Le Touquet. A private airport is opened and that is when the English smart set start "hopping" the English Channel to play golf, attend the races at the local "Horse Racing Course" or play an evening of big-spender in the casino. It is said that Ian Fleming was in Le Touquet when he found his inspiration for his fictional casino Royale-les-Eaux in the novel "Casino Royale" ...
Currently only 5500 souls (called Touquettois) live permanently in the resort, but during the holidays find the streets are thronged. Le Touquet also offers a large number of hotels, including some very exclusive, as the four star Westminster Hotel & Spa, with rooms with price tags up to €850 per night (+£700.00). The atmosphere at Le Touquet is hard to describe, you might label it as a kind of "miniature Monaco".
Amid all the exclusive boutiques and posh restaurants of Le Touquet, there is a restaurant famous for its ... soup. It was founded by Serge Pérard, born in 1921, who is nowadays nicknamed "the pope of fish soup". It all started during World War II, when this part of France was occupied by the Germans and there were very strict rules for fishing at sea. Serge Pérard went with his friend Maurice to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer to find if anything was worth picking up and found that despite the war and food shortages, the fish heads were nearly free.
Back home Serge boiled the fish heads and ate them with some potatoes. Later that night he tasted the broth left, added some herbs and onions to it and enjoyed his first fish soup.
For nearly 20 years Serge Pérard kept the fishsoup recipe for himself, while he gradually improved it to perfection, adding shellfish and saffron. In 1963 there was no fish-eating culture in France, but Serge Pérard decided to take the chance and opened the first fish restaurant in the country. His soup was a great success in the small Le Touquet and when the Parisian beau monde went back to work in the capital, after their holidays, they craved after the soup Pérard.
To meet that demand Serge spend some time in Paris, where he learned how his soup could be preserved. From then on, the fish soup of Pérard is for sale in sterilized jars. First on a small scale in the kitchen of the restaurant on Rue de Metz, but meanwhile, nearly half a century later, there are about ten thousand jars a day made in a factory on the outskirts of Le Touquet. Pérard once wanted to transfer his soup business to the fishing port of Boulogne, but the city of Le Touquet called it a "landmark" and offered Pérard a piece of land. The soup of Pérard is exported to over twenty countries, even to Saudi Arabia, where it is very popular!
The Pérard restaurant is still on the same site as in 1963, on 67 rue de Metz. The interior hasn't changed in style and feel in all those years, with its pink tablecloths, orange chandeliers and copper decoration it is like a time machine. The dining room seats up to eighty gourmets.
Besides the restaurant there is a fish and an oyster bar. It happens that yours truly drives the 100 Miles to Le Touquet only to buy a nice fat fresh sole, preferably well over 750 grams... The quality of the fish and the friendliness and expertise of the fishmongers at Pérard make the journey worth it.
Serge Pérard passed away on 12/03/2013, aged 93, but his business is still on. Pérard has worked hard for it and for his soup and his motto is:
"I'm not rich, but my soup is"
Since I've written this page, I've had a number of dinners at Pérards. Each time I've enjoyed the delicious fish soup (à volonté!) and was never disappointed.
If you want real value for money, I can recommend the menu of the day: a three course meal (starter + main course + dessert) whereby the fish soup can be chosen as a starter.
(Currently -april 2018- at 28 Euros p.p. )
The main course with this menu is the 'fish of the day' (what else would you expect in France's oldest fish restaurant?) The dessert can be chosen from the card.
Warning: the first time I choose this menu, I was seduced by the waitress... to have a second and third
portion of soup. The result was that I was unable to finish my dessert: an enormous 'île flottante'. This 'floating island' was the largest one I've ever had in any French restaurant. Since then I've learned to restrain myself and nowadays I keep it to only one extra portion of soup, no matter how sweet the waitress might be :-)
Pérard have a new website, and since the restaurant is quite popular, it is highlty advisable to make a reservation. Especially during school holidays and weekends.
Fishmonger, Oyster Bar, traiteur and Restaurant
67 rue de Metz
62520 Le Touquet