I wouldn’t say it to his face, but Alexandre Gauthier is France’s answer to Rick Stein. Both are chefs. Both are synonymous with one small town. For Stein, it’s Padstow, in Cornwall — “Padstein” — the epicentre of his culinary empire for 40 years. Gauthier, 36, has his gastrohub in Montreuil-sur-Mer, which, despite being over the Channel, is quicker to get to for many Britons (assuming it’s not another bad day for Calais delays). Take the train, or make it a booze run by ferry, for the perfect foodie weekend.
Gauthier — who grew up and still lives just outside town, in the hamlet of La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil — opened his third restaurant, Anecdote, in February. It was an instant hit with the locals, who pile into the hip, high-ceilinged dining room for bowls of monkfish stew in a cream broth with crisp baby vegetables (mains from £13; anecdote-restaurant.com).
He also has a more casual restaurant, Froggy’s Tavern, run by his wife, Magali, which opened in 2007. The couple converted a disused grain barn into an all-day communal dining room specialising in spit-roasted lamb, rabbit and sucking pig (mains from £11; www.froggystavern.com).
The Gauthier empire is no flash in the pan. It began in 1979, when Alexandre’s father, Roland, opened La Grenouillère. He won a Michelin star five years later, putting this town of 2,000 people on the map. At the age of 23, Alexandre took the reins, earning his own star as well as the maximum “five hats” from the Gault & Millau guide. The old cottage houses the snug bar; the subtly lit fine-dining room is in a more modern extension that has garden views. Fill your boots with a nine- or 11-course tasting menu of minimalist French cooking (from £70; lagrenouillere.fr).
Fine dining at La GrenouillèreFine dining at La Grenouillère “In the past, my friends from Montreuil would go for dinner on the coast in Le Touquet,” says Tim Matthews, a long-time resident who opened the town’s coolest hotel, Maison 76, in April. “Now, those from Le Touquet are coming to Montreuil.”
You won’t be disappointed eating at any of the trio of Gauthier establishments, but you’ll want to see more than menus and restaurant interiors. Luckily, Montreuil survived both world wars intact, so, within the medieval ramparts, shuttered townhouses and mansions from the 18th and 19th centuries line cobbled lanes, all of which seem to lead back to the main square. This is, admittedly, a slightly unlovely (though free) car park, but on Saturdays it’s transformed into a food market. It’s all reassuringly local. There are no chains or branded coffee shops, and everyone greets each other with a morning wave of a baguette.
The food, too, doesn’t stop with the Gauthiers. On the main square, don’t miss the trad bar-brasserie Le Caveau for its bestselling Le Welsh, a baked egg adrift on a sea of melted cheese that hides a layer of beer-soaked bread. Die-hards have it with chips (from £8). Just as artery-clogging is flammekueche, the “pizza from Alsace”, a light base topped with crème fraîche, cheese, ham and onions (£9). If you’ve come here by car, you should leave with your boot full of booze: Montreuil is home to the French showroom of the British not-for-profit club The Wine Society. Buying here means it’s duty-free — and the weak euro means even more plonk for your pound. The excellent white burgundy is £7 a bottle (thewinesociety.com).
For that extra-special occasion, Vinophilie has vintages that date back nearly 60 years, and magnums of fizz for the price of a bottle back home (vinophilie.com). Pick up some cheese while you’re here — try the cute, long-established Caseus (28 Place du Général de Gaulle).
Swish new hotels, shops and restaurants are arriving in Gauthier’s wake, but Montreuil still feels like a little foodie French town full of local soul — and, unlike Padstow, you can find a parking space, even in summer.Hotels
Maison 76, is a hôtel de charme in an 18th-century townhouse, with antiques, a garden, a summerhouse and a pool (doubles from £99, B&B, maison76.com).
For white-gloved service, try the Château de Montreuil (doubles from £160; chateaudemontreuil.com). Otherwise, there’s the 16th-century inn Les Hauts de Montreuil (doubles from £60; leshautsdemontreuil.fr); or the bucolic town campsite (from £11 a night; campinglafontainedesclercs.fr).Trains and ferries
Eurostar returns from London St Pancras to Calais start at £72 (eurostar.com); then take the local TER train. Or take your car on Le Shuttle from Folkestone, or on a ferry from Dover with DFDS or P&O.
Laura Ivill was a guest of Maison 76 and Eurostar