One day in Dunkerque..

Last month, I went to Dunkerque, a port city just outside the border of Belgium and France. As usual it was for work, as my main destination was the Port of Dukerque to visit one of our clients. There was not really much time to go around after half a day on the road and half on the ship. Instead of going around town looking for a bar, me and my colleagues  decided to spend the night enjoying delicious French meals.

We found a restaurant via the Michelin guide called L ‘Estouffade with a perfect view of the marina and the beautiful modern building that houses a casino. It was almost full, only two tables were available and luckily we got the one that can sit three people. But the ambiance was so cozy, small but not crowded and the staff were so friendly even though we don’t speak French (well one of us did).

One standing feature of the restaurant was the painting on the ceiling. It’s easy to miss and until you are seated and waiting for appetizer could you really pay attention to it – a colorful painting of a woman on a shell, while two lovers are looking at her. That is the restaurant’s logo.

That young man black man on the left seemed to have been flaked on by his date.  He was already there when we arrived and left shortly before we left. Yes, we like making up stories about people in the restaurants. Fun, he?

The amuse was not very special. I think it was with red beet, some fruit and cream. It seems like a lot of good restaurants in Europe uses this a lot for amuse or is it just because the ingredients are always available?

I ordered foie gras served with rhubarb chutney for my apperizer. I know I promised not to eat it until I have gotten back to my previous weight but who could resist foie gras? Sadly, this one did not please my appetite. After all the foie gras I tasted in different restaurants in Belgium, Netherlands and France, I still would go back to Chef Gert Jan’s version with apples and calvados over at Restaurant Raven in Antwerp. I wasn’t able to finish this one. Thankfully, I have friends to share it with.

On the other hand, my colleague’s appetizer was more pleasing, shrimp croquette served with curry sauce.

By 8 in the evening, we were already so hungry that we couldn’t wait for the main course to arrive. Luckily, it didn’t take long for the kitchen to serve our orders. Being the “foodie” (matakaw) that I am, I had to have a small bite from everybody’s main course. The shrimp was a feast on the mouth. Served Asian-style with rice and sweet-chili sauce. I think the green sauce was avocado but I’m not sure anymore. Before the main course, I already had champagne which really doesn’t help understanding the translation of the menu.

Still not my main course but this lamb was so appetizing. I don’t normally  steak because I feel like violating a good one when I order it extra well done but even with the sight of blood dripping out of the meat, I enjoyed every little bite. Maybe it’s the sauce.

Finally, this is my main course – fish fried to golden perfection but it was the sauce, beurre blanc, that took me away. That is one sauce I wish I can make but unfortunately, I’m only good with Pinoy sauces. The fish and seafood were obviously made from the freshest ingredients because they don’t need so much sauces or much cooking to taste good…just the delicious taste of the sea. Meanwhile the lamb was soft, easy to chew on and the side dishes were also fresh and very appetizing.

Of course, I accompanied all these eating and tasting with lovely glasses of Henriot champagne and chardonnay, which the the young waiter was just too happy to refill while whispering softly on my ears that “it’s on the house” (he actually said it’s for me). Nothing like a young, French admiration.

I was so full from the main course that I begged off from the dessert and instead ordered a glass of whiskey. They served me one that I haven’t drank before, Lagavulin 16 years old, from the same island where Talisker and Laphroaig came from – Islay. I was so satisfied with the drink, which during that time of consumption tasted like Macallan 15. Unfortunately when I bought it in the Netherlands, drank it without the champagne and chardonnay, it tasted more like Laphroaig 12 years old, smokey and without the smoothness of Macallan. But the waitress at L ‘Estouffade served Lagavulin on a Macallan glass, a very pretty glass that I immediately wanted to bring home. If you remember my chicken story in Germany, I like buying things that fancy me from restaurants . Luckily, they gave me this glass for free.

For that hospitality alone, L ‘Estouffade (www.estouffade.com) is worth a visit next time you are in Dunkerque. The food is even a better reason.

Around the city centre

There was still a bit of work the next morning and after that we roamed around town to shop. Yes, that was the only thing that can be done in the three hours that we are free before heading back to Holland. So we went on our merry way to the town centre to find stores which are on sale. But not before passing a few historical buildings on the way.

St. Eloi is a 7th century church strategically located along the busy street of rue Clemenceau, where it can’t be missed by passer-by’s and commuters. On the church ground, on the north side, Dunkerque’s famous resident, Jean Bart is buried. Jean Bart has a historical tie with the Dutch fleet and it’s famous captain, Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, when both sailors robbed 130 ships of their wheat in 1969 to help his country’s food problem. Up until now, St. Eloi has maintained its  Gothic design and the beautiful glass work inside the church.

We also stopped by to admire the beautiful building of the Town Hall and it’s outstanding huge, blue doors. According to our “tour guide”, the city hall still carries its Dutch (Flemish) heritage and was even recognized in one of the flags flapping on its facade.

By the time we finished shopping on stores which are also in the Netherlands, everyone was hungry. Following the trail leading to the macaroon’s store which we didn’t find anyway, we were led to a neigbourhood pub and restaurant called La Royale at the end of Place Emile Bollaert. The only waitress there was a sweet, big momma who practically knows everyone who walks into the the restaurant. By 12:30 in the afternoon, lunch time for the employees working around the area, the restaurant was full from inside and out. She shakes hands, kiss and shout at her customers who were obviously also very fond of her.  Although she mixed our orders and gave me steak instead of fish, rice instead of French fries, I couldn’t get angry because she made sure that I got my drinks right.

Suffering a terrible headache from the alcohol of the night before, I beg off from the champagne and the wines. But there was a cocktail called Jean Bart (see above for reference) which I couldn’t resist. It was made with cherries, champagne and Mandarin Napoleon, a delicious combination, made even nicer with the cute story behind it.

You see this young boy mixing my champagne is obviously an amateur and a shy one at that. He must be about 17 or 18 and quite good looking. So this young boy was throwing glances and sweet smiles at me, who did not only got the attention of my colleagues but myself as well. Still a bit tipsy from my champagne, I returned the sweet smile and enjoy the way he blushes whenever I caught him looking at me *feeding my vanity here. Unfortunately, the young boy was also distracted so he only put 3 cherries and a looot of champagne on my glass.

“You’re just  giving her a glass of champagne!” the French waitress called out  to him when she saw my drink. So the boy took it back and mixed it the way it should be. It was a very refreshing drink and it seemed to have cured my hang-over.

If you are looking for an affordable, satisfying eat and taste Jean Bart cocktails, this is the place to go. They don’t have a website.

13 glasses of wine, 3 glasses of champagne

To end the Dunkerque visit, I insisted on visiting Carre Four, the French supermarket chain with only one purpose, hoard bottles of wines and champagne. In the Netherlands, good wines are very expensive (even though the wine countries are its neigbours) that I’d rather make a quick trip to France than buy it here. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time because of work. The wine aisle of Carre Four was my heaven for one hour, picking bottles after bottles like they were guavas in my backyard. It lasted two weeks for me and my husband.

Oh how I love France. If I can be in France everyday,  anywhere in France (except Paris). I’d be most happy.

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