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Cancale, Brittany

5 Jul 2003 by JR

The little seaside town of Cancale is my idea of the perfect tourist destination for oysters, fish, history and memories.

The memories go back to 1966. As an unhappy teenager I was on a language exchange with a French family when I would much rather have been at home watching the World Cup. But the family took me on an outing to Mont St Michel and stirred my interest in medieval French history and architecture.

Ten years later I was back on the same coast and introduced to fish cooking north-western French style. My hosts, a shipping company by then, were somewhat surprised that I ordered the same meal on two consecutive nights but at that stage in my culinary development a plateau de fruits de mer, sea bass and iles flottantes was my idea of heaven - an opinion that has not really changed over the years.

But the combination of Cancale and the cooking of Olivier Roellinger have subsequently been revealed as the really great attractions of this stretch of Channel coast.

Cancale is for oyster lovers, a bustling, small town given over to the production of these fantastic molluscs and scores of small bars, cafes and restaurants where you can eat them ridiculously cheaply and, if you are as keen on them as I, spend an afternoon in an oyster museum.

And here too are the outposts of chef Olivier Roellinger who has so skilfully combined the history, natural resources and setting of the region to offer extreme comfort, exciting food and great views across the bay to Mont St Michel.

What distinguishes Roellinger's cooking - over and above the quality of the fish, shellfish, lamb which feeds on the salty marshes nearby and the produce of the surrounding countryside - is the twist which he brings to his food by connecting it to the more recent history of the region.

Two hundred years ago nearby St Malo was the entrepôt for the spice trade from the East Indies to the fashion-conscious court of Louis XIV in Paris where boats carrying pepper, ginger, cinammon and cloves were unloaded. Roellinger combines these, the lamb and the abundant fish into a style which he describes as 'neither French nor Breton but St Malo'.

And Cancale is not that difficult to get to, by boat, car or train although, as with all memorable holiday destinations, it is much more difficult to leave. My next visit would, however, be tinged with some sadness as it was along this coast earlier this year that bread pioneer Lionel Poilâne died alongside his wife in a helicopter accident. So before tucking into the first of what I hoped would be several plates of oysters, I would raise a glass to his memory.

Olivier Roellinger
Maison de Bricourt, 1 rue Duguesclin, Cancale 35260
tel +33 (0)2 99 89 64 76

Restaurant Of The Week

Best brunch in London?

Changes started appearing at Sally Clarke's 15-year-old highly personal restaurant, café and shop near Notting Hill Gate over a year ago when the restaurant started to open on Saturday evenings, the rigid four-course dinner menu was relaxed and the café began to spill into the shop. Ms Clarke and her team never, however, took their collective eye off the quality of whatever they were serving.

They have now turned these talents to Saturday brunch and now offer what can only be described as the best brunch in town.

Everything gets a twist for the better. Freshly squeezed juices include pink grapefruit and navel and blood orange; a strong Bloody Mary comes with celery fleur du sel and lime or there is a Danish Mary with Aquavit and lemon; and Prosecco with crème de pêche.

Suitably fortified, you can move on to the Full Organic Monty - Lincolnshire sausages, Ambivale smoked bacon, fried egg and oven-dried vine tomatoes - or other brunch classics such as eggs Royale with organic smoked salmon or eggs Benedict with crisp pancetta. But my advice is be adventurous and head instead for their rendition of Welsh Rarebit, with Montgomery's 18-month-old Cheddar and watercress leaves, or a stunning open omelette with fava beans, peas, Jersey Royals and sour cream.

These less sweet brunch dishes also provide an excuse to finish off by sharing a plate of raspberry pancakes or buttermilk waffles with vanilla icecream. And an espresso or two.

The layout of the diningroom means that although children are welcome there is not much space for them to run about. But for adults who want to eat like children - perhaps the reason for brunch's enduring charm - there is nowhere classier.

Clarke's
124 Kensington Church Street, London W8 4BH
tel 020 7221 9225, web www.sallyclarke.com
Served 11-2 £10-15 a head

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