Good Food Blog
A French island for foodiesPosted at 11:25AM, 01 July 2008 by Mary Cadogan - Food writer
I'm writing this piece with great reluctance, as the small island of Ile de Re on France's Atlantic coast is still relatively undiscovered among British holidaymakers, and I selfishly would like it to stay that way.
We have just returned from a week's camping (no roughing it for me though, we had to take a trailer so we could fit in the fridge, half my kitchen, bikes, loungers and this year's acquisition, the collapsible wardrobe) and for the food lover it is paradise.
The whole island is dotted with little ports and harbours, beside which are pretty little restaurants offering dishes made with fish and shellfish that taste as if they have leapt straight out of the sea and into the pan. Oysters, crab, scallops, prawns, langoustines and clams all vie for your attention, and if you tire of these gems (as if), there is always a grilled John Dory (Dorade) red mullet or sea bass for a change.
This is definitely cycling for softies as there are no hills and you can make frequent pitstops for a restorative plate of oysters or a bowl of mussels.
This year we discovered Vanets, a local speciality which look a bit like small scallops but with delicate pinky-grey shells. We were lucky to find them as they are usually only in season in the early part of the year as they thrive in cool waters, so are one advantage of the prolonged cool spell we have endured lately. We cooked them in my big pot with a splash of white wine, garlic and parsley until the shells opened and ate them straight from the pan with loads of crusty bread and chilled Ile de Re white wine (thank goodness for the fridge!).
To really enjoy the island at its best you need a bike as the whole place is trellised with cycle lanes which take you through the vineyards, salt marshes and oyster beds that cover the place. This is definitely cycling for softies as there are no hills and you can make frequent pitstops for a restorative plate of oysters or a bowl of mussels. The best meal we had all week was at the La Rhetaise , a frankly scruffy-looking shack set in the salt marshes.
The menu couldn't be much shorter. You can have a plate of their own oysters, a steaming bowl of mussels or fish soup made to their own recipe or palourdes (small clams) steamed in white wine and drizzled with butter flavoured with parsley, tarragon and garlic. A generous tumbler of white wine and good bread are included in the very reasonable price, as is the feeling that all is well with the world as you cycle home for a siesta.
This island is all about simple pleasures and feeding the soul. Five- star hotel in Barbados? You can keep it.