Breton delight with Loïc Le Bail

That was new. For the first time we approach Brittany by sea. The night crossing with Brittany Ferries, which connects Cornwall with Brittany, was quiet. Already on board one is tuned in to the country and its people with gentle Brittany sounds. Just as soft as the wake-up call on board, however, the rain falls, enveloping the port of Roscoff in a murky gray.
(Click here for a detailed report on the passage with Brittany Ferries)

Der Hafen von Roscoff – Im Dunst auf dem Hügel ist die Kapelle Saint-Barbe zu sehen. Die Armorique auf ihren letzten Metern vor dem Anleger im Hafen von Roscoff / © Foto: Georg Berg
The port of Roscoff – In the haze on the hill the chapel Saint-Barbe can be seen. The Armorique on her last meters before the jetty in the port of Roscoff / © Photo: Georg Berg

Good that the first destination to study Breton cuisine is not far. The 4-star Hotel Brittany & Spa, a Relais & Châteaux establishment, is located right next to the old Sainte-Barbe chapel. From the hill of the chapel and also from many of the rooms in the Brittany & Spa, you have a magnificent view of the old harbor and the old town of Roscoff.

Blick über die Dächer des Brittany & Spa auf den Hafen und die Altstadt von Roscoff / © Foto: Georg Berg
View over the roofs of the Brittany & Spa to the harbor and the old town of Roscoff / © Photo: Georg Berg

Loïc Le Bail is a true Breton. He actually wanted to become a carpenter, absolutely wanted to do something with his hands and design. It was not easy to find a suitable apprenticeship. That’s when he was advised to learn how to be a chef. After all, that would be similar and definitely creative, using his hands. With Loïc, you quickly notice when you watch him in his kitchen, there is also a lot of intuition and passion. He can be just as enthusiastic about the smallest herb as he is about thick, blue-spotted lobsters from local waters.

Sternekoch Loïc Le Bail vom Brittany & Spa mit Hummer in der Hand / © Foto: Georg Berg
Star chef Loïc Le Bail of Brittany & Spa with lobster in hand / © Photo: Georg Berg

Fresh food paradise Roscoff

Loïc Le Bail has held a Michelin star at the Brittany & Spa hotel’s restaurant since 2009, and he’s been a chef in that kitchen for an incredible 27 years. So not only does he walk through his kitchen realm with somnambulistic confidence, but he also knows his producers inside out. We notice this when he packs us into his van and takes us off to the fresh produce paradise of Roscoff.

Barely a kilometer into the journey, we are already at the fish wholesaler Gaby Béganton. This is where Loïc Le Bail gets his fish and seafood. It’s Saturday and the fish department is closed, but they still let us into the hall for crustaceans and other sea creatures.

Der Sternekoch Loïc Le Bail krempelt selbst die Ärmel hoch und greift ins Hummerbecken / © Foto: Georg Berg
Michelin-starred chef Loïc Le Bail rolls up his own sleeves and reaches into the lobster tank / © Photo: Georg Berg

Loïc walks between the basins, rolls up the sleeve of his jacket, fearlessly reaches into the water and shows us the specialties: including huge lobsters from the cold waters of the Atlantic, but also exotic fellows, such as a small African lobster, of which Loïc does not think so much in terms of taste. His attention is focused on the local varieties. Roscoff is a crab and lobster area. Much of the tank is filled with crabs. As we enter the hall, a truck filled with crabs, lobsters and langoustines is just leaving the loading dock. It still has to reach the Armorique of the Brittany Ferries for its destination England, with which we came today.

Beladen mit Wassertanks voller Meeresfrüchte muss der Laster noch schnell die Fähre nach England erreichen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Loaded with water tanks full of seafood, the truck still has to quickly reach the ferry to England / © Photo: Georg Berg

Loïc draws our attention to another specialty, Ormeau, the abalone, a type of snail often mistaken for a clam because of its pearly shell. The muscle meat of the abalone is considered a delicacy. The price per kilo is 30 euros. They are served deep-fried. However, Loïc limits, they are excellent in taste only from November to March.

Ormeau, das Seeohr sieht aus wie eine Muschel, ist aber eine ungewundene Schnecke / © Foto: Georg Berg
Ormeau, the abalone looks like a mussel, but is an untwisted snail / © Photo: Georg Berg

And so the marine expertise continues with star chef Le Bail. Animal after animal he pulls out of the water and explains the special features. He strolls through this paradise of freshness, enjoying the privilege that his region offers him such a wide variety of the best products free of charge.

Die Langusten sind nicht nur frisch, sie schlagen auch sehr energisch mit dem Schwanz / © Foto: Georg Berg
The lobsters are not only fresh, they also beat their tails very energetically / © Photo: Georg Berg

Allow me: Camus from the thistle family

After the sea, it’s off to the countryside. We continue to a farmer who also has his farm not far from the restaurant. There are artichokes in the fields all around. Their harvest season has just begun and goes from May to November.

Sternekoch Loïc Le Bail führt Angela Berg in das Artischockenfeld / © Foto: Georg Berg
Star chef Loïc Le Bail leads Angela Berg into the artichoke field / © Photo: Georg Berg

Artichokes thrive very well in Brittany’s comparatively mild climate due to the warm Gulf Stream. Around 5,000 family farms have joined together to form a cooperative in the Finistère region. They call their vegetable thistle Camus, which means snub nose, because of its large, ball-like shape.

Pfützen sind kein Hindernis zwischen den Köstlichkeiten, die in den Gewächshäusern der Bretagne heranwachsen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Puddles are no obstacle between the delicacies growing in the greenhouses of Brittany / © Photo: Georg Berg

We trudge across the muddy field. Loïc knows where the strawberries are, in which greenhouse the zucchinis are just blooming and that the season for cauliflower is coming to an end. A chef completely in tune with the treasures of his region.

Sternekoch  Loïc Le Bail überzeugt sich zusammen mit Angela Berg von der Qualität der Zucchini im Gewächshaus / © Foto: Georg Berg
Star chef Loïc Le Bail and Angela Berg check the quality of the zucchini in the greenhouse / © Photo: Georg Berg

Small leaf – big taste

Our third supplier stop is Loïc’s friend Patrice Mallegol. Mallegol’s greenhouses are home to tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, green beans and the pink onion, another Roscoff botanical celebrity.

Patrice Mallegol wässert jede einzelne Pflanze / © Foto: Georg Berg
Patrice Mallegol waters each plant / © Photo: Georg Berg

But Loïc’s soft spot is the herbs. He leads us through the rows of tables in the greenhouse, incessantly plucking little leaves for us to taste. Or he calls out to his friend Patrice to go get the red shiso and the green mustard.

Patrice Mallegol läd Loïc Le Bail und Angela Berg zur Kräuterdegustation / © Foto: Georg Berg
Patrice Mallegol invites Loïc Le Bail and Angela Berg to a herb tasting / © Photo: Georg Berg

The tiny leaves contain concentrated aroma. Loïc Le Bail uses the aromatic spectrum of the herbs, which sometimes taste like radish, green mustard, kohlrabi, beet or cress. Later, we will see that the herbs, like a painter’s palette of colors, are at the ready in his kitchen to give the dishes a more than decorative finish.

In der Küche sind alle Kräuter fein geschnitten für ihren Einsatz vorbereitet / © Foto: Georg Berg
In the kitchen, all the herbs are finely chopped ready for their use / © Photo: Georg Berg

Algae – vegetables from the sea

This morning excursion to the surrounding suppliers of the Brittany & Spa was a very convincing demonstration of the kitchen philosophy of the house. Back in the kitchen, Loïc introduces us to yet another typically Breton ingredient that is in season in the spring: Nori, dulse, kombu or sea lettuce, seaweed is the vegetable from the sea and is used as an accent in Breton cuisine.

Jede Algensorte hat in der Küche von Sternekoch Loïc Le Bail ihren Spezialeinsatz / © Foto: Georg Berg
Each type of seaweed has its special use in the kitchen of star chef Loïc Le Bail / © Photo: Georg Berg

Many seaweeds are harvested directly from the sea in Roscoff. Several local companies specialize in seaweed: from thalassotherapy, the external application of seaweed, to the production of delicacies such as seaweed tartar, chutneys or dried seaweed for use in the kitchen.

Loic LeBail mit Souchef Kazunori Tanigawa / © Foto: Georg Berg
Loic LeBail with Souchef Kazunori Tanigawa / © Photo: Georg Berg

We will always encounter seaweed in Loïc Le Bail’s dishes. What’s more, his Japanese sous chef Kazunori Tanigawa has considerable expertise in sea vegetables, and the Breton and the Japanese exchange ideas on the preparation techniques and processing of seaweed.

“Le coup de feu – Hot phase in the kitchen”.

Der Crunch liegt für den Service bereit und wie ein Kapitän auf der Brücke hat Chefkoch Loïc Le Bail den Durchblick in der Küche, die nach seinen Vorstellungen geplant worden ist / © Foto: Georg Berg
The crunch is ready for service and, like a captain on the bridge, chef Loïc Le Bail has a clear view of the kitchen, which has been planned according to his ideas / © Photo: Georg Berg

The restaurant is full and orders are called every minute. No wonder, because Loïc Le Bail’s star cuisine has spread as far as Paris. And if, like us, you’ve had the chance to take a look behind the scenes and observe Loïc Le Bail in his kitchen – which, by the way, he completely redesigned years ago according to his own ideas – then it’s no wonder that he has a loyal regular clientele. There is no sign of the tension in the kitchen in the restaurant. All six cooks are highly concentrated and well attuned to each other. The handovers to service go hand in hand.

Journalistin Angela Berg mit Souchef Kazunori Tanigawa der seine hauchdünnen Orangencracker präsentiert / © Foto: Georg Berg
Journalist Angela Berg with Souchef Kazunori Tanigawa, who presents his wafer-thin orange crackers / © Photo: Georg Berg

The restaurant is only open in the evening. You can order á la carte or choose between the Plaisir menu for 58 euros, the Tentation menu for 72 euros or the Saveur menu for 92 euros. All menus are currently under the heading “The spring cuisine of Loïc Le Bail”. The implementation of regional and seasonal ingredients, which we had the opportunity to visit in the morning, is brilliant in every respect. The restaurant offers a beautiful view of the old port of Roscoff as well as the offshore Ile de Batz through the many window arches of the salon from each of the 20 or so tables. Tables are spaced generously, and service is attentive and friendly. The restaurant is always fully booked on weekends during the season. In addition to hotel guests, there are many regular customers.

All good things come in threes

Drei Amuse Bouches gibt es vorneweg: Spargeleis, Krabbensüppchen, Gänseleberpastete / © Foto: Georg Berg
Three amuse bouches are served first: asparagus ice cream, crab soup, foie gras / © Photo: Georg Berg

After five kinds of bread have already been served with the onion butter with the famous pink onions from Roscoff, a salvo of three greetings comes from the kitchen. Especially exciting, the asparagus ice cream with olive oil. For us, who grew up with steaming asparagus spears served with hollandaise sauce, this cold version is a real revelation. The creamy and intense asparagus ice cream sits in a rhubarb cream and is studded with an octopus chip. Next to it is a crab soup with fresh orange flesh and a foie gras pate frothy and delicate with roasted onions. What a prelude!

Krabbenfleisch aus Roscoff, Sellerie, Granny Apfel, Algen-Sellerie-Cracker / © Foto: Georg Berg
Roscoff crabmeat, celery, granny apple, seaweed celery cracker / © Photo: Georg Berg

Appetizers

The two appetizers then reflect very well the focus on regional and particularly fresh products. The arrangement of crab meat with celery and green apple is poured on the table with a warm crab sauce. You can already see the variety of textures in the dish. The soft and cool crab meat with celery and apple alternates with the crunchy components like the cracker made with celery and seaweed. We experience a great kick of freshness and a first reunion with the variety of herbs from the greenhouse.

Ein Gemälde aus Frische und Crunch: Makrele und Blumenkohl. Die Makrele wurde in Aceto Balsamico mariniert und kommt mit einer Salatcreme, einem Cracker aus schwarzer Tinte vom Oktopus, rohem Blumenkohl, gedünsteten Frühlingszwiebeln und Buchweizen-Crunch / © Foto: Georg Berg
A painting of freshness and crunch: mackerel and cauliflower. The mackerel has been marinated in aceto balsamico and comes with a salad cream, an octopus black ink cracker, raw cauliflower, sauteed scallions and buckwheat crunch / © Photo: Georg Berg

Main courses

The first main course also features many of the region’s specialties. The brill, a firm slightly bitter white fish is combined with baby artichokes. These are in turn filled with a sensational algae tartar made from dulse (a type of red algae) and raspberries.

Glattbutt (Bril) mit Dulse-Himbeere Tartar und gepfefferter Babyartischocke / © Foto: Georg Berg
Brill (bril) with dulse-raspberry tartare and peppered baby artichoke / © Photo: Georg Berg.

The second main course is a feast for the eyes. Monkfish with bean mousse, cauliflower, baby artichokes and aged balsamic. The wine from Bourgogne, a 2013 Premier Cru from Olivier Leflaire complements the dish with its citrus notes.

Seeteufel in Fassbutter geröstet mit grünen Bohnen, Kaffernlimetten und Johannisbeeren / © Foto: Georg Berg
Monkfish roasted in barrel butter with green beans, kaffir limes and currants / © Photo: Georg Berg.

Jeremy Schott – an Alsatian in Brittany

At this point, a word about the sommelier of the house. Jeremy Schott is from Alsace and grew up with Edelzwicker and Gewürztraminer. But in his role as sommelier in Brittany, he draws from all the wonderful wine regions France has to offer. His recommendations can be followed without reservation. He provides the dishes with a finely balanced wine accompaniment.

Wonderfully varied and always to the point: Sommelier Schott’s wine selection acts like another food ingredient. The Montagny 1er Cru, a biodynamically produced white wine from Burgundy contributed citrus notes, the fat mackerel was blended with the very fresh Riesling, Agapé Expression from Alsace, The suckling pig with red cabbage and algae confit gets a 1995 Chateau de Dauphine, appellation Fronsac with smoky notes and aromas of strawberries and mushrooms to the side. The rosemary sorbet with orange slice and homemade butter cake is accompanied by an apple liqueur from Manoir de Kinkiz in Brittany.

So with the slightly bitter brill, there was a 2014 Clos de Coulaire from the Sarennières appellation, which has aromas of fennel greens. To accompany the crab from Roscoff, he chose a white wine from Touraine. The 2014 Justine Barbou, tastes incredibly fresh and green and one also discovers peppery notes.

The control center of the heavenly desserts.

Die wunderschönen Desserts wie dieser Schockokuchen mit Timut Pfeffer an Tonka Eis werden von Florent Jestin dekoriert / © Foto: Georg Berg
The beautiful desserts like this shocko cake with Timut pepper on tonka ice cream are decorated by Florent Jestin / © Photo: Georg Berg.

In the dessert department, things are building to heights. A tarte chocolate in the shape of a cylinder and flavored with Nepalese Timut pepper is decorated with a filigree and shiny gold sugar hoop. At its feet is a milk ice cream with tonka bean and fruit. Sommelier Schott offers a Gewürztraminer with exotic fruit notes from his homeland to accompany it.

Dessert aus Mara des Bois Erdbeeren. Ein dreigeschossiges Erdbeerdessert mit Etagenböden aus Krokant-Chips und einem Erdbeer-Sorbet auf Rhabarber-Vervene-Mousse verziert mit einem Erdbeer-Algen Chipsmag man gar nicht mit seinem Löffel unterwandern, so schön ist es anzusehen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Dessert of Mara des Bois strawberries. A three-tiered strawberry dessert with tiers of brittle chips and a strawberry sorbet on rhubarb vein mousse decorated with a strawberry algae chip one may not even infiltrate with his spoon, so beautiful it is to look at / © Photo: Georg Berg

The relaxed chef and the attentive guest

And again, the team of Loïc Le Bail has done it and made his guests happy and satisfied with beautiful creations and real culinary art. It is noticeable how attentive the guests were with their food. They take time to look and also taste while eating, to grasp textures and flavor compositions. So at the end of a dinner, all the tension also falls away from the kitchen team.

Angela Berg und Michelin Star Chef Loïc Le Bail, nach dem Dinner, lachend / © Foto: Georg Berg
Angela Berg and Michelin Star Chef Loïc Le Bail, laughing after dinner / © Photo: Georg Berg

All the evening’s order slips done in one spot: Kazunori is now completely relaxed. The work done, the guests happy and the next day is a Monday – so free!

Kazunori Tanigawa nach getaner Arbeit / © Foto: Georg Berg
Kazunori Tanigawa after work is done / © Photo: Georg Berg

Only in the summer months during the high season is the restaurant open on all weekdays. On Mondays, there is only simple cuisine, Loïc reveals. When the team is off and he is alone in the kitchen, there is only lobster. Fantastic, with us one would prepare a stew as a simple dish – in Brittany there is then lobster!

A house with a truly eventful history

The townscape of Roscoff is characterized by sand-colored granite stone houses, around the church they are particularly magnificent and date back to the time of the corsairs. These pirates were allowed to plunder with state permission and thus laid the foundation for the former wealth of the town.

Von weitem gut zu erkennen ist der schöne Renaissance-Turm der Kirche Notre-Dame-de-Kroaz-Baz / © Foto: Georg Berg
The beautiful Renaissance tower of the Notre-Dame-de-Kroaz-Baz church is clearly visible from afar / © Photo: Georg Berg

Our hotel, however, has a history all its own, as the imposing granite structure of the Brittany & Spa stood a few miles away in Morbiaux until 1972 and was part of a 15th-century estate. The grandfather of the current owner, Chapalain, had it rebuilt stone by stone at the foot of the Sainte Barbe chapel. However, the decisive factor for this somewhat crazy idea was not the beautiful view over the old harbor, but the attractive location to the commercial port. Because the trade in goods and also tourism with Great Britain took off with the ferry company Brittany Ferries, and upscale visitors and business people were to be served with appropriate accommodation.

An der Uferpromenade mit kleinem Sandstrand liegt das Relais & Chateaux Hotel Brittany & Spa / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Relais & Chateaux Hotel Brittany & Spa is located on the promenade with a small sandy beach. / © Photo: Georg Berg

Today, the Brittany & Spa consists of the Manoir, the old building from the 15th century, and the new building completed in August 2016. There are 29 rooms and 4 suites. The symbiosis between old and new has been well achieved. The imposing entrance hall of the old building created a smooth transition into the new building. Guests can choose between rooms with old building flair but ultra-modern bathrooms as well as the new rooms, which all have terrace or balcony with sea view.

Brittany & Spa – Wellness, Detox and Seawater

Nach ihrer Entspannungsmassage unterhält sich Axelle Melenec mit Angela Berg / © Foto: Georg Berg
After her relaxing massage, Axelle Melenec chats with Angela Berg / © Photo: Georg Berg

Since 2007, the Relais & Châteaux house carries the addition Spa. Since then, guests, as well as day visitors, have had access to a swimming pool, a hammam and a wide range of beauty and massage treatments. We meet Axelle Melenec. She works exclusively with care products from the sea.

Of course, these are also the local seaweed. Similarly local as the ingredients of the cuisine, the care products come from the company Thalion, whose production plant is only 30 kilometers away. Axelle’s massages work with seaweed extract and seaweed wraps. Their relaxing massages go deep. Beauty is also helped from the inside. After the treatments, the stay at the spa always ends with an algae tea with goji berries and hibiscus.

Already for breakfast, Le Brittany & Spa offers a wonderful detox potion. Chef Loïc Le Bail personally adds variety, offering iced vegetable juices like red cabbage/green apple or celery/cauliflower/green apple.

Ein Ritual in der Rezeption des Brittany & Spa: Karaffe mit Meerwasser und Zitrone / © Foto: Georg Berg
A ritual at the reception of the Brittany & Spa: carafe of sea water and lemon / © Photo: Georg Berg.

In the afternoon, guests will always find a carafe of seawater and lemon in the entrance hall. Again, Loìc Le Bail has set the mixing ratio of salt and fresh water so that it is pleasantly salty and has an invigorating and appetizing effect. It’s a nice way to set the mood for an upcoming dinner at Le Brittany & Spa’s restaurant.

Thinking outside the box

Roscoff is more than just the port that connects England and France.
It’s well worth a stop here. Roscoff is a former privateer town. At low tide, the old harbor basin is not navigable. To make the offshore island of Ile de Batz accessible regardless of the tides, a jetty was built that extends far into the sea.

Hunderte Meter kann man in Roscoff auf einem Anlegesteg über Wasser laufen bis das Wasser tief genug für die kleinen Fährschiffe zur vorgelagerten Insel Batz ist / © Foto: Georg Berg
In Roscoff, you can walk hundreds of meters over water on a jetty until the water is deep enough for the small ferries to the offshore island of Batz / © Photo: Georg Berg

But Roscoff has much more to offer: An exotic garden, Thalasso therapy and “Algoplus”, a company offering food and marine cosmetics made from algae, which can also be visited, deserve special mention. The town is also home to the Station Bioloegique de Roscoff, one of the largest and most important research and teaching institutes for marine biology in Europe.

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