By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Rouen timber houses
Rouen is the second largest city in Normandy located on the banks of the Seine River, 37 miles away from the English Channel. ”La Fête du Ventre” -roughly meaning The Belly Celebration- was created in 1935 to promote Normandy food and cuisine. Every year during the third weekend of October -this year, October 15th and 16th– the old town centre is invaded by stalls proposing heaps of tempting local specialities. Get set for a fulfilling city break in Rouen.
Rouen is world famous for being the town where Joan of Arc nineteen years old was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, where Impressionists especially Claude Monet painted unforgettable works and where life is good and sweet. Rouen also is a beautiful city known for its gorgeous cathedral and its numerous churches – Rouen is also called the “City with one hundred church towers-, its typical timbered houses, its lively pedestrian centre proudly called the “largest French outdoor shopping centre” by locals and of course its outstanding food culture.
During the “Fête du Ventre” the busy shopping Rollon Street and the “Place du Marché” – the Market Square- are filled by hungry visitors. On the Place du Marché don’t miss the tall cross showing where Joan was burned and next to it a spectacular modern church built in 1979 reusing remarkable 16th century stained glass. Dressed in traditional costumes local producers and farmers will invite you to taste and buy typical Normandy delights such as local apple strains, cheese, cider, pommeau, Calvados, foie gras, snails, honey, chocolate, jams, cakes, biscuits… You will be able to drink beer and cider made on the spot, and eat specialities cooked in the stalls by local chefs. Do taste a Douillon made with a whole hollow apple filled with jam, wrapped in puff pastry and cooked in a hot oven. Even better, if you eat it warm with a nice cup of tea or coffee. You can also have a Mirliton a yummy tartlet filled with a vanilla, orange blossom and almond cream.
The Duclair duck, king of the party!
If there were only one speciality to taste it would undoubtedly be the “Canard au Sang”, the Rouen duckling also called pressed duck, the iconic local recipe. It was created in the early 19th century by Père Denise, a former innkeeper at Duclair a nearby village of the Seine Valley. Pressed duck is serious business here with an official “Order of the Duck”! This association was founded in 1986 and is made out of two categories members, the “Masters Canardiers” and the gentlemen and ladies Canardiers. The Master Canardier is a professional who has been through a demanding training during which he or she learned how to make the pressed duck following very specific rules.
In Rouen good restaurants pressed duck must be prepared at your table and served by a Master Canardier. Right on the Place du Marché you can go to “La Couronne” being sure that you will get one of the best if not the best Canard au Sang in town. “La Couronne” (The Crown) was founded in 1345 and is thus the oldest inn in France. It is set in a beautiful timber house and has six different rooms and lounges decorated in a typical Normandy style where you will enjoy your meal in a warm and cosy atmosphere. When weather allows you can also dine on the outside terrace and enjoy the lively Place du Marché ambiance.
Countless famous people have dined at “La Couronne”. Escoffier, known as the “king of cooks and cook of the kings”, Julia Child the renowned American chef who introduced butter into her recipes after having lunch at “La Couronne”. The menu she and her husband enjoyed at that time is still served today. This iconic character was played by Meryl Streep in the movie “July & Julia”. Many artists and politicians came for diner here such as Dali, John Wayne, Brigitte Bardot, Grace of Monaco, Lord Louis Mountbatten…
We had the great pleasure to enjoy a pressed duck at “La Couronne” and will remember this dinner – or should I say “show”- as a unique experience. The duckling was entirely prepared right in front of our table by the Master Canardier. He came to our table pushing a trolley with an impressive old silver press and a portable stove to prepare the duck. It truly was a show with all the other guests of the restaurant staring!
First the duckling is quickly roasted but not fully cooked. The fillets and legs are skilfully removed to be prepared separately. The carcass, the liver and the skin are placed into a special duck press to get the duck’s “juice”. This juice is blended with red Burgundy wine, Calvados, minced shallots, the duck’s liver and butter to make a fantastic gravy sauce.
The fillets are chopped then flambé with Calvados and topped with the sauce. We then enjoyed the first service of our pressed duck served with vegetable. A true delight! To make some room for the rest of our meal we next had a “trou normand”. The “trou normand” or “Normandy hole” is a small glass of Calvados that is said to help empty your stomach and make room for the rest of the meal! At “La Couronne” they have improved the recipe and we had a delicious pear sorbet topped with a drop of Calvados. I don’t know if it effectively emptied our stomach but it tasted great. Next the legs and wings were served as fritters with a salad. Crunchy and delicious!
Believe it or not we still had room for dessert! Frederic had an impressive Calvados soufflé and I enjoyed a marvellous crème brulée with Tonka bean.
For more information and booking go to www.lacouronne-rouen.co.uk
Rouen is a beautiful city with plenty to do and see and an ideal destination for an autumn city break. The “Fête du Ventre” is a great opportunity to discover this lively French town.
During our city break in Rouen we stayed a few days at the five-star Autograph Collection Hotel Bourgtheroulde by Marriott. Set in a magnificent Renaissance building right in the old town centre, this hotel is the best option in Rouen for demanding guests. We will tell you more about this hotel in an upcoming article.
More about the Bourgtheroulde Hotel at www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/uroak-hotel-de-bourgtheroulde-autograph-collection/overview/
More about Rouen at www.en.rouentourisme.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos: ©Frederic de Poligny or ©Annick Dournes
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