While many may be skeptical as to whether Calais merits the status of a cultural destination, the fact that its easily accessible from London, Paris and Belgium makes it the ideal place to experience ocean views and fine cuisine on the French coastline. Whether you’re staying for a weekend or grabbing a bite to eat on your journey, these are the restaurants which are sure to convince you that Calais is more than just a port.
With its leafy terrace and azure-blue shopfront, brasserie Au Calice wouldn’t look out of place on one of the side streets of Montmartre. Inside, the restaurant is equally charming, with stained glass and vintage décor. The cozy atmosphere and affordable food has made it a favourite of locals and visitors and the menu offers a selection of Flemish food, as well as escargots, foie gras and a selection of fruits de la mer. To make a change from local wines, don’t forget to sample the homemade brew.
Au Goût du Jour is immediately evocative of France; much like the theme music of the SNCF stations and the scent of Nutella filled crêpes on a street corner. While the menu is not extensive, it’s typical of small French restaurants in that it prepares a limited quantity of top quality dishes in house, such as gratiné de la mer and filet de bar. The menu at the family owned restaurant starts at just 11€ for two courses, making it one of the best value menus in Calais. One unmissable dish is the dessert platter, which offers a liberal selection of the restaurants best desserts.
Seafood restaurant Au Côte d’Argent provides an oasis of calm where diners can experience spectacular views of the coast and channel traffic. Proprietors Bertrand and Sabine Lefebvre value freshness and quality above all, and unmissable dishes include local fish prepared in a classically French style, such as freshly caught turbot in hollandaise sauce and a bouillabaisse of monkfish and red snapper. Along with Aquar’aile, Histoire Ancienne, Le Grand Bleu and La Sole Meunière, Au Côte d’Argent is part of ‘Toques d’Opales’, a group of quality restaurants in Calais, and Côte Opale, an association of the finest seafood restaurants on the Northern French coast. It’s also the perfect venuet to visit when exploring the towns fascinating involvement in historical events as it takes its name from the ‘Silver Coast’, a French ship built in 1940 which was captured and used as a German minelayer.
It’s well worth ascending the multiple floors of the building that houses Aquar’aile in order to experience the restaurant’s bird’s eye view, from where the British coast is visible on a clear day. The picture perfect factor doesn’t stop there, the menu offers beautifully constructed dishes that are as artistic as the restaurant’s name. Think traditional French seafood classics, recreated for an art gallery with creative twists. If settling for just one of the restaurant’s tempting mains proves too difficult, opt for either of the seafood platters, both of which offer a generous portion of oysters, shrimp and other seafood specialties.
La Buissonnière is the perfect restaurant for a regular dinner destination in Calais. The restaurant has a seasonal menu, so that that you can experience the best of in-season produce from Pas-de-Calais. A family-owned, charming restaurant in a central location in the town. Unusually for a French restaurant, it also offers departures into French interpretations of international fare, such as quinoa, samosas and savory tiramisu. Traditional French elements are not neglected however, as there’s still a fantastic selection of traditional French wines and classic desserts, such as millefeuille and crême brulée.
This restaurant offers a slick setting with fast service and a modern menu, which is evidence of the international influences in Calais. Le Channel has also striven to perfect their brand, which means that if you don’t get to experience a meal at Le Channel, you can still visit their website, which is regularly updated with ‘une recette du chef’ to recreate at home. If you’re already sold on Le Channel, the restaurant also includes a shop selling an excellent selection of wine and cheese as souvenirs, which will be tough to pass up on your way out.
Du Vignoble au Verre, as the name implies, is the ideal restaurant for wine enthusiasts. Over 400 wines are available to try, which are selected from vineyards all over France, as well as smaller local wineries, giving you the chance to discover hidden gems from the Northern region. The menu of local cuisine is especially selected by the house sommelier to complement the wines. If you can, time your visit to coincide with one of the restaurant’s regionally themed tasting evenings, which are accompanied by food and followed by coffee.
Le Grand Bleu is presided over by a young but experienced Parisian-trained chef Matthieu Colin, who possesses a passion for innovation. Menu highlights from this creative kitchen include a savory brioche hotdog and herbed goats cheese waffles, which will blow any preconceived stereotypes about French cuisine out of the water. If this gets you hooked, learn to recreate Colin’s spectacular dishes at home by enrolling in one of the restaurant’s amateur seasonal-themed cookery courses, where participants have the opportunity to prepare a three course meal under his supervision.
L’Histoire Ancienne offers superb value without cutting back on quality. Head chef Patrick Comte draws on inspiration from childhood visits to the famous International Market of Rungis in Paris, the largest food market in the world. This lifelong love of food is evident in his supreme attention to detail, focusing on the quality of individual ingredients. The restaurant also offers incredible value, with affordable set menus of classic French dishes, the cheapest of which is just under 20€. Comte and his business partner (and wife) clearly focus on cultivating loyal customers and the welcoming atmosphere is accentuated by the cosy Art Deco interior, inspired by Parisian bistros.
La Sole Meunière serves up one of the best selections of fresh fish in town, as well as picturesque views of the yacht basin. Menu highlights include a lemon-coconut caviar and beef tenderloin à la noisette. If this menu intrigues, check out head chef Didier Routier’s blog, where he posts new recipes as well as information about local ingredients and events at the restaurant. While the menu he creates might seem high-concept, La Sole Meunière is the most practical option for an overnight stay, as it also offers accommodation and great location; the beach and the central station are within walking distance.