The Blind-in-one-eye Bum is an interesting name for a food establishment, and that’s the rough English translation for a Saint Malo restaurant named Borgnefesse. Borgne means blind in one eye (how efficient of the French to have one word for this affliction instead of four in English) and fesse means bum, buttock or bottom, whichever you prefer.
The original Borgnefesse was a certain buccaneer named Louis le Golif, who reputedly had had one buttock shot off by a cannon ball, hence the sobriquet which may also translate as ‘half-arse’ or ‘but one buttock’. No one can be sure whether or not the memoirs for which le Golif gained renown are fact or fiction, but apparently it’s quite an entertaining read if you’re a pirate nut who celebrates International Talk Like a Pirate Day each September. Thankfully, when Monsieur and I found Borgnefesse, the ‘half-arsed’ restaurant, there were no pirates (nor parrots) in sight.
We’d just arrived in Saint Malo after a long day which had involved much driving, battling of crowds at Mont Saint Michel, and a couple of fluffed-up €28.00 omelettes which were more like air bags than proper food and therefore barely sustained us through the afternoon. So tonight, we were hungry and boy, did we ever want to eat a fairly priced meal. Saint Malo boasted loads of eateries, but would we find one to suit our rather demanding palates?
A sunset walk about the ramparts of the old walled city had contributed to our appetites, so we set about finding somewhere to eat. One recommendation had closed and was now boarded up. The next on the list had changed in both name and cuisine. Some were closed because it was Tuesday. Some were closed for the summer holidays. We weren’t having much luck so we tried the strip of bustling restaurants along the wall between two of the town’s Portes but most of them served the same fare in similar prix-fixe formulae. Yawn. So we wandered away from the summer crowds and copycat menus in search of something a bit different.
The next restaurant we tried had taken its last orders at 9.30pm, even though its dining room was only half full. A handful of others we found to be too pricey and we’d had enough of feeling ripped off for one day, so we returned to a place we’d spotted earlier. The menu was compact but interesting and a pirate sign hung outside – now that’s different. Thus Monsieur and I entered Borgnefesse.
It was already close to 10pm but the waitress was smiling as she gave us a table. She single-handedly managed the entire room without even the hint of a grimace and all the patrons seemed happy. The decor had a subtle nautical theme, but all the table dressing was up-to-the-minute, with mushroom-coloured napkins and cloths. A stack of old books on a shelf between tables added a homely touch. In summary, the atmosphere was understated and warm.
There were no printed menus because this was a market restaurant, that is, they cook and serve whatever they find fresh at market each day. On a blackboard, across the room, were listed three different ‘formule’ or set menu options with different price points depending on the ingredients. Monsieur and I chose the middle-of-the-road €19.80 formule, which included a seafood starter, choice of main and cheese or dessert.
We both enjoyed our plates of fresh seafood, including succulent bulots (sea snails) which we twiddled out of their shells with a bulot pin, prawns and half a crab, complete with four long and spindly legs each. All the requisite shell cracking and crab-extracting tools were supplied so Monsieur and I could get our hands messy with produce so lipsmacking that it must have been that afternoon’s catch.
Monsieur was in need of a red-meat fix, so ordered the entrecote as a main. When it arrived it was smothered in a rich, peppery sauce and when my own main was set before me, I could see that the chef here must also be an excellent saucier because my stuffed squid was swimming in a little pond of aromatic sauce tinted a rich butter-cream colour with just a touch of saffron. Mon Dieu, how that squid was delicious – filled with a blend of minced calamari and tomatoes, and softened by the delicately spiced-up sauce. Served with a modest helping of wild rice and diced veg, the overall effect tickled all of the senses. The opposing textures jumped about on my tongue yet didn’t fight; rather they complemented one another. The squid was delightfully soft, having been cooked to perfection. The flavours blended into an overall impression of somewhere exotic and hot with a breeze from the sea. Oh yes, I did enjoy this dish very much indeed, and across the table from me, my husband had inhaled his entrecote so quickly that he’d been bored for a while now – a sure sign that everything on his plate had met with his hard-won approval.
For dessert, Monsieur polished off refreshing mango and strawberries with ‘their’ sorbets, as they say in France, while I had the most sensible cheese course ever: a simple slice of creamy camembert served with a couple of leaves of lettuce and some bread. It was tout simple but couldn’t have been more appreciated. Yes, I crave a taste of cheese at the end of a meal in France, but no, I didn’t always have the capacity for an entire cheeseboard. Long have I mourned the fact that I wasn’t born with more stomachs, like a cow, but it’s a fact I’ve learned to live with and the people at Borgnefesse make this hardship a little easier to bear by getting their portions right.
So, the food was superb, but at €26.00 our Pouilly Fumé tasted young and, strangely for a Pouilly, lacked in both character and bite, but in this instance even a duff bottle of wine remained perfectly quaffable. As we paid the bill and wandered back down towards the Grande Porte, Monsieur and I were comfortably (as opposed to belt-poppingly) sated.
“Do you want to know how much the bill was?” Monsieur asked,
“Sure,” I replied,
“Well, it was significantly less than those stupid omelettes at La Mère Poulard.” he announced,
“Hmmm. Doesn’t surprise me.” I said, “those were some seriously overpriced eggs.”
It wouldn’t take a mindreader to work out which of the two establishments, Borgnefesse or La Mère Poulard, is assured of our future custom, especially if the menu du jour shows the chef’s famous fish of the day stuffed with fresh Breton lobster or the Lotte (monkfish), which one former patron has described as ‘inoubliable’ (unforgettable). For now, Monsieur and I were simply relieved to have enjoyed a fine meal at a fair price. Even with a name like The One-Eyed Buttock, we will be back.