Monsieur, the Crevette and I were driving south through Normandy when Lisieux, the pilgrimage town where Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux lived, popped up before us, just in time for lunch. We had a pleasant arrival in the small, sloped town, circumnavigating pretty roundabouts, one with a giant Norman apple as its centrepiece, and being the grateful recipients of a paid-up car park ticket handed to us by a smiling chap who left a space just the second that we started seeking one out – a parking angel in the flesh.
We set off in search of the Basilica and/or sustenance, in no particular order, but chanced upon La Coupe d’Or just as we realised that there was a hill to climb to the former and therefore the latter would be required tout de suite so we could push the buggy to the top of it. (Any excuse, really, where Monsieur and I are concerned.) I vaguely recognised the restaurant’s name as one that had been well-reviewed recently on sites I visit. More importantly, they had a reputation for being baby-friendly (similar to Giles Coren with his analysis of restaurant hand-drying facilities, we were now obsessed with ease of buggy access). Admittedly, we did need all our four adult hands to lift the Mini-Madame and buggy up several steps to the entrance, but were indeed welcomed and a table arranged for us with plenty of room for the Crevette, in an otherwise full dining room. May I just add that this was not the easiest accomplishment for a busy staff in the full swing of lunchtime service, yet it was all achieved with a smile and kind nods in the direction of our baby, and was much appreciated by her two Learner Parents, for whom dining out has been such a rarity of late.
Oh, how lovely it was for this new mum to sit at a table with a starched, white table cloth and eat Real Food again, yet with some interest I noted that in spite of the possible perception of formality the atmosphere was far from starchy. This was fast proving to be an eatery where proper table etiquette and presentation were important, yet stuffiness was left at the door. The patrons were mixed in age and included several children, as well as a few quite elderly folk, a mix which I always enjoy. There is no ageism at this establishment. Since our visit I have also learned that disabled people are catered for here without any muss or fuss. I like that. A lot.
And so, to the food. As anyone knows, pushing a buggy to the top of a steep-ish hill requires a full three-course lunch, so Monsieur and I dug into a set menu each. After an amuse bouche of loosely-bound fish pâté (I’d like to say mackerel here) with golden croutons of baguette, my lunch started with La Trilogie de Tomate: a tomato-lover’s guilty pleasure featuring a verrine of gazpacho, another of layered tomato and mozzarella salad and a ball of tomato and basil sorbet. Everything was artfully arranged on a rectangular platter, with a generous garnish of green salad. All good, true flavours, in total contrast to the glut of tasteless toms on the market of recent times. What a relief to eat red fruit that tasted as it should – like tomatoes, instead of watery cardboard stuffed into a tomato-skinned shell! I was particularly impressed by the sorbet, where the tang of basil sang its own, distinct tune whilst retaining its function as the classic sidekick to tomato.
I’m not sure who won the better plate here, though, because across the table Monsieur’s tartare de saumon frais was waggling its fishy finger at me in encouragement to reach across and nick some.
The accompanying Creole salad was luscious with wedges of grapefruit and avocado chunks tumbled onto the plate. Somewhere, a Caribbean cove was calling and Monsieur was answering with sounds of olfactory satisfaction.
Monsieur now turned his attention to a brochette of mixed grilled meats – local lamb from the Pays d’Auge, chunks of beef, grilled chicken breast, with tomato and capsicum threaded between them – served with his choice of a pepper sauce (although Béarnaise, shallot and Camembert sauces were also offered). Every time a new plate arrived I was thrilled to see how much love appeared in its design. It was like eating rainbows without the rain. Good, honest, generally local fare, presented creatively yet without pretension and at fair prices.
Some might say that my main course of escalope of salmon with a buerre blanc was relatively boring to behold in comparison to the above dishes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this beholder says that the Coupe d’Or’s salmon practically rocked off its plate. Yes, it was a classic dish, sans twist, but ah, how wonderful it can be to enjoy such a staid performer when it’s done perfectly. The sauce was a delight, imbuing the salmon with life, even if it did look a bit anaemic from a distance. To be fair, any butter-based sauce looks like it needs a course of iron tablets if not off-set by a little colour and, in this case, the colour wasn’t coming from the star of the show, the salmon, but from the supporting act: tomatoes. The retro lemon slice and cherry tomato garnish was really just designed to interrupt the pallor of the sauce-soaked fish but the larger half tomato accompaniment was heftily, yet not overpoweringly seasoned with garlic and herbes de Provence. Meanwhile its texture was soft and warm and welcoming, much like the service. Without it, the plate might have looked like a perfectly-coiffed Parisienne of a certain age caught without her lippy, yet combined with the dollop of ratatouille and a pair of silky spuds that spoke of being steeped in a light stock, the veg not only lifted the appearance of the dish, but combined to create a successfully savoury sideshow. This is an unpretentious plate that I could eat over and over again. No need for foams or liquid nitrogen or gold leaf adornment. This dish could win a round on MasterChef simply because it is executed properly and, as the French put it, is bien dans sa peau (comfortable in itself). It knows what it is and isn’t afraid to just BE.
The third and final courses consisted of a Café Gourmand for Monsieur and a simple plate of local cheeses for me.
The Café Gourmand is a French institution of the sweet variety, consisting of an espresso surrounded by mini dessert treats. In this case, the coffee came with a pistachio macaron, a teensy crème brulée with a hit of tart green apple (most appropriate in these orchard-riddled parts), a miniature chocolate fondant pudding and a small dish of the Norman rice pudding known as teurgoule. Monsieur isn’t a huge fan of rice pudding, but everything else received his hard-won praise.
Enter the cheese! Once more the glutton’s paradise of the Pays d’Auge was the producer responsible for the three varieties set down before me: wedges of Pont l’Eveque, Camembert and Livarot, all creamy, with varying intensity and, shall we say, fragrance? The salad was an exercise in simplicity and reduction of size without the loss of flavour: crisp, sweet lettuce, the crunch of bitter walnut, appropriately dressed for its size with just the right amount of home-made vinaigrette. Mrs Savoury and Mr Sweet were very happy campers, fully refuelled and ready for their hike to the basilica, baby and buggy in tow.
Monsieur’s Menu Découverte consisted of fresh salmon tartare, a mixed grill brochette with choice of sauce and a café gourmand, all for the grand total of €23.90. Other starter options for this menu included a classic south western duck salad (breast, giblets, foie gras all featured), a terrine of Pont l’Eveque cheese with grilled chicken breast, or a scallop and mushroom pastry. For the mains there’s a faux filet, pork shank with cider cream sauce, monkfish with fresh mango salsa and the desserts list boasts everything that appears on the café gourmand plate with a couple of extras, so if you like to taste a bit of everything, the café gourmand is probably your best bet.
My Menu Gourmand was cheaper at €18.90, but still allowed plenty of choice. I had the Trilogie de Tomate, a divine escalope of salmon and plate of three excellent local cheeses. Alternative starters included fish soup served with homemade rouille, fish terrine with green asparagus or warmed chèvre salad with almonds. As a main I may be tempted on another occasion to try the chicken supreme with Camembert, duck with peach confit or the dish of ham served Pays d’Auge style with apples. The dessert offerings are very similar to those mentioned on the more expensive menu.
Hotel La Coupe d’Or is located centrally, between the Cathedral of Saint Pierre and the foot of the hill atop which sits that famed basilica. Lisieux isn’t particularly large, nor is it ridiculously over-burdened with faithful visitors, as one might complain is the case in Lourdes. It’s a pleasant little town to visit for a few hours during a Norman excursion. Don’t hesitate to try La Coupe d’Or if you happen to pass through at a mealtime. The kind service, excellent fare and consideration shown towards those small or less able-bodied rates it highly in my little black book. Recommended.
49, RUE PONT MORTAIN – 14100 LISIEUX