“Son cadre, ses produits de la mer, ses vins…”
Along Boulevard de la Résistance occupying a ground floor unit of a typical modernist Calais beachy block (think Corbu in Corfu) and looking diagonally across to Bassin du Paradis is Le Channel Restaurant. Names, names, names, from war to heaven. It’s actually in a row of restaurants: La Sole Meunière to the left and Le Détroit to the right. They all look rather smart and share the same glorious coastal views, set to the sound of a dawn-to-dusk chorus of seagulls. Le Channel self identifies as a ‘gastronomique’ restaurant which translates as ‘gourmet’. Sounds promising.
The relaxingly comfortable interior is filled with linen covered tables, burnt orange textured chairs and purple chaise longues. One wall is lined with rows of wine bottles. That’s a hint. There’s a circular glass panel in the floor looking down into dozens more wine bottles. That’s a clearer hint. Le Channel’s celebrated cellar contains more than 1,200 wines. The gleaming stainless steel kitchen was upgraded a couple of years ago. A charcoal oven takes pride of place.
A plaque in the restaurant is inscribed ‘Depuis 1978’. Le Channel was established by the two Crespo brothers four decades ago and their respective families are also now in the business. Two of the younger generation are on duty today: Arnaud is front of house and his brother Jérôme is chef. Given the name and the seaside setting – the long golden strand is a polished pebble’s throw away – it would be rude not to go the whole hog, do the full Montgomery, dive in deep and order fruits du mer. Their mother Madame Crespo arrives with what looks like half the ocean floor piled high on a plate. “Il est beaucoup de travaillé!” she smiles.
Lunch set menu is €44 for four courses tucked between an appetite whetting amuse bouche and five corset exploding petit fours. Turbot with hollandaise sauce main course tastes seductively fresh from the channel. Both the cheese and pudding choices arrive on trolleys, or “chariots” as they’re more enticingly called in French. So much more interactive than a mere menu.
‘Promising’ means elevated expectations for gourmands: they’re met and surpassed. “As well as local regulars we have a lot of Russians living in London come to visit us,” confirms Madame Crespo. It’s well worth the hour on the Eurostar from St Pancras. The cornerstones of a successful lunch – excellence of food + wine, service, interior and atmosphere – are robustly upheld. Around the corner on Rue André Gerschell is Le Channel shop. It’s piled high with wines of course and plenty of cheeses. That’ll be why it’s called La Maison du Fromage et Des Vins Crespo. Heaven. Incidentally, André Gerschell was Mayor during the 1940 Siege of Calais. War, again.