La Marine ★★ // Île de Noirmoutier // France

With close to 80 **star restaurants in France, you’re never too far from an exceptional dining experience. Remote Île de Noirmoutier is the perfect example of this. A low-key island dotted with salt marshes off the Vendée coast, where fisherman and farmers make their living. French holiday makers go there for the picturesque white sand beaches, but also for the incredible mix of seafood, local meat and produce. And that’s exactly what chef Alexandre Couillon showcases at his port-side restaurant, La Marine.

Front-of-house staff welcome you into their beautifully designed dining room, where they are clearly proud to tell you about each dish in detail. It’s a noticeably warm environment for a **star restaurant. The meal starts with an impressive array of amuses-bouches, including a red seaweed crisp with a light oyster gel. It’s a real surprise, as is the cornet of irony local potato ice cream. Restaurant-smoked mackerel is so meltingly delicate in taste that it’s hard to believe it actually is mackerel.

Moving on to the “proper” seafood dishes, things get even better. Couillon’s signature dish is his black oyster. Delicately poached is stock of squid and lardons, the shellfish is ever so lightly cooked, gaining a sweet flavour from the stock. It’s then lacquered in a shiny coat of squid ink, and served with the softened pork. A complex and appetising dish. The white asparagus course is also a taste revelation. Braised in pine needles and charred for a smoky finish, the giant stems are served with a bitter lemon paste, alongside roasted slices of squid. The fresh Noirmoutier take of surf and turf.

Care is also taken with sourcing local ingredients for the meat dish. Coullion gets his Guinea fowl from a farmer that supplements his flock’s feed with milk-soaked bread. The result is juicy meat with a magnificent layer of fat. Cooked sous-vide and then crisped-up in the pan, the poultry is then laced with a deep-tasting sea urchin foam, some tender baby carrot and a peppery nasturtium garnish. A very satisfying dish.

And gratifyingly, there isn’t one plate served that isn’t excellent (even the desserts). Though sadly, we can’t detail them all here.

What really makes this restaurant stand-out, is the story that’s told through the local produce. Seaweed and elements of the pine forest are used for texture and seasoning. Fish and shellfish from the surrounding waters are married with the flavoursome vegetables and foliage from the island. This story needs to be tasted to be believed, so we suggest you get your detour planned soon.

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