“ Hôtel Restaurant / 318 Rue de la Vallée / 62170 Inxent / France „
"Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup" a French phrase which literally translates as "Eat well, laugh often, love abundantly", and sums up rather well the French attitude to life.
Last summer I spent a week in Pas de Calais in the North of France. Admittedly the weather wasn't all that wonderful, but the company and the occasion were. My parents booked a gîte and invited their nearest and dearest to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary. On the actual day we organised a surprise lunchtime champagne and canapé reception for them, but we needed somewhere special to continue with the festivities into the evening. My parents had holidayed in Pas de Calais in 2011 and had a wonderful meal at Auberge d'Inxent. Therefore we decided to book a table for nine and celebrate their 50 years of marriage at the same venue they'd enjoyed so much last year.
L'AMBIANCE ET LE DÉCOR
Auberge d'Inxent is housed in a converted presbytery, but fear not - any cold stone walls and stern austerity have long since been stripped away. Inside it's all warmth and Gallic charm. It's run by a family and they are very hands-on in the running of the place. We were served personally throughout the evening by the husband, Jean-Marc Six and his wife Laurence was buzzing around in the background throughout the night.
From the outside, the Auberge looks truly charming. It's a long, low slung white washed building with powder blue shutters and window frames. The building is festooned with delightfully planted window boxes and it's truly typical of welcoming French hostelry. Inside it seemed fairly dark initially, but that's because the reception room you first go into is furnished as a French farmhouse kitchen of yesteryear. There are lots of wooden shelves housing old bottles and drawers for keeping dried plants and herbs in. There's an ancient range to one corner which is actually used by Monsieur and Madame Six for cooking some of the dishes. As we left we had a good peak at the stove and there was definitely something bubbling away merrily. My brother lifted the lid on the pot and steam billowed out along with a rather delicious aroma, which we all immediately identified as some kind of casselout (stew) or stock.
As you leave this room, you walk through into the main restaurant and the surroundings are a lot brighter. The room you eat in is still very old with lots of old beams criss-crossing the ceiling, but the walls are decorated with colourful pieces of local artwork and the tables are all laid up with sunshine yellow and white linen cloths and napkins. It's not upmarket, but homely and full of rustic charm.
Although there is a small à la carte menu at Auberge d'Inxent, most of the clientele seemed to go with their Table d'hôte (fixed price) menus, all of which offer a range of seasonal dishes with regional specialities. There are three different Prix Fixe menus at the Auberge. Someone dining there at lunchtime may well prefer something a little lighter and cheaper in the form of Le Petit Menu at 17.50 Euro per person (soup of the day, sautéed pork and ice-cream for dessert). The mid range menu at 24.50 Euro is entitled Les Classiques de l'Auberge and gives the diner slightly more choice (soup or terrine to start, trout or chicken for main course followed by fruit tart or fromage frais). The final menu is entitled Le Regional and it costs 33.50 Euro if you have a cheese course or 28.00 Euro if you forgo the cheese. This was the menu that we plumped for as it offered much more choice for each course, and it was, after all, a very special occasion.
Most of the dishes at the Auberge are made with regional ingredients and these dishes were starred on the menu so you'd know that the source was local. This is followed up with a small leaflet which shows a local map and where they source all their ingredients from. I must say that vegetarians didn't seem to get much by the way of choice here, and like a lot of French restaurants they don't seem to cater well for non-meat or fish eaters.
NOTRE REPAS - LE REGIONAL
Without hesitation, we all unanimously decided on Le Regional menu. I'm not sure if you have to specify whether you want the version with or without the cheese course at the outset or whether you can choose to have a cheese course after your main course. I cannot recall if Monsieur Six asked us if we wanted the cheese course or whether he assumed we'd go straight to desserts. The smell of most French cheeses make me want to retch so I was rather glad no one stuck their hand up and said "cheese please" :o)
Once we had finally finished discussing and trying to translate the menu, we sat back to enjoy a well earned meal. It was hard work trying to decipher every dish and work out if it was going to be palatable. Shortly after we placed our order we were all served with an unexpected Amuse Bouche (translates literally as "surprising mouthful" and is a single bit-sized dish not ordered but served by the kitchen as a surprise). It was some kind of pâté served on a bed of dressed lettuce leaves and garnished with beetroot. It was tasty enough and sharpened our appetites for the meal ahead.
There are six starters to choose from on the menu, and nearly everyone had something different. My mother and my aunt chose the rather Flemish sounding Potjevleish en Terrine, Poire Au Vinaigre which is a Belgian speciality consisting of white meat (which can be chicken, rabbit or pork) pressed into a terrine and served with pear vinegar. They both pronounced it delicious. My nephew and I partook of the Terrine de l'Auberge, Confiture d'Oignons Rouges (house pâté with red onion marmalade). I found the terrine to be rather bitter in taste, but I enjoyed the red onion marmalade. My nephew wasn't too enamoured of this dish either and left most of his. Our meal was served with plenty of French bread, a kind of pain rustique, and I used this to make the terrine more palatable. The staff were very good at topping up our bread basket without asking as soon as it was emptied. Four of us had the Flamiche aux Poireaux Nouveaux et Magret de Canard Fumé (leek tart with slivers of smoked duck). This was delicious and easily the best starter on the menu. It was a hefty slice of leek tart with a lovely pastry crust and a good salad garnish. The smoked duck was quite light and some complained they couldn't taste it at all as the leeks over-powered it. My brother had Tarte à l'Andouille de Montreuil sur Mer Pomme Caramélisée which is another tart/quiche/flan this one made with local pork sausages and served on a bed of caramelised apple. The BBC guide book we had said that Andouille sausages are cooked pork sausages with strips of chitterling inside and that they are "rather chewy and not to everyone's liking", so that put a lot of us off this dish. However, my brother said it was delicious and it made my nephew and I rather wish we'd chosen that instead of the terrine. My father went for Harengs Fumés de nos Côtes, Petites Rattes du Touquet which was basically smoked herring with new potatoes from nearby le Touquet. No one had Ficelle de l'Auberge, gratinée au Fromage Sans Nom, as we couldn't work out what this was at all. Ficelle means string in French and we couldn't get a handle on what this dish actually consisted off. I'm sure it wasn't string and suspect it was some kind of bread based dish, topped with grated cheese.
Main courses also offered six different choices from Lapin de Niellesaux Pruneaux et Raisins (rabbit served with prunes and raisins) and as no one fancied this dish to it remained untried and tested on this occasion. My aunt had the Filet Mignon de Porc du Montreuillois à l'Hydromel d'Ici (local pork fillet), and pronounced it delicious. My father and I both chose the Cuisse de Canard du Boulonnais, Baies de Houlle et Estragon de Mon Jardin (duck leg served with tarragon and local berries). I enjoyed the sauce with the duck as it was fragrant and fruity, but I felt the duck was a little too over-cooked for my tastes. It literally fell off the bone and tasted very gamey. I prefer my duck to be cooked pink and remain firm to the cut. My partner, brother and nephew chose the Stouffade de Boeuf du Montreuillois à la Bière de Samer et Pain d'Epices (beef stew marinated in beer and local spices), and all of them pronounced it delicious. I tried a little bit of my partner's meal and agreed with their decision. However the best meal of the night was definitely the Pintade Fermière au Vinaigre de Framboises, which was breast of guinea fowl served with a raspberry vinegar sauce. The guinea fowl was full of flavour and the raspberry accented jus really complimented the slightly gamey flavour of the guinea fowl. Our final selection was from my uncle who chose the Truite de Beussent Meunière which is pan-fried local trout. This was a huge portion of trout which took some eating as it was unfilleted and needed careful eating to avoid the bones throughout the fish. He was still literally picking the bones out of his dish long after we'd all finished our main courses.
With all our main courses we received a very small selection of vegetables...and when I say small, I mean miniscule. The vegetable portions at the Auberge made 1980's nouvelle cuisine look like the portions on Man Versus Food! I had five peas, one turnip and a carrot on my plate...and that was bigger than most portions. My aunt only had one pea and one carrot with her pork dish. However, to be fair to the Auberge, I think the idea was to use the vegetables as plate decorations rather than give any serious intention towards the generally expected concept of a 50-50 split between meat and vegetables that you tend to get with most meals. The vegetables therefore remained a rather odd concept here - pretty but not at all substantial.
For dessert there was a choice from Fraises du Montreuillois en Melba, we couldn't work out what this dish was apart from the fact it contained local strawberries so everyone passed on this. My brother had Fromage Blanc Lisse, Coulis de Fruits Rouges (white cheese with a fruity sauce), which he found rather disappointing. My uncle had Parfait Glacé au Genièvre de Houlle et Pain d'Epice (which was a chilled dessert flavoured with juniper berries). This was a perfect picture on a plate and pronounced delicious. I had the Tarte à la Rhubarbe de Moncavrel Glace Vanille d'Hesdin-l'Abbé (rhubarb tart served with local vanilla ice-cream), which was delicious and served warm enough so the ice-cream was slightly melted and very creamy against the slightly acidic rhubarb. Nobody chose the Nougat Glacée à l'Hydromel de Bouin-Ploumoison (frozen nougat), but my father partook of the Mousse aux Chocolats de Beussent (chocolate mousse made with cocoa from the local chocolate factory...and it does exist as we did a tour of it two days later). I tried a tiny spoonful of this and it was delicious. The final dessert choice was good old Crème Brûlée and this was enjoyed by the rest of our party, despite the fact it was served cold. I always think that crème brûlée is best served warm so the sugar is slightly melted on the top and you have to crack it to get to the creamy filling underneath. We rounded the meal off with a few coffees, and also received two tiny plates with a locally made chocolate for each of us.
The entire bill came to 214 Euros which seemed very good value for a party of nine. No one really looked too closely at the bill, as we were too busy working out how to split the bill three ways. My brother, my uncle and myself were paying for the meal as an anniversary present for my parents as they had requested no gifts. We all settled on a split of 80 Euros per paying couple so as to include a 12% tip of 26 Euros. As we left the venue, my partner remarked that the bill seemed rather on the cheap side for nine people. Luckily I had picked the bill up as I tend to if I know I am going to be reviewing a venue. When we studied the bill in detail we realised that we had been given someone's bill for an à la carte meal and a rather expensive bottle of Château Talbot at 74 Euro. Even with the expensive wine we didn't have, the bill was nowhere near what it should have been which we suspect likely to have been around the 340 Euros mark. The question was did we go back and point out the problem to the patron, or wait for him to come to us as he knew where we were staying? It was a moral dilemma that prompted many a "lively" discussion the following day!
LE SERVICE, LES BOISSONS ET LES CHAMBRES POUR LA NUIT
We had booked our table for nine at 7.30pm on a Saturday night. Although we were late arriving, we were still the first occupants of the restaurant. As the night progressed, the restaurant filled up to capacity - mostly with locals - which is always a sign that the food is good. A restaurant (or pub) is fairly dead in the water if it doesn't attract locals; after all they may fill up with a good tourist trade all summer, but it'll be the locals that keep them trading through the leaner winter months.
We received a friendly welcome from Jean-Marc Six, the patron and we were shown to a long rectangular table by the window. We were all handed menus and we then set to work in translating what we could so we'd know what we'd be eating. As none of our party speak fluent French it was down to me with my long forgotten A Level French C pass to try and translate. Luckily I'd had the foresight to bring an old BBC Essential Food and Drink Guide to France with me, and that saved the day. I've been in too many French situations over the years where my parents expected me to have a level of fluency in the language that you just don't come anywhere near after O' and A' Levels in English schools...the most memorable being a burst water pump on my father's Ford Mondeo halfway down France. Reciting "la plume de ma tante" or "le singe est dans l'arbre" isn't much use when you are trying to convey a problem with the internal combustion engine of a broken-down Ford to Jean-Claude les Gauloises beside the road in Le Mans!
With the help of the good old BBC, we managed to decipher most of what was on offer, with the odd regional dish needing more explanation. Jean-Marc Six was able to provide more detail on a couple of the more perplexing descriptions, as I suspect his English was much better than any of our French skills. Throughout the evening we were served by Monsieur Six and a young girl, and they both gave us excellent and unobtrusive service. When we came up against an insurmountable language barrier, they were smilingly able to put us on the right track without making us look stupid....which cannot always be said for some venues, who seem to take great delight in speaking fast and furiously so as to confuddle their unsuspecting language poor Brits!
The whole restaurant was very clean and light and bright. It was a little shabby in places, but that all leant to the rather charming Gallic atmosphere. The toilets were rather spartan, but clean and dry. I'm afraid they'd never get away with toilets like that in the UK as they were incredibly dated, but it works fine in France. I must say that it's been many years since I last saw a high level WC and a pull chain, or wall-paper on the toilet doors.....but it was all in keeping with the venue. Shabby, rustic charm is the order of the day at Auberge d'Inxent. Chrome fittings, warm air dryers and spotlights would have looked odd.
The owner, Jean-Marc Six is a sommelier by profession (wine waiter), so his cellar is rather impressive with over 300 different wines to choose from. I'm afraid that our party did not partake of anything too adventurous or expensive in the wine stakes, and settled for wines that we already knew and loved. We chose a Beaujolais Villages at 22 Euro per bottle for those that preferred red and a simple house white wine for those wanting white. I suspect we were rather a disappointment to our host as we certainly didn't push le bateau out price wise and we certainly didn't ask for his recommendations - sticking to safe and relatively inexpensive.
Finally, if you fancy making a weekend of it, Auberge d'Inxent also has some bed and breakfast accommodation on offer. They have three double rooms and three twin rooms with prices ranging from 71 Euro to 77 Euro per night and breakfast at an extra 9.50 Euro.
RECOMMANDATION? OUI, BIEN SÛR!
If you are passing through Pas de Calais, on a day trip to Bologne or simply holidaying in the region, I can thoroughly recommend the Auberge d'Inxent. All the dishes were beautifully cooked and presented, and gave us all a good gastronomic insight into the best dishes and ingredients in the region. The welcome was warm and the service could not be faulted. It was a fitting meal and venue to celebrate my parents' very special milestone and we all enjoyed our night out. There were a few niggles of course - what meal is ever perfect? The vegetable portions were somewhat of a joke, but to be fair the French don't really "do" the concept of meat and two vegetables like we do in Blighty. The mix-up with the bill worked in our favour, but left us wondering if it would be followed up or whether we should return and discuss the problem with the patron.
Recommended with what should be five stars...but the problem with the bill and the silly vegetables knock them down slightly to four and a half stars. However DooYoo don't allow half stars so I'll round them back up to five as the excellent service tips the balance in their favour.
Auberge d'Inxent is in Pas de Calais. It's approximately 60kms from Calais and 30kms from Boulogne. Directions if driving from Boulogne are to take the N1 towards Samer. Once you reach Samer head in the direction of Bernieulles, then Beussent and you will then arrive in the tiny village of Inxent.
318 rue de la Vallée de la Course
Pas de Calais
Tel: +33 (0)3 21 90 71 19
- Open five days a week (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but Tuesdays only in July and August). Also closed from 20th December to 30th January every year.
- The restaurant has a small private car park opposite the restaurant, but you do need to cross a reasonably busy main road to reach the entrance.
- Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted
- Good access for the disabled or infirm