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Planète Océan (Étaples-sur-Mer, France)

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Addresse: Quai de la Canche / 62 630 Étaples-sur-Mer / France

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      26.01.2013 10:17
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      Decidedly average seafood restaurant overlooking the quay at Etaples in Northern France

      Planète Océan is a seafood restaurant in the small town of Étaples-sur-Mer. Étaples is a well-known port on the Canche river in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France so it's not surprising that many of the restaurants there specialise in fish and seafood dishes. We had a wander around Étaples on their market day, which is held every Tuesday. To be frank, the market isn't really worth the bother of making a special day out for as it's really not got anything on offer that you couldn't find in any other market in any part of the world. We did, however, end up in the port area where there are loads of different poissonièrs (fishmongers to you and I), and their displays of fish and seafood were very impressive - just about every type of seafood under the sun as well as too many different types of huge shiny fish to mention. Planète Océan is situated right in the middle of the port area, so we figured that the fish would be not so much fresh, but virtually still swimming. We therefore booked a table for nine for the last night of our holiday in France last summer. As my brother said, it would give us a chance to reflect back on our week abroad and an opportunity to solemnly vow never to do it again :o)




      *** Life on Mars - The Venue ***

      Planète Océan is in a huge modern two storey building right on the edge of the port. The restaurant is on the first floor and the ground floor of the building is taken over by a huge fishmongers. The displays of fish and seafood are truly impressive, and if you enjoy fish or seafood, a quick look at the tempting array on offer will give you a real appetite for the restaurant upstairs. If you just fancy a drink, there is also a bar area on the ground floor as well as both indoor and outdoor seating areas.

      Entry to brasserie / restaurant area of Planète Océan is by way of an open tread stairwell, so visits with pushchairs, wheelchairs or the infirm may prove somewhat tricky. However, once you've climbed the stairs, the brasserie is surprisingly comfortable. It's very light and bright up there, and they're made full use of the first floor views with huge picture windows all around. The restaurant even has a balcony to two sides which gives terrific views over both the town of Étaples and the waterfront. You can sit outside and enjoy both dinner and the vista if the weather is kinder than it was when we were there. We stayed firmly indoors as it was too breezy and overcast to stay outside for long. Inside, it's all very modern - stripped floorboards, chrome fittings and mood lighting - a million miles from a traditional French bistro, but bang on for the 21st century. A nautical or sea-faring theme is reflected throughout the building in the décor - there is plenty of bleached wood everywhere, ropes and netting abound and the walls are adorned with tranquil beach scene-scapes or photos of angry seas.




      *** The Sun, the Moon and the Stars - The Menu ***

      As you'd expect in a town known for its fishing port and the variety of fishmongers in the area, the menu at Planète Océan is primarily geared towards fish and seafood. There is a brief nod in the direction of meat lovers, but the overwhelming selection here is fishy, and what a selection it is. The à la carte section of the menu is plentiful and offers something for everyone. Starters range from fish soup, smoked salmon or herrings, but there is nothing to tempt anyone other than a fish lover here. I must say it seems rather remiss of them to offer such a limited range of starters and nothing at all for the non-fish eater. They manage to offer a selection of main courses for those that prefer meat (Entrecote steak, carbonade of beef, pizza or tandoori chicken), but there are no starters at all.

      If you are dining à la carte at Planète Océan prices range from 7Euro to 9Euro for starters with main courses ranging from 11Euro to 17Euro. If you're planning on pushing the boat out and overdosing on the more expensive seafood delicacies you'll pay more - for example a dozen Huîtres (oysters) will cost you around 28Euro and Le Plateau de Fruits de Mer (oysters, langoustines, clams, whelks, winkles and prawns) will cost 35Euro. However, it's not all expensive seafood here - you can dine simply on Moules Marinières (13Euro) or Le Fish and Chips (14Euro) (their description not mine!) or Pizza Nordique (11Euro) (pizza topped with smoked salmon, fresh salmon, tomatoes, cheese and crème fraiche).

      However, where the French excel is with the Prix Fixe (fixed price) menus they offer and Planète Océan offers a choice of three different Table d'hôte menus. These range from a budget friendly 15Euro, then 18Euro and finally their top of the range menu at 25Euro per person. Finally, children are well catered for at Planète Océan and there is a mini menu offering either steak, chicken nuggets or battered fish followed by a brownie or an ice-cream for 5.50Euro per child.




      *** Mercury Rising - Our Meal ***

      There were nine of us in our party, and we all decided to have different things, much to the consternation of our waiter. Two of our party confessed to a lack of appetite and decided to choose off the à la carte selection and forgo the starters. This left the remaining seven in our party to choose their preferred Prix Fixe menu. Two us went for the cheapie 15Euro menu and the remainder chose the 18Euro one.

      The menu was rather confusing to say the least. None of the dishes had a description with them, so you weren't exactly sure what they included. Anyone for "Le Welsh de la Mer avec Frites"? No, we weren't sure either. It transpires it's cheese of toast with some kind of seafood filling. We were equally bemused by "Le Hamburger de la Mer avec Frites" - was this a beef burger or some kind of fish burger? I think you'll agree it's not all that clear as "hamburger de la mer" translates literally as "hamburger of the sea". A brief menu description would have made things so much easier. Our waiter tried his best to explain things to us, but his English was very limited and our French somewhat laboured, and although he tried his best, he clearly didn't understand what we were asking much of the time.

      Two of our party went for the 15Euro Formule which consisted of La Soupe de Poissons (Fish Soup) or Hareng Tiède aux Deux Pommes (Smoked Herring with Apple Sauce) followed by Le Wok de Poissons et Tagiatelles (Mixed Fish served with Pasta) or a non-fishy dish of Carbonnade Flamande avec Frites (Beef Stew). Both of them had the fish soup, which they pronounced delicious. They then both had the Carbonnade of Beef, which you'd half expect to be rather ropey in a restaurant that specialises in seafood. However, it was by far the tastiest thing on the menu throughout the entire evening. The beef had a lovely rich sauce and it literally melted in the mouth. We all agreed that perhaps they needed to up the meat content of their menu if this was a classic example of what the kitchen could produce here.

      I was in the group that plumped for the 18Euro menu. The starter choice here consisted of either Pressé de Poissons avec Crème d'Herbes (Fish Terrine) or Tatin de Hareng (Herring with Apples). I chose the Fish Terrine, which was beautifully presented with layers of white fish, green herbs and pink fish. However, although it looked lovely, it was pretty tasteless and it really lacked any depth of flavour. To my mind it needed to up the herb element of the dish to bring out the delicate fish flavours of the terrine. A pinch of dill or tarragon and a sprinkling of black pepper would have worked wonders. My father had the Herring dish, which he enjoyed more than those that partook of the Terrine as it consisted of several chunks of meaty fish with a purée of apple sauce. The main course element of the 18Euro menu was a choice between La Grillade de Jour (voir tableau) or Plats. This element of the menu confused us greatly; we worked out that the Grillade de Jour was dish of the day and we had to look at the blackboard to discover what it was (on the night we dined there it was Sea Bass). However Plats gave us little to no clue as to what it was. After much confusion, gesticulating and pointing it transpired that Plats was a choice from a section on the à la carte menu that had a teeny tiny black fish next to it. Blink and you'd miss it - we certainly did! Therefore those on the Euro18 formule could choose from Grillade de Poisson (Sea Bass on the night we visited), Le Wok de Poissons et Tagiatelles (Mixed Fish served with Pasta), Le Fish and Chips avec Frites (translating literally as Fish and Chips with Chips!), Le Welsh de Mer (Cheese on Toast with a Fishy Filling) or Hamburger de la Mer avec Frites (we never did discover whether this was a beef burger or a fish burger).

      Most of our party chose the Sea Bass which was a super portion of freshly grilled fish with a nice salad garnish and a generous portion of chips. I'm not that fond of battling with a whole fish as I find you spend most of the meal trying to fillet the fish or spitting out bones. Instead I choose the Le Wok de Poissons et Tagiatelles which was literally chunks of fish sitting on a bed of Tagiatelle pasta. Unfortunately there was no marrying of the two elements of the dish and the fish element was literally plonked on top of the pasta. I was expecting the fish to be bound in a creamy or tomatoey sauce and tossed in the tagiatelle pasta, but there was no relationship between the pasta and fish at all. I'd say that the pasta and the fish had rather obviously just been introduced to each minutes before in the kitchen by the chef other rather than forming a bond :o) All in all, it was once again a pretty tasteless dish which could have easily been livened up with a nice sauce - be it Provençal, Hollandaise or even Béarnaise. There were some goodly chunks of white fish and salmon, but the prawns were rather thin on the ground in this dish, and the pasta rather too well done and lacking the al dente bite you'd expect.

      For dessert there was a choice of Crème Brûlée, Deux Boules de Glace (Ice-cream) or Pâtisserie du Jour. Most of those on the 18Euro menu chose the Crème Brûlée, but those on the 15Euro were limited to the Pâtisserie du Jour, which we once again had difficulty understanding. The waiter kept saying "mang", and it made little sense to us. Eventually his colleague explained that it was a Mango Sorbet. This was a pretty orange ball of sorbet served on a buttery biscuit base. It was a nice tasting sorbet, but the buttery biscuit was as hard as nails and difficult to cut into without it literally springing half way across the room. I think those that chose the Crème Brûlée fared better, even though it was served chilled and contained some kind of chocolate sauce inside. I always think Crème Brûlée is best served with a piping hot top crust which needs to be tapped to reach the cream underneath. Sadly, they had not just fired the sugary top here so it was as cold as the filling.

      We didn't linger for coffee and asked for the bill instead. The entire bill came to 229Euro which was reasonable value for a party of nine. However, we did leave feeling a little bit ripped off to be honest. Neither my mother and aunt wanted starters so they decided not to eat from the Prix Fixe menus. This was a mistake as they both had a main course and a dessert which were no different in portion size to those on the Prix Fixe menus, yet they paid a lot more for their meals. My mother had the Sea Bass and the Crème Brûlée from the 18Euro menu, yet she paid 27Euro for her meal. My aunt had Le Fish and Chips (avec frites!) and the Crème Brûlée and she paid 26Euro for hers. It would have been nice if the staff had pointed out that the dishes they had chosen were all on the 18Euro menu and it was a false economy to forgo the starters. Similarly, the manager could have altered the bill accordingly and only charged them 18Euro instead of 25Euro+, but no such niceties or advice were offered here.




      *** Shoot the Moon - The Service and The Drinks ***

      We had booked our table for nine at 8.00pm on a Thursday night. The restaurant was quite busy, but by no means filled to capacity. We received a friendly enough welcome, though the staff were pretty laid back and not really interested in anything more than seating and feeding us. There was no banter or chat from them about what we were doing in the area, nor whether there was an occasion behind our largish family gathering. As I said earlier in the review, the waiter allocated to our table did not speak much English, and he was shy and quietly spoken to boot. Therefore he rather struggled to make himself both heard and understood, and one couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for him. Describing the desserts included in our Prix Fixe menu proved to be a feat he just couldn't manage, and in the end he asked for assistance from his boss/older colleague, who came over and explained exactly what "mang" was. However, his colleague/boss spoke more than passable English so one did wonder why he had sent the poor boy to deal with our party in the first place - he really would have done the restaurant more favours if he had looked after our party himself. However, I imagine that none of the senior staff wanted to deal with the large party of English tourists, so they sent the boy as they couldn't be bothered.

      The whole restaurant was very clean, light and bright, but it did lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. The atmosphere was decidedly lacking and it was almost too clinical in there. There was no warmth or charm to the place - it's the sort of venue that's instantly forgettable as it's got nothing unique or special about it. In its favour, the toilets were as clean and as well fitted as the rest of the building (and they had some gorgeous bluey green glass wall tiles that really caught my eye).

      Drinks wise we stuck to medium priced wines. We chose a Canon du Marechal Rouge at 18Euro per bottle for those that preferred red and a Sauvignon Blanc at 16Euro for those wanting white. My nephew drank Coca Cola and Orangina (3.50Euro) and I had a large bottle of San Pellegrino (3.00Euro).



      *** What Planet are you on? The Conclusion ***

      I certainly wouldn't be in a rush to go back to Planète Océan. Despite the lustrous looking seafood and fish displays in the ground floor area, the food served upstairs was nothing out the ordinary. To be frank, it was more than a little disappointing with so many wonderful raw ingredients to hand. Don't get me wrong, the food was perfectly edible, well portioned and nicely presented, but it was disappointingly bland in flavour (Carbonade of Beef aside, which was delicious). With so many wonderful raw ingredients literally at their finger tips, the chefs at Planète Océan are rather letting the place down.

      Add in the rather indifferent service from the staff and the lack of ambiance to the venue, and I really cannot give this restaurant anymore than three stars. Had the staff been a little more helpful over our menu confusion (or tried to steer my mother and aunt away from their more expensive menu options), I would perhaps feel more warmly towards the place. However, my overwhelming impression of the place is that it is distinctly average and if I was returning to Étaples-sur-Mer for dinner, I'd most definitely look for an alternative venue to dine at.

      Recommended with three stars as the food and service was decidedly average.




      *** Return to Planet Earth - Anything Else? ***

      Étaples-sur-Mer is approximately 20 miles from Boulogne (where there is a sister restaurant with the same name) and less than 3 miles from the well-known French resort of Le Touquet.

      Planète Océan
      Quai de la Canche
      62360 Étaples
      Pas de Calais
      France

      Tel: +33 21 94 06 90
      Email: contact@planeteocean.fr
      Website: http://www.planeteocean.fr

      > Open seven days a week
      > There is plenty of parking around the quay at Étaples
      > Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted
      > Not so good for the disabled or infirm as the restaurant is on the first floor

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