There's a special atmosphere on France's Jade coast. Not far from the picture-perfect ports of neighbouring Brittany, facing the ocean, you will find Anne de Bretagne Hotel, known for its outstanding two-Michelin-star restaurant.
With its tranquil atmosphere, wide empty stretches of sandy beaches, inky skies that melt into the murky ocean waters, and abundant shellfish hauled in on small fishing boats in the mornings, the Jade coast is truly off the beaten track.
Founded by Monsieur and Madame Vételé almost four decades ago, when they decided to retire in 2015, they began searching for a successor who would be able to keep Anne de Bretagne’s legacy alive. So when thirty-something Mathieu Guibert came along, born and bred in the village next door but trained with Michelin starred chefs Philippe Mille and Yannick Alléno, he caught their attention. And when they saw his passion for and mastery of the local produce, his immense respect for nature, focus on human values and an unrelenting desire to please diners, their minds were made up.
“Monsieur and Madame Vétélé are my best customers,” says the young chef his eyes beaming. “At first, I didn’t know what I could bring to an establishment that had such a solid reputation already. But to work where I grew up, in a region I love, full of incredible produce... I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
Two years on, Mathieu Guibert’s steering the Anne de Bretagne ship rather admirably. The impeccable staff welcomes guests to the hotel and restaurant as they would into their own homes – with plenty of warmth and genuine kindness. And the 20 rooms and suites, although simple, are immaculate, comfortable, and those with sea views are a dream come true for travellers who enjoy waking up to sound of the rise and fall of the ocean just downstairs.
The hotel feels refreshingly isolated, despite being on a quiet road that snakes between land and sea, and is located an hour’s drive from Nantes, and just ten minutes from picturesque Pornic and its 12th-century chateau. It’s also less than an hour’s walk to surf spot Saint-Gildas point, a bay carved out of low jagged cliffs dotted with dainty white houses, and a few minutes’ drive from the scenic Roussellerie, a wide sandy beach pinned with wooden fishing cabins on stilts.
“For me, nothing is more important than the human touch, and building relationships,” explains the chef. “I love knowing all the farmers. I even use my parents’ vegetables in my cooking.”
A master of land and sea, Mathieu Guibert takes diners on a journey through nature, educating and surprising as he goes along, using lesser-know local products. Subtly sophisticated and without pretension, to define his cuisine as ‘surf n turf’ really wouldn’t do it justice.
“The flavours are straight-forward – it’s important to me that diners taste every ingredient, that they recognise what they are eating,” explains the chef. “When you have such great produce, there’s no need to intellectualise everything. In the end, I just cook what I love eating.”
While there is excellent meat on the menu, my partner and I opted for fish dishes like starters of wild ormeau (abalone), the delicate flesh seared in salted butter sprinkled with citrus beads and dried red lobster eggs, served with vinegar chard sprinkled with mouron des oiseaux herbs. Another local speciality is rigadeau shellfish served with perfectly cooked soft white cuttlefish on a moreish emulsion mixed with crunchy celery and green Granny Smith apple.
As we ate, we watched the sky turn purple and orange and the sun dip behind the ocean through the wrap-around windows to the sound of soft background music mixed with the lapping waves. Our attention came back to Guibert’s cuisine and sommelier Adrien’s exceptional talent for picking out just the right wines punctuating the flavours in every dish.
We followed with roasted john dory, the white flesh cooked in salted butter served with a potato mousseline and watercress emulsion tart, its crumbly base giving a gourmand edge. Also divine, was the roasted red mullet served with dried scales sprinkled on top, giving it a delicate crisp, served with a titillating osso bucco and shrimp bisque.
Seeing our delight, carrying the next bottle for us to sample, Adrien dared a discreet smile, and said in a low voice as though murmuring a secret, “Here, we don’t just come to work. We come to share a passion.” And we couldn’t have agreed more, for nothing rang truer of the whole experience.
We finished with a passion fruit nuage with a fondant heart, a creamy affair with a crackly biscuit and roasted sesame base arranged like a small cylindrical tower. “Don’t be afraid to grab your spoon and break it up,” advised Claire, the personable Maître d’Hôtel. And purely out of duty, we also tasted the devilish Guanaja spiced chocolate opera slice and tarragon macaroon perched on a delicate branch of chocolate. “What do you mean, you don’t have room for cheese?” exclaimed Claire, unable to believe we wouldn’t sample the local cheeses from Vannes to Pornic. We were only too happy to oblige, if only just out of pure gourmandise.
We were sorry when dinner, akin to a performance with all the theatrics, came to a close. Everything, from the stellar service to the interiors, rightfully, gave the chef’s cuisine centre stage, while the big skies and ocean views served to underpin the hotel’s sense of place.
Anne de Bretagne is the kind of hotel that grows on you. It’s a local secret you want to keep to yourself. And from the moment you leave, you can’t wait to be back so you can start all over again.