13 Rue Rabelais, 37500 Chinon, France
Tel: +33 (0) 2 47 93 44 55
GPS: 47.166006, 0.240711
There are only two reasons for loitering on Chinon’s Rue Rabelais at 11:40 am on a Thursday morning. The first is the sudden realisation that you forgot to buy your weekly portion of paella at the market, and you are wondering whether you should turn back in the hope that Chinon’s world-famous paella vendor has not packed up and left for home. The second is that you are waiting for the doors of L’Oceanic to open, as lunchtime service begins in just five minutes.
My reason for loitering in this manner a few weeks ago? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t looking for paella.
It seems to me that L’Oceanic has occupied its position on Chinon’s Rue Rabelais for as long as I have been visiting the Loire Valley. And while it might seem natural for the chef to focus on fish given that we are sitting on the banks of the Vienne, a major tributary of the Loire, the name L’Oceanic gives some clue as to the true origin of the raw materials here. Chef Patrick Descoubes looks to the ocean for inspiration, and his menu features more Atlantic cod and salmon than it does local eel, catfish and crayfish.
On this occasion I started by tucking into an attractive amuse bouche, a dense and creamy langoustine parfait, topped off with a light citrus-infused cream and a sprinkling of caviar, along with a glass of Couly-Dutheil’s non-vintage Cabernet-based sparkler Blanc de Franc, after which I decided to keep the langoustine theme going with les langoustines aux trois mayonnaises et sa panna cotta (pictured above), an elegantly presented platter of shelled langoustine tails, langoustine infused panna cotta and mayonnaises, the most intriguing of which was flavoured (and coloured) with spiruline, an edible blue-green algae. The langoustine tails were fresh and tender, while the panna cotta and mayonnaises provided nuances of lift and spice. The tourteau façon rouleau de printemps et crémeux de petits pois was another strong dish, the crab meat delicately cooked in a soft spring roll, and nicely lifted by the intensity of the creamed petit pois.
While the langoustine starter offered complexity of flavour with a simple yet elegant presentation, my main course of cabillaud lardé en croûte de pommes de terre avec sauce au Chinon rosé (pictured below) was more technically accomplished, the cod wrapped first in a ribbon of ham before being wound up in a fine thread of potato and cooked. I was expecting a fillet of cod with a few slivers off potato placed on top (my thoughts were influenced, I think, by Alexandre Baumard’s signature dish of red mullet at Logis de la Cadène), so I was hugely impressed by the effort that had gone into this dish.
It was also beautifully cooked, the cod moist and tender within its carapace of potato and ham, and the sauce worked well. On the other side of the table the presentation of the filet de saumon « label rouge » au gratin de moutarde à l’ancienne au yuzu was rather less complex, but the flavours worked with the fish, even if the presence of mustard and garlic on the plate was a little overpowering (indeed, garlic enjoys a prominent presence on several of the plates here, including the cod dish).
Drinking by the glass, we stuck with the theme of Chinon, and more specifically Couly-Dutheil, with a glass of Arnaud’s 100% Chenin cuvée, which typified the Couly-Dutheil style in white, which is textural, fruit-rich and easy-drinking. I am not sure that they are wines that will age well, but that hardly seems relevant in this setting, and this white Chinon certainly stood up to these various dishes. The wine list is extensive and impressive though, with a number of good domaines in Chinon listed, but also many famous names from further afield for those less tied to drinking local.
We finished off with a Grand Marnier soufflé and a crème brûlée, both of which ticked all the necessary boxes, followed by a Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, one of three blends the restaurant offers. And we left entirely replete, with the full intention of coming back to L’Oceanic before too long. (18/11/22)
Prices: Eschewing the good-value lunchtime menu (€19 for two courses) we dined à la carte. Lunch for two came to €132.10, including starters at €16 apiece, main courses at €19 apiece, four glasses of wine at €7.50 for the pétillant and €6.80 for the dry Chenin, €11 and €9.50 for the desserts. The coffees were €6.50 each; presumably the lesser blends on offer are not so pricy.