Fleur de Sel is a vegetarian restaurant in Vieux-Hull that happens to serve wild boar.
And last week, venison. Plus, shrimp, mussels, salmon, scallops and a bit of duck confit. But otherwise, vegetarian.
Forgot to mention crÃªpes. Dessert crÃªpes filled with the usual creams and ices, fruited and sauced, but also les crÃªpes de Sarassin – the savoury buckwheat galettes famous in Brittany.
All of these things are dished up in a 24-seat restaurant of considerable charm. It may not look like much from the curb – a narrow red brick house on the edge of rue Laval’s restaurant row – but once you’re in, things look up.
Remarkable how long tapers on white linen (overlaid with a velvet sash) can create a dreamy mood. Add soft lighting, charming service, and the right tunes – vintage music hall, accordion-driven – and you feel transported to France. It helps that everyone around you is bavarder-ing. And that the server speaks limited English, thanking you for your help with her anglais. It helps too that the carpet’s been pulled, the floors now dark wood, and that the pale walls are cleverly un-cluttered.
When I first knew Fleur de Sel, its mantra read “ni viande, ni volaille”. At lunch, it was strictly vegetarian. If you returned for dinner, there’d be some fish in the mix. But then Fleur de Sel joined forces with a neighbour, Restaurant L’ArgÃ¶at, (the chef-owners – Christian and Lucie were also life partners) and its menu of crÃªpes and galettes came with the marriage. In fact, I think this place is called Fleur de Sel et L’ArgÃ¶at. But even that’s a bit unclear.
So, like many blended families, it’s a bit of a curious mÃ©lange, trying to be many things, juggle different needs. But on the whole, it functions pretty well.
Our first taste came with a roasted pear salad. It wasn’t a wildly inventive mix – pears, nuts and dobs of blue cheese on greens – but the cheese was luscious, the pears were poached in a wine and cinnamon bath, the greens were happy enough, and the lot was dressed up with a sharp vinaigrette infused with cinnamon. What’s more, it came displayed on a flat, dug-out canoe of a plate. A tasty terrine of roasted vegetables, nuts, and lentils arrived on a long glass plate, while chunks of tuna, seared and raw, floating in a coriander-coconut broth, were presented on thick, knotted pottery.
Galettes themselves are very good. Dark, nutty, flavourful in their own right, we sampled one filled with fresh and smoked salmon, new potatoes and green onion in a white wine sauce; and the other spread with grilled chicken, moist and thyme-flecked, paired with a pipÃ©rade of peppers, tomato, zucchini and onion. Both tasty.
A trio of big time meat next. A venison loin, seared and rare, a sausage of wild boar, and a duck leg confit – all very good, served with roast fingerlings and fine vegetables. The least successful dish was a hot salad of vermicelli with shrimp and arugula. Had the arugula been more integrated with the dish, its bitter notes worked in rather than left on top, (cold, and more stem than leaf) it would have tamed the sugary-sweetness of the sauce.
For dessert, we moved away from crÃªpes, and had a lovely lemon tart and a less lovely chocolate pudding cake – undercooked, more batter than cake.
Fleur de Sel’s wine list offers two dozen mostly European choices ($25-$49) with limited availability by the glass.
So, to the question, “I’m a strict vegetarian and my girlfriend’s an unrepentant carnivore, and we’re looking for a small, romantic restaurant, reasonably priced,” I would now say “I have just the place!”