What came first the chicken or the egg? I’m sitting in the restaurant La Coquerie, Rennes? Yes, Rennes, not rue de Rennes but your actual city of Rennes, just two hours from Paris by TGV from Montparnasse, definitely worth the detour. Brittany’s regional capital has the reputation of being one of the best French cities to live in – a historic centre combining tradition and modern industry. Once the seat of the Breton Parliament (taste the gateau Parlement baked in the local patisseries) it’s proud of its’ newly opened Christian Portzamparc designed Cultural Centre. The old and the new, half timbered houses, survivors of the 1720 Great Fire of Rennes, sit side-by-side with imposing classical public buildings and churches.
Minutes from the town centre, I’m surrounded by coqs, signature of the owners of Le Coq-Gadby a “hotel de charme” where four generations of Véronique Brégeon-Valeu’s family have lived and entertained the gratin of Europe. No self-respecting Rennais marries, launches a product or celebrates the birth of a baby without first booking one of the sumptuous salons in this divine maison. It’s also a very exclusive club; billiards, cigars, piano-bar and lessons in wine tasting, art history, culinary expertise and floral art, by uber-flowerman Jean Michel Sauvage who has created a fragrant flower boutique, opened recently in the gardens of Le Coq-Gadby. Take a look at the Golden Book, signed by the likes of Raymond Poincaré, Jacques Chirac, Luc Besson, Caroline Kennedy, Vanessa Paradis, Audrey Tatou, Jean Reno, Antoine de Caunes, Sandrine Bonnaire, the list is endless. “Because it’s so near to Paris and this house is like a home-away-from-home”, explains Mme Brégeon-Valeu.
That simple plaque outside Le Coq-Gadsby acknowledges that Alfred Dreyfus was here during his trial, and conviction, by the Rennes Military Tribunal (1894). Sentenced to ten years hard labour (by that time five already served on Devil’s Island), Dreyfus was finally pardoned, after demonstrations had taken place in twenty capital cities and the world press got seriously involved. In 1906 the Supreme Court of appeals quashed the Rennes verdict which, it said, had been passed “mistakenly and in error”.
More recent news is that Breton-born Marc Tizon took over the pianos (ex-Oustau du Baumaniere, Provence). Tizon creates a light cuisine, using local products which he chooses himself at the Marché des Lice (Saturdays). He’s lucky, only has to go down the road to find the best products Brittany has to offer. His friend Oliver Roellinger (the only new ***Michelin this year) travels 110kms from Cancale and they meet and market together, afterwards munch on traditional crepes aux saucisson made everywhere in the market, and the aromas are tantalising. “But you must get there by 8am”, insists Tizon choosing plump langoustines, turbots, Saint Pierre’s and free-range poultry that he will transform, with herbs and jus, by lunchtime. Although there’s meat, poultry and game on the menu, you get the feeling that Tizon wants his fish to play the lead in his interesting theatre that is “La Coquerie”.
Starters on the Menu du Marché include a salad of root vegetables, herbs and salad with home-made elder vinaigrette . For mains, fish and meat depending on the market, say a, croustillant de pieds de cochon with a caramel of citrus fruits, a few perfect cheeses and, to finish, a Tarte chaud au chocolat with café cardamome ice-cream, or, in a tall glass Crème légére et caramel au Pommes. Drink a local artisan cider (which you can buy to take away) or a bold Costiere de Nimes and make sure to visit the local caviste Jean-Pierre Lecluze for a tasting in front of the roaring fire of his unique wine-store (36, places des Lices. T:02 23 420 420).
Continue the apple theme in the Spa Armor Arcoat located in a magical zen glass forest space, once the attic of the Coq-Gadby. Next year there will be a swimming pool and more rooms, treatments are à deux or solo. Luxuriate in the hammam and sauna and take sublime, relaxing treatments from an enthusiastic and professional young team who use natural products. Begin with a gommage aux pommes, slim down with an Enveloppement chaude with Dead Sea mud, or Brittany sea-weed. Take a massage du Monde or just a pedicure. There are special “forfaits bien-etre” which include a dinner at La Coquerie, say, Vitasenso which takes in 45 minutes with a personal trainer, followed by massage aromatique and a steam bath.
So dear reader, what did come first? Tell me after your stay at Le Coq-Gadby, and take home one of the funky chickens as a souvenir, along with jams and goodies by Marc Tizon, in the boutique. Eat your heart out Colonel Sanders.
Le Coq-Gadby, Urban Resort
156 rue d’Antrain, 35700 Rennes,
T: 02 99 38 05 55
Menu du Marché 33€ + A La Carte & Menu Degustation 74€
10 rooms from 118€
1 suite and apartment from 265€ Breakfast 16€