Alexandre Couillon was just 22 years old in 1999, when he and his wife, Céline, opened La Marine on Île de Noirmoutier, an island in the French Atlantic. Today, with its two Michelin stars, the restaurant is among the best in the whole of France, and its young chef is among those to whom the future of French haute cuisine belongs.
Some restaurant names are completely meaningless. You can’t even begin to imagine what the owner was thinking when he or she came up with it. And then there are restaurants with names that seem to fit perfectly. Restaurant La Marine is among the latter. Located at the extreme tip of Noirmoutier Island, a beautiful, untamed Atlantic island just off the west coast of France, the restaurant’s tables offer unobstructed views of the harbour and the sea.
This small, but exceedingly fine restaurant is not just worth a visit for its idyllic location, however. Here you can experience the work of one of the most important ambassadors of the new French haute cuisine. Alexandre Couillon, a student of Michel Guérard and Thierry Marx, opened the restaurant at the age of 22. He had cooked his way to his first star in the Michelin Guide before he had even celebrated his thirtieth birthday. An honour that he managed to double in 2013 when he was awarded his second star.
Long-celebrated as one of the up-and-coming talents of French cooking, he has now finally made it as a serious leading chef. Together with his devoted team, Couillon takes a straightforward modern approach to French cuisine based on the products that the island and the natural surroundings of the restaurant have to offer him – and that is predominantly delicious fish and seafood.
And so the menu offers what the restaurant’s name promises: scrambled eggs with sea urchin; monkfish served with a wonderful spear of white asparagus, rounded off with a sauce made from smoked eel and pear; cod smothered in a light goat’s cheese sauce, served with courgette and Charentais melon – that is to name just a few of the maritime delights that emerge from Alexandre Couillon’s kitchen. The menu is always tailored to the catch of the day, which the chef buys from the harbour’s fish market, just 50 metres away.
A great deal of meticulousness goes into each dish to create a masterpiece of flavour that provides a colourful contrast to the modern black and white décor of the restaurant as it sits on the table – perfectly paired with a local wine from the Vendée region. Céline, the restaurant manager and wife of the chef, emphasises Couillon’s efforts with her friendly and unwaveringly courteous manner, providing the guests with a harmonious and homely dining experience.
It is for that reason that a visit to restaurant La Marine offers a pleasant change from the sometimes overlyexcessive French haute cuisine, but without the guest having to compromise on absolute perfection or the highest level of quality. “Cooking is my art form”, emphasises Alexandre Couillon. “With this art I am able to create beautiful things”.
In June 2016, Alexandre Couillon will be exhibiting his modern culinary works of art in Salzburg as guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus in Hangar-7.
Text: Hangar 7
Photos: Helge Kirchberger