Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Favourite Restaurants: #1, Bar Oceanic, Hossegor
This week I'm in Hossegor, so it seems fitting to choose Bar Océanic as the first one. Hossegor has been a family tradition for over 20 years now, and a lot longer than that for my wife, who used to come here for her childhood holidays. We'll gloss over exactly when that was, but the house where I'm sitting typing this came into the family 21 years ago. The location is perfect, a two minute walk from the beach, a ten minute walk from the town, and close to the beachfront restaurants.
Hossegor is most famous now as a surf place. The annual world championship has an event here every summer, taking advantage of the giant Atlantic waves as they crash into the beach. Or not - there can be some really impressive surf here, but it's the exception rather than the rule. We've watched the championships take place in a millpond-flat sea, the surfers desperately seeking even the smallest wave.
Before the surf, Hossegor was - and still is - a family town for holidays. It has wonderful beaches, part of the vast expanse of of perfect, clean sand which runs from the Spanish border for a couple of hundred kilometres nearly to Bordeaux. It's the combination of families and surfers that makes Hossegor unique - it's a very lively place, with bars open until the small hours and beach parties, mixed with grandparents and their progeny and everything in between.
The beachfront, a two minute walk from our house, has a bunch of restaurants of different styles, from Dick's Sand Bar (not advised if over 25) to restaurants catering rather more to the family crowd. And of these, our long-term favourite is le Bar Océanic. Their menu is a range of south western French staples. And the king of such dishes is confit de canard, duck cooked slowly in its own fat for hours and hours until it becomes tender yet moist. Yum, especially when it's grilled at the last minute to make the skin crispy, then served with fried potatoes, either French fries or sliced thinly then fried slowly in more duck fat. Needless to say, this is on the menu. It may not be quite literally true to say it's the only main course I've ever eaten there, but it's close. Served with a bottle (or two or three, depending on the number of people) of excellent local wine, it's just irresistible.
The really surprising thing about le Bar Océanic, though, isn't so much the food as the proprietor. Or more specifically, his astounding memory. We've been regulars in Hossegor for 20 years, and I think we ate there the very first time we came, but that means just once or twice every year. And there was a period when we didn't come here in the summer, for about six years, just a couple of out-of-season visits in that whole period.
Yet every time we go there, he not only remembers us but even our favourite dishes. Can you imagine? You have thousands of customers who you see at most a couple of times a year, and you remember their menu choices individually? I just don't know how he does it.
When we moved to the US, there was a period of about three years before I managed to get back to Hossegor. The day I arrived, I was walking past le Bar Océanic. The proprietor happened to be standing outside. "Bonjour Monsieur," he said, as if I had just been in there the night before.