Namnès, king of the Gauls, founded "Portus Namnetum" (this is the first name with which we can identify Nantes) even before Rome in Italy was built. Archaeologists have found traces of human occupation dating back to 2000 years before Christ. Later, around 800 to 600 bC, it seems that the site of Nantes was the location of a permanent trading warehouse. The Roman conquest served to amplify this commercial vocation on a river providing access to the Atlantic. On June 843, the Vikings rensacked the city. Nantes had to wait until 937 before the Breton chief, Alain Barbe-Torte took back the ruined city and decided to make it his capital. In the 17th century, the slave trade procured substantial fortunes for Nantes. In 1789, Brittany was one of the provinces which was most favourable to change and Nantes espoused the revolutionary cause straight away. Nantes suffered during the second World War but the entry into a modern, post-industrial age was a rebirth. With half a million inhabitants, France's seventh largest agglomeration cannot conceive any future for itself other than European. It will be the highlight of the 21st century.
Nantes is a strange city. Straddled accross the Loire, at the border between the North and the South, between cider and wine. A city both in Brittany and Vendée, both on the river and by the ocean, a city which is only reached at the expense of a patient approach. "Nantes is perhaps the only town in France where I get the feeling that something worthwhile might happen to me" once said André Breton, a French writer and a founder member of Surrealism.
Not to miss when visiting Nantes is the Fine Arts Museum (with excellent collections of French, Flemish and Italian art (the 20th Century is generally well represented, including paintings by Kandinsky and very contemporary art), Feydeau Island (a symbol of 18th Century opulence in Nantes: don't miss Rue Kervégan, a narrow street lined with wealthy merchant buildings) and the Lieu Unique (Nantes, a major sugar production centre in France in the 19th century, has continued its biscuit-making tradition with Lu, famous throughout the world for the invention of the veritable Petit Beurre Lu, a plain butter biscuit, by Louis Lefèvre-Utile, in 1886; today the biscuits are made in the outskirts of Nantes and the original factory in the city centre has been converted into this cultural centre).
If you enjoy dining out, the gourmet is well served in Nantes. Discover the many restaurants in town where you can favour the rich variety of regional specialities like the Filet de morue aux fèves and the delight of traditional cuisine (we suggest the surprising rococo décor of La Cigale Bistro which has just celebrated its centenary).
FILET DE MORUE AUX FÈVES
Fillet of cod with broad beans
Ingredients for 8 runners: 1 cod fillet (6 pounds) skinned; 2 ounces coarse sea salt; 1 pound broad beans; 3 tablespoon olive oil; 8 ounces baby onions; 2 ounces butter; 1 ounce sugar.
For the sauce: 10 garlic cloves; 4 ounces butter; 8 ounces mirepoix of vegetables; 2 tomatoes concassées; 1 bouquet garni; 1 cup dry white wine; juice of 1 lemon; 1 strip of lemon zest; 1 teaspoon white peppercorns, crushed; salt; freshly ground pepper.
Sprinkle the fish evenly with the sea salt. Leave in a cool place for at least two hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the garlic purée for the sauce. Cook the garlic in salted water with half ounce of the butter until tender. Drain and purée.
Cook the broad beans in boiling salted water until tender. When cool, slip off the skins. Keep warm.
Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry. Heat the oil in a baking dish. Put the fish in and turn to coat with oil. Roast in preheated owen at 400° Fahrenheit (200° Celsius; gas on 6) for twenty minutes.
Caramelise the onions in a little salted water with the butter and sugar. Keep warm.
Make the sauce. Put the mirepoix and the tomatoes (concassées) into a saucepan. Add water to cover, a speck of salt, the bouquet garni and the lemon zest. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Add the wine and peppercorns and bring back to boil.
Purée the sauce mixture into a blender or a food processor until is becomes smooth and slightly thick. Work through a sieve then reheat with the garlic purée, the remaining butter and the lemon juice.
Season the fish and cut the fish into slices. Make pools of sauce on individual plates and top with the fish, broad beans and onions.
Bon appétit! Enjoy the meal!
Suggested wine - To accompany this dish and to match its taste and quality, at the time on this gastronomic experience you will be able to enjoy the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, an excellent vintage white wine.