The French call window shopping ‘window licking’, and when you walk down this street, you’ll soon see why! Here, people look at what’s in the shop windows with pleasure and especially with hunger... Yes, that’s the reason! I’d say that the Rue de Quesnoy is the kind of street where you’ll work up an appetite as you walk along. What appetite? That of the gourmets and lovers of good produce. That of the epicures or ‘epicurious’, like me!
The Rue du Quesnoy, which links the Place d’Armes to the Place Cardon, has only borne that name since 1810. Its layout was profoundly altered during the reconstruction that followed the fire of May 1940. Its beginning, near the square, was known in the past as the Rue ‘des Rôtisseurs’ (sellers of roast meat) when the butcher’s shops (to which the name refers) occupied old wooden houses that the elderly residents of Valenciennes might have known. Along the old part of the street, several buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries remain. But also some gems of other eras, like this 1920s butcher’s shop, located on the corner of the Rue de Hesques. Every time I pass by, I enjoy looking at its Art Deco facade.
The Rue du Quesnoy is obviously home to unmissable restaurants, such as L’Endroit (see article on p. 11) or Daidokoro (which we talked about in the first issue of L’étincelle), but it also offers a wide choice of fine groceries, quality wines, home-made deli products...
It’s upon reaching the Square Jules Billiet that the feast - for the eyes as well as the taste buds - can begin... Sand-grown carrots, Spanish peppers, Ratte potatoes from Le Touquet are like jewels in the world of groceries. Tomate Cerise. Find refinement and surprise on every stall. The pretty vegetables rub shoulders with fruits, condiments, oils, vinegars and jars, chosen with skill and thoughtfully presented. A festival of flavours and colours!
72, rue du Quesnoy
Just a short walk away, there’s another grocery. This one’s elegant and exotic! It answers to the sunny, delicious name of Ratatouille. An Italian address from which the aromas of cannelloni, fresh ravioli and traditional lasagne escape...
Ratatouille, The deli-grocery with an Italian flavour
They say that Italian food is one of the most popular types of cuisine in the world... let’s take a closer look.
After you’ve had a little trip round the Valenciennes market, make a detour to drop into the little shop with the red awning on the corner of the Rue du Quesnoy. Italian dishes made with amore on site will whet your appetite as soon as you walk in the door, and that’s without the little taste you get!
Who doesn’t like lasagne, cannelloni, ravioli or veal Milanese? And who doesn’t love sprinkling their spag bol with Parmesan? Mamma mia! For 6 years, this grocery has been bringing happiness to locals as well as to Italians living in Valenciennes who get such joy from finding products from home (they’re very attached to their native regions) and who, best of all, can speak Italian with the saleswoman. We’d love to head off with them in the little Fiat they have on the wall and travel across Italy, Sicily and Sardinia in the sunshine.
The thought of this journey taunts us from every shelf in the grocery. Right in front of our eyes, we see cold meats like Parma ham, Venetian ham and San Daniele ham, but also truffles! Did you know that in Italy the truffle is the king of the mushrooms? Wrap a thin slice of ham around these breadsticks and enjoy with a Spritz, a Lambrusco or a Chianti with a few antipasti and you’ve got the perfect Italian aperitif for your guests!
For the main meal, make them a nice risotto or fresh pasta cooked with olive oil with Bolbec meatballs and tomato sauce. When setting the table, don’t forget the indispensable block of Parmesan for them to grate themselves (it makes it taste better). At Ratatouille, it’s the real thing and sold by weight.
Last but not least, they’ll fall for the charms of your tiramisu, your rum baba di Sorrento or your Sicilian cannoli, that exquisite biscuit that you’ll have taken care to fill with cream. The classic panettone is generally reserved for Christmas celebrations and the colomba di Pasqua for Easter.
And don’t forget the cherry on top! Amarena cherries in syrup will go perfectly with your ice cream.
And finally, don’t let your guests leave in a hurry - pour them an Amaretto, the must-try almond-based Italian after-dinner liqueur! Delicioso! Ti amo, Valenciennes!
76 rue du Quesnoy
Tél. 03 27 26 24 38
Closed on Monday et Sunday afternoon
On the other side of the street, I find Le Vert Pré, a shop that makes my mouth water.
I go there for its wide choice of high-quality cheeses made by renowned artisans. There are unpasteurised cheeses (and many others besides), and it’s easy to make a choice with the solid recommendations of the owner, Jocelyn Deraed.
One of my favourites? Mimolette. Here, you’re sure to find one to your taste; demi-vieille (half-old, aged for 6 months), or extra-vieille (extra-old, aged for more than 2 years!). And if you’re spoilt for choice, do what most customers do and give Jocelyn carte blanche to put together a cheese platter for you - and why not choose some wine that’ll go nicely with it?
Good to know! Le Vert Pré is more than just a cheese shop. Corine, Jocelyn’s wife, is keen to emphasise this point. Since the couple’s takeover of the shop in March 2014, it’s become a prestigious food business where the ‘stars of good food’ are gathered in one place. Rare wines, famous hams, high-quality deli dishes, fine groceries and outstanding products like Poilâne bread and Bonnat chocolate.
Not long ago, it even became one of Gault & Millau’s recommended regional spots. There’s plenty to make a fuss about - or, as the French say, make a whole cheese about!
Le Vert pré
81, rue du Quesnoy