Movie-loving gourmets attending the Festival of American Film in Deauville (2-11 September) know better than to lunch in that glitzy, over-priced tourist trap, and head over the mouth of river Torques to neighbouring Trouville-sur-Mer - Deauville's more workaday (and infinitely more charming) twin. The two best-known eateries in Trouville sit side by side on the quayside - Le Central and Les Vapeurs. The latter, founded in 1927, is a perfect Art Deco brasserie of the type Terence Conran is always trying to ape in London, complete with zinc counters, paper tablecloths and fabulously zippy and efficient waiter service. The only surprise is that it's on the Normandy coast instead of in the heart of Paris.
The à la carte menu offers the eclectic spread one would expect from any self-respecting brasserie, although Les Vapeurs specialises in the freshest of fresh fish. A map in the menu illustrates where various vital ingredients are sourced in the region - including mussels from Mont St-Michel, whelks from Granville, grey shrimps from the Seine estuary, locally caught sole, skate and turbot, and Normandy scallops and oysters. Sauces are made from farm-fresh cream, while the surrounding Calvados region provides not only the cheeses (livarot, camembert and pont-l'évêque) but also the enormous bottle of apple brandy that is lugged around as a free extra at the end of the meal.
This depends on whether you have a table on the terrace, or in Les Vapeurs' charmingly cluttered interior. The outside seats offer a view of Trouville's elegant fish market, with its immaculate stalls, and, beyond that, the old port with its almost Hitchcockian quantities of seagulls wheeling above the fishing trawlers. Both are reminders of the connection between the sea and your plate. Better in some ways is the view on the inside. This is prime people-watching territory, whether it be Antoine de Caunes (Les Vapeurs is one of the Eurotrash presenter's favourite tables) or visiting movie stars such as Harrison Ford or Catherine Deneuve - or simply the businessman we watched demolishing course after course after course like the exploding fat man in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. The famous French paradox being what it is, this diner was somehow stick thin.
Considering my soul meunière, by far the most expensive single item on our bill, cost €30, the eventual tally (with wine and coffee) of €85 was small miracle. Our starters of snails in garlic butter and onion soup were about €6 each, while my wife's main course of moules à la Normande cost €12. I topped off a classically Gallic lunch with a crêpe suzette (€6). A digestif of Calvados was on the house.