It may be hard to find 3 Seas, but when you do, it will be worth the journey. Behind the red, blue and white awning in South Tweed is a humble little traditional crêpèrie, French take away and deli run by Damien Pigot and his partner Sondrine (Sandy) Mendy.
You don’t have to look hard to find points of difference in 3 Sea. They’re everywhere.
First of all, this is a crêperie bretonne (rather than French).
Damien is from Lesconil, a fishing village in Brittany on the far west coast of France. It’s an area famous for its salt marshes and, not surprisingly, the place where salted caramel was developed in the 1950s. One side of Damien’s family were fishermen, the other side made crêpes for at least five generations.
“My great grandmother, grandmother and mother all made crêpes,” Damien tells us. “I began making crêpes when I was six years old. You know if the mixture is any good when you drink it,” he laughs.
Incredibly, the buckwheat galette dates back 800 years. A fruit seed (not a grain) brought to Europe by the crusaders, buckwheat flourished in the barren soils of Brittany. As buckwheat flour was unsuitable to make bread, it was not taxed by the king! ‘Hurrah!’ said the revolutionary Bretons. Rebellion became tradition, and so galettes have been their basic meal for centuries.
Damien was the first to bring galettes (only ever made from buckwheat) to the Gold Coast region, though we’d encountered buckwheat before in soba noodles. How fortunate we were to get some of the best galettes possible, Damien having trained in a Michelin star restaurant before coming to Australia to surf.
Soon after arrival, using his grandmother’s recipe, Damien began cooking traditional galettes at markets and festivals.
It was at the Retro Surf Festival in Kirra that Damien met Sandy, who’d emigrated from Normandy following her dream of living near one of Australia’s golden beaches.
Together a dream was born, and they opened their own café in 2013, naming it ‘3 Sea’ after the three seas which surround Brittany.
As we talk, Damien is laboriously making prawn bouillon (stock) that he uses in his prawn galette, risottos and sauces. Finding great produce to suit your requirements and knowing its provenance can be a problem in Australia, he says, unless we buy direct from farmers.
“The big challenge in Australia is knowing where your food comes from,” he tells me. He picks up a sardine tin to show me the markings on the back – the date the fish were caught and the harbour where they were processed. “Organic food from China? Who wants that?” he asks.
“When I was growing up, we cooked all seafood live, but of course you can’t do that now,” he adds. “At first it was hard to find the seafood I want here, such as scallops with roe on, unopened oysters or green prawns with heads on. Now I buy directly from the trawler. They know what I want and ring me when they are at the river mouth, so I can meet them at the docks.”
Sourcing organic rice from Woodburn, Saucisson (sausage) made from free-range preservative-free pork from Brisbane, chemical-free apples from Stanthorpe sourced every Wednesday from the local market, sugar-free French dough from interstate which he bakes in store, Damien says that he and Sandy are very conscious of the link between food and health.
“In Australia, too often people think of eating food just to keep you going,” he says, not something to enjoy with friends, to celebrate. That’s not good for your body. I cook like Grandma,” he adds, “no preservative, only salt and sugar where they need to be.”
The nutritional attributes of unbleached buckwheat (naturally gluten-free and high in protein) have led to higher demand, so the couple have recently diversified their product range to buckwheat cornettos, coconut and buckwheat balls, and lasagne which they sell wholesale to cafés as well as at the Kingscliff Farmers’ Markets.
It’s time consuming work making great food from scratch by hand. By day, the menu is simple: sweet and savoury galettes or baguettes filled with meat and cheese. On Thursday and Friday nights, the couple open the restaurant to 18 to 20 people for a 3 course meal for $35, which they cook for during the week.
“We try to give you home style cooking as it should be done. Our traditional Beef Bourguignon, for example, cooks for three days on a really low heat. Our regulars know how we cook, so if they come in and we’ve run out, we make them something else,”
Every Saturday, a mini French festival takes place at the 3 Sea shop, when Benjamin Leonardi of Love in Blossom, Murwillumbah, sells his award-winning macarons and pastries from a pop up pâtisserie at the front of 3 Sea.
There’s nothing fancy about 3 Sea. It’s in an unusual location and, with the couple still going the immigration process, timing is not right to invest money on a fitout.
Humble it may be, but it’s full of heart. You’ll get the warmest welcome and some of the best traditional Bretonne food in Australia. Crêpes, catering, café, community… real food with abundant taste at an affordable price. A genuine Breton crêperie in South Tweed? Who would have thought!
135 Minjungbal Drive, Tweed Heads NSW Ph: 0474 496 709
Open: Mon – Fri 7am – 6pm; Sat 8am – 2.30pm