Sa Qua Na (Honfleur, France) – Light & Crisp

“I remain very attached to the Japanese talent for simplicity and understatement” – Alexandre Bourdas

Sa Qua Na is nestled in the picturesque port city of Honfleur, France. It is manned by Alexandre Bourdas, who cooked for Michel Bras in Japan and has clearly been influenced by his former boss. The restaurant’s name, derived from “Sakana”, Japanese for fish, hints at the aesthetic – lightness and purity. It may only have one Michelin star but the food is remarkably refined and taut, good enough for two. While not without its faults, Sa Qua Na succeeded as a blend of east and west, without the cliches of fusion, that few restaurants accomplish.

Honfleur is a visually stunning port city in Normandy, two hours west of Paris by car, or four by train and bus. It escaped the bombing of World War II and managed to preserve its 17th century buildings and street layouts. It would be easy for Honfleur to fall into a tourist trap mentality and, while there are plenty of shops selling goods of dubious quality, the architecture and slim alleyways provide ample curiosity for an afternoon or two. There are small visual details found throughout the city, many maritime in nature, congruent with its past, that should be fascinating to anyone interested in history, crafts, or iconography.

The iconic shot of Honfleur’s harbor, repeated in every slip of literature describing the place. It is more beautiful than pictures do justice.

Sa Qua Na is located on a square, its sleek design belying its surroundings. The exterior is bland, choosing an ivory over the bold primary colors of its neighbors. The interior design choice is regrettable, having taken its cues from Wallpaper magazine instead of anything resembling Honfleur. It was a missed opportunity to ground the restaurant in its physical place and cultural past. Arguably, the food tries to connect itself to the land; why would the restaurant design not?

What lies behind this dull exterior?

Only one tasting menu was offered. Thanks to the long days of mid-summer, a high latitude, and a window seat, lighting was excellent for most of the meal, and the pictures came out nicely.

à se partager, une pascade aveyronnaise à l’huile de truffe

This crepe-like dish had a surprisingly ephemeral flavor. The caramelized crust, chives and truffle oil hark back to medieval alchemy – simple, basic ingredients that mixed lightly and just floated on the tongue for a long finish. A remarkable start that immediately set expectations higher.

Daurade poche au citron vert, feuilles de liveche & coriandre, un bouillon clair a la noix de coco et huile de Combava

A piece of sea bream was placed in a stone bowl and it was (barely) cooked by a broth of coconut and lime oil. Fresh leaves of lovage and coriander were added. This is a signature quality dish – a tantalizing blend of careful flavors, none overpowering the fish, all masterfully balanced. A mix of east and west that would be difficult to improve – the sort of precision and refinement I would hope to find at Olivier Roellinger.

Des gougeres au jus de roquette, emulsion de pomme de terre, feves, jus de viande & truffes d’ete

One could complain that the summer truffles were tastless, and that the accompanying truffle oil was no substitute, but the emulsion continued the theme – light in flavor. The texture was very airy, as if the emulsion barely existed. Its strength was arguably its weakness too – it was a nice dish but it went nowhere when viewed in the context of the previous dishes.

Le foie gras de canard poele, moutarde, pate de Tarbais au lard demi sel & sirop de betterave

The seared foie gras was balanced by the sweeter beet syrup but the dish seemed out of place for this menu. A light and creamy torchon may have integrated better, while still continuing the journey; instead, this dish, while fine, was a bit heavy when compared to the previous dishes.

Petis-pois / Huile d’olive / Citron confit

Light, pure, and balanced – is it nouvelle cuisine, italian, or japanese? The citrus gave it that right amount of brightness, accentuating the intensity of the peas. This is the sort of dish I fall for these days.

Un filet de turbot meuniere, brocolis, creme de noisettes grillees & sabayon aux fruits de la passion

This was a good piece of turbot, but nothing stellar. The cooking and conception were strong but the ingredient failed the potential – a thin piece that lacked much gelatinous mouth feel. The passion fruit sabayon would have made a nice foil for a thicker piece of turbot.

Une longe de veau tout simplement roti, cotes et feuilles de blettes, yaourt a l’aubergine, jus court & mousse au gingembre

The veal was the sole disappointing dish of the night. It was not over-cooked, quite pink, but it was nearly inedible – stringy and tough. The waiter sympathized but she did not really offer an explanation as to what went wrong – was this really veal? Disappointing, yes, but considering the success of the previous dishes, acceptable in the grand scheme of the meal.

Une tartine… une creme traitee comme un fromage – herbs & poivre Reines des Pres, confiture d’abricot & framboises

Un sorbet a la pulpe d’ananas, fenouil confit a froid, feuille de cachuetes & creme vierge

Philosophically, Sa Qua Na could fall into the nouvelle cuisine bucket, as would be argued by Julot in his nouvelle cuisine article. It is entirely focused on the expression of the ingredients, not coaxing them into something more. Others might argue that the lightness and purity of the flavors, similar to L’Arpege and Michel Bras are more modern in approach. Stylistically, it certainly takes nods from Japan, with an emphasis on purity and lightness. It is not fusion and its tireless cliches; instead, it is an effortless merging of two interpretations of, arguably, similar approaches to food.

As Bourdas states on his web site, the food is under-stated and simple – pure. There are no big impacts here, aside from the success of such a soft-spoken menu. No, Sa Qua Na does not reach the upper echelon of the aforementioned three star restaurants, but it feels like the work of a confident chef – someone striving to get to that level. The ingredients on this night failed him a few times; but the problem seems surmountable.

The food is quite light, and one must like that approach to fully enjoy the restaurant. If anything, that could be the main argument against the food – all of it occupies similar territory – no real journey is taken through the meal. Bourdas has a style but maybe nothing to say. Regardless, this was the best meal of my recent trip and I would highly recommend it as a side trip from Paris in the spring, summer, or fall.

Getting & Staying There
Sa Qua Na, and Honfleur, is a day trip from Paris – two hours by car and four by train. Leave Paris around 9am in the morning, take the 2 hour train ride to Le Havre, wait 1.5 hours and board the 30 minute bus to Honfleur. Walk around town, marvel at the historic houses, snack here and there, and saunter into dinner around 8pm. Spend the night and leave Honfleur early afternoon and arrive back in Paris by 5pm.

In the things-to-do department, the old (many restored) houses and back alleys should provide a few hours entertainment. The tourist shops might be your thing and there are plenty of those. The butterfly museum at the edge of town was a bit disappointing, not to mention brutally hot. The maritime museum was quite small but probably worth the minimal admission fee. People-watching on the port should yield some interesting times as well. In short, I’d give it an afternoon and morning before booking it back to Paris.

- chuck

  • paul

    Chuck why is it that you do not describe the dessert part of the meal like you do the other courses are to drunk to remember what they tasted like Lol

  • chuckeats

    Sometimes, that is part of it; sometimes, I’m tired; sometimes, this; and, sometimes, that. I know my (lack of) dessert reports are frustrating to some; and I hope to correct it at some point.

    These desserts were good – that’s about all I remember.

  • Alexander

    Chuck, do you really get full on this? or are you still somewhat hungry after?

  • chuckeats

    I rarely leave a restaurant hungry; from what I remember, this was the perfect amount of food.

  • Thibault


    Love your blog, always pertinent and informative even though I sometime disagree (but that’s what is the most interesting after all).

    However, there is one thing I cannot let you go with.

    There is no way on earth that Honfleur is located east of France. North-west at least, Normandie would be even better. Sure when you look at it from the US it’s far east, but…

    As a French living in Japan for years, I’m really looking forward your Japan experience.

  • chuckeats

    Thanks for the kind words Thibault but I’m confused – it says “west of Paris” (and i didn’t edit the post.)

  • Thibault

    Sorry I should have been clearer.

    I was talking about the categories on the left nav of your blog. Saquana is under the France – east category.

  • chuckeats

    Ahh, thanks, don’t know what I was thinking when I did that – it’s changed now.

  • Luke

    Chuck I have recently discovered your blog and I love it. I have also had the good pleasure of eating in one of your recommend restaurants in France whilst on holidays: Saquana
    We weren’t too keen on the place after seeing the photos you took of the front window, however we were pleasantly surprised after walking in the door with a warm greeting, the clean cut, minimalist feeling and above all the …………..color !

    I don’t think that taking a photo of a closed restaurant does the place justice. Even Cindy Crawford looks average in a pair of track pants and a bomber jacket.
    We took the 80 euro menu after the choice of the 50 menu or the degustation. We had a 10 course meal including the appetizer and petit fours and what great value! We ate for over 2 hours and left a little ‘light and airy’ after an appetizer, bottle of wine and digestives.
    I was a bit confused on what to expect after you started you blog with the Bourdas has one star however deserves 2 on the first page. Then, Bourdas has style but maybe nothing to say on the last page.
    We ate the Daurade and truffle crêpe as you did which were fantastic and apparently house specialties.
    The menu afterwards was totally different we asked about the changes and supposedly the menu is constantly changing with the products available at the height of their season and availability.
    With your blog you talk about lightly and just floated, light in flavor, very airy, light pure and balanced, then you suggested placing a light and creamy torchon of foie gras in the place of the seared foie gras as it was too heavy. Whilst at the same time saying that there was no real journey throughout the meal. I liked the difference in textures.
    Is a gelatinous mouth feel a characteristic of a well cooked piece of turbot?
    We had the pigeon as our meat course the cuisson was perfection. The two desserts were magical and the petit fours unforgettable (unlike yours as you forgot to take a photo and commentaries of them! ;-)
    All in all we loved the meal , the restaurant, the whole experience and are glad that they didn’t take their inspiration for the interior design from the neighboring restaurants such as » le perroquet ver t » (the green parrot)
    Saquana: A great value meal 10 courses for 80 Euros light and well balanced.
    The USA: A country in financial difficulty and full of overweight citizens.
    It seems as though chuck you have discovered the restaurant that could save our country!!

  • Estefania

    Why dont you comment about desserts? You dont give much importance to it?

  • chuckeats

    end of the meal, palate fatigue, sometimes too much wine, old memory – take your pick :-)

  • les Halls

    Loved your comments very interesting, going to Honfleur for a few day’s week after next
    looking forward to trying Sa Qua Na having already eaten at Michel Bras in Laguiole, Sophie Pic and Tris Gros to name a few it will be interesting to see how Alex Bourdas compares, will let you know.
    Bon Apetit and cheers