Phew! The Basque place still has what it takes

We have been fans of Le Tournepique for a long time. That’s the Basque restaurant in Castelnaud, about 10 kilometres north of Daglan.

Obviously it’s not our “favourite” restaurant (hello? …  no Michelin stars!). But for my wife Jan and me, it’s been one of our go-to places for a comfortable, tasty, and not-too-expensive lunch.

Starting last year, we began to be worried.

We had known that the silver-haired owner (and chef) was hoping to retire and sell his restaurant, and then learned that he had indeed sold. What would happen? Would the delicious Basque food remain?

On Wednesday, we got our answer, and it was all good.

First, a quick visual reminder of the restaurant. It’s located right on the Castelnaud side of the bridge that spans the Dordogne River, so it’s easy to find. Here’s a look:

Le Tournepique is right at the end of the bridge.

Le Tournepique is right at the end of the bridge.

When we first arrived on Wednesday, Jan and I were a bit concerned: We were the only patrons, and it was well past noon. Uh oh. Then, as time went on, more and more people arrived, until the place was just about packed. So that’s a good turnout on a cool day in March, well before the real start of the tourist season.

As for the menu, I’d say it’s actually improved, because now it includes both the popular Basque dishes we’ve enjoyed, as well as a good number of classic dishes from this area (including, of course, a good number of duck treats, like confit de canard).

And the cooking was just as good, and sometimes even better, than the previous chef-owner had managed.

What did we have, I can almost hear you asking, and how much did it cost?

Well, we each had a kir (white wine with cassis syrup), followed by a bottle of Spanish rosé wine to go with our meal.

For Jan, lunch was a large bowl of sweet mussels, and a generous serving of absolutely delicious French fries. (Trust me, I know.)

For me, an entrée of tapas, which included Serrano ham, chorizo, red peppers with garlic, anchovies, and more.  As my plat principal, I actually had three small dishes, such as a tasty piperade (peppers, tomatoes, onions) served with more ham. All three dishes were delicious, and wonderfully hot (temperature, not spiciness). Then came my dessert — a slice of Basque cake — followed by coffees for both of us.

Total? Sixty-five euros, which we thought was just fine.

So, phew! All is well at the Basque place. Which is actually now the Basque-and-Périgord place.

 

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sunshine makes the difference

We’re now officially done with winter, and frankly we can’t complain too much about it. The season was relatively mild, there was no snow to shovel, and my wife Jan and I did have that Moroccan holiday at the end of February. But a Daglan winter is generally grey and a bit rainy, and so when the sun made an appearance this morning, things took on a new, spring-like look.

I’ve actually avoided taking photos around the village for a while, simply because of the gloomy weather. But now, in the sunshine, I can show off some of what’s going on.

First to come are the flowers and flowering shrubs — like the forsythia in front of our house:

Another spring for our trusty forsythia.

Another spring for our trusty forsythia.

One of our neighbours has placed these pots with bright yellow flowers beside the main road that runs through Daglan:

Yellow flowers brighten up the side of this house.

Yellow flowers brighten up the side of this house.

Another neighbour regularly puts out several pots of flowers each spring, beside her front door. And here’s her latest collection:

A growing collection of flower pots.

A growing collection of flower pots.

There’s also a bit more activity in terms of business. The shop of Fabrice le Chef has opened for the season, and now has an awning so that patrons can enjoy a coffee or something to eat on the patio beside the shop, regardless of the weather. And there are more merchants taking part in Daglan’s Sunday market now, including the woman who sells plants and flowers, and the sausage vendor. Here’s the market as it looked this morning at around 11:30:

The Sunday market in Daglan's main square.

The Sunday market in Daglan’s main square.

Outside the village, the trees and shrubs are bursting into bloom — like this shrub with a cloud of white flowers, growing on the hillside on the left as you leave Daglan for St. Cybranet:

A cloud of white flowers.

A cloud of white flowers.

The flowers may be out, but as you can see, the trees are still lacking their leaves:

The flowers are out, but not the leaves.

The flowers are out, but not the leaves.

So we still have a ways to go before we’re into the full bloom of spring. But we are getting there, and we’re all pretty pleased about that.

Posted in Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Our express (two-hour) lunch

Life is returning to the Greater Daglan Area, after a typically grey and quiet-as-a-mouse winter. Flowering trees are bursting into bloom, fields are being plowed and readied for planting, and — perhaps most welcome — establishments are opening for “the season.” And that includes Daglan’s prize restaurant, Le Petit Paris.

So today we were off to Le Petit Paris to try something new: its economical 17-euro menu, just unveiled.

To remind you of what the restaurant looks like, here it is — parked behind the village’s war memorial, and with its terrace just waiting for somewhat warmer weather:

The face of Le Petit Paris, in the heart of Daglan.

The face of Le Petit Paris, in the heart of Daglan.

Out front is the chalkboard heralding the 17-euro menu, which consists of an amuse bouche or small appetizer, a plat principal or main course, and dessert (the famous café gourmand). Here’s the sign:

The blackboard out front announces the new 17-euro menu.

The blackboard out front announces the new 17-euro menu.

There were four of us for lunch: my wife Jan and I were joined by friends Rosemary and Richard. Once we had settled and ordered an apéritif (the restaurant’s Champagne Imperial cocktail), we talked with Madame Guilbot (the gracious hostess and wife of Chef Sylvain) about the new menu; she described it as the “express” menu for people in a hurry. (Ha!)

Today’s dishes included rillettes (a coarse paté, usually containing shreds of meat) of pork and duck, plus small glasses of split-pea soup, served cold; then confit of duck (the whole leg of the duck, cooked slowly in melted fat); and finally a café gourmand, or espresso served with a selection of small desserts. To accompany the meal, we chose a bottle of Château Sancerre rouge. And here’s our amuse bouche tray:

Our amuse bouche tray, for four.

Our amuse bouche tray, for four.

And here’s the plat principal, served with what seemed to be light “fritters” made with potatoes, plus some greens:

Cuisse de canard? Quelle surprise!

Cuisse de canard? Quelle surprise!

And then came dessert, the café gourmand, consisting of an espresso plus a nice blob of chocolate mousse, a bit of cake with fruit, and a (very good) ice cream, which Richard thought included almonds and I thought included pistachios (could have been both). Here it is:

Coffee and some small desserts.

Coffee and some small desserts.

So, when it was all over, what did we think? The total bill for each couple was 71 euros, which didn’t seem too much given that we’d begun with Champagne cocktails, had a nice bottle of wine, and two extra coffees.

And the food? It was just fine. The rillettes were as good as always (although a bit more garlicky), the cuisse de canard was very moist and tender (although the skin wasn’t as crispy as we would have liked), and the café gourmand was tasty.

Will it earn Le Petit Paris a coveted Michelin star? Not likely. But it seemed good value, and was an enjoyable lunch.

As for the “express” aspect, we took a good two hours to enjoy our lunch. But Jan and I were with good friends, it was a comfortable spot, and there was no rush. So, no complaints. But as I’m sure you would expect, we were the last to leave the restaurant.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Weather in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

French connection: Morocco, Part III

We are now settled at home in Daglan, where the sun is shining, where I just finished some chores in shirtsleeves (no jacket required), and where spring is in the air. But in today’s posting I’ll take a final look back at our Moroccan vacation, in the last week of February. The topic? The resort where we stayed.

A few introductory comments. Why am I writing about a commercial enterprise — is this an ad? Absolutely not. Radio Free Daglan doesn’t accept advertising; I write about things that interest me. And I was particularly interested in Club Med, because for all that I’ve read and heard about the resort chain over the years, my wife Jan and I had never visited one of its properties. Finally, I’ve written this posting somewhat differently: You’ll find short bits of text at first, interspersed with lots of photos; then near the end of the posting, I have more detailed comments, just in case you’re still interested. And awake.

So with no further build-up, here’s the sign that greeted us as we arrived from the airport at the Club Med Marrakech La Palmeraie:

At the entrance to the resort grounds.

At the entrance to the resort grounds.

Having made our way through security at the front gate, we travelled along a well-landscaped road to reach the entrance:

We pass through a gate and head towards the resort.

We pass through a gate and head towards the resort.

As we climbed out of our van, we were greeted by Club Med staff and a group of men playing Moroccan music, and looking like this:

Moroccan music greets us at the entrance.

Moroccan music greets us at the entrance.

The grounds are absolutely immense, since they encompass, among other things, a gigantic swimming pool (unheated: never got in it); a golf course; a putting green; bocce courts; tennis courts; a nightclub and an adjoining theatre; a gym; a spa; and lots of wide-open spaces like this terrace:

Part of the huge terrace adjoining the main pool.

Part of the huge terrace adjoining the main pool.

Here’s a look at just one part of the main pool:

Part of the resort's main swimming pool.

A quiet corner of the resort’s main swimming pool.

And here’s a view over the resort grounds, as seen from a tall tower on the property. If I’ve got my bearings right, we’re looking towards Marrakesh itself, with foothills of the Atlas Mountains in the distance:

A view from a tower on the grounds.

A view from a tower on the grounds.

Our room was reasonably spacious and well-appointed, and the mattress was nice and firm. The daily towel art that our maid provided was just a bonus:

Towel art -- two swans on our bed.

Towel art — two swans on our bed.

The biggest surprise for me was just how family-oriented this Club Med was. In my mind, the chain still had a sort of “Swinging Sixties” reputation, but in fact it seems to have evolved dramatically, and now puts a high priority on families — and especially on keeping kids entertained. Just one of countless entertainments for the kids was this pair of snake charmers:

Two snake charmers kick off their act.

Two snake charmers kick off their act.

In this photo, the back-up man keeps beating his drum, while the lead charmer gets up close and personal with his cobra — as the kids sit mesmerized:

The lead charmer plays kissy-face with a cobra.

The lead charmer plays kissy-face with a cobra.

One morning, the Club Med staff took the younger kids off on an excursion on the grounds, painted their faces, and then led a parade back onto the main terrace, where their parents welcomed them before lunch:

Parents re-join their kids at the end of a parade through the grounds.

Parents re-join their kids at the end of a parade through the grounds.

Horseback riding was a popular activity, and so was riding camels, like this:

Parents and kids enjoying a camel ride.

Parents and kids enjoying a camel ride.

And what about food and wine, I can almost hear you asking. Well, there was an awful lot of it, and it was generally excellent, although having every meal as a buffet can be a bit disappointing, especially as the dishes were closer to lukewarm than hot. (Actually, the meals in the main restaurant were all buffet-style; there is another restaurant on the grounds that does provide a menu, but we didn’t find the food as appetizing there as in the main restaurant.)

My favourite meal on the grounds was an outdoor lunch that was beautifully set up. We walked to our table on carpets, past a sort of honour guard of camels and horses, and then chose from a great variety of Moroccan foods, much of it freshly cooked on grills. There was live music, some communal singing, and a friendly atmosphere. Here’s how it looked:

A beautiful Moroccan meal in the sunshine.

A beautiful Moroccan meal in the sunshine.

The variety and abundance of foods at every meal were amazing. Unlike the meals at other all-inclusive resorts we’ve visited, the meals at this Club Med didn’t suffer from the “sameness” problem — on a given night, dinner might include several kinds of pasta, a huge variety of salads, several fish and seafood dishes, a number of meats, and much more. Like Beef Wellington, for example:

Beef Wellington on the dinner buffet table.

Beef Wellington on the dinner buffet table.

For me, breakfast was a real highlight. At home, it’s usually some Greek yoghurt and a bran cereal, but when I’m travelling, I love a big, hot breakfast. Every day at the resort, one of the countless breakfast offerings was an egg dish made by a very quick chef, who made omelettes as well as simple fried eggs:

The egg chef was on hand for every breakfast.

The egg chef was on hand for every breakfast.

But the killer for me was the huge assortment of pastries — certainly as good as, and possibly better than, any I’ve ever eaten for breakfast at a hotel in Paris, and with much more variety. Personally, I hold the pastry chefs mostly responsible for the weight I gained in our week (more on that later). Have a look:

My favourites -- and my downfall.

My favourites — and my downfall.

Vacationers don’t live for food alone, of course, and Club Med resorts are known for some pretty professional entertainment each evening, with shows like this:

One of the shows, held each night in the resort's theatre.

One of the shows, held each night in the resort’s theatre.

Several of the shows featured acrobats, tossing each other around the stage, or circling out over the audience:

An acrobat swings over the audience at the resort's theatre.

An acrobat swings over the audience at the resort’s theatre.

So that should give you a pretty thorough view of what our resort was like. But if you’re interested, here are some summary thoughts:

The accommodation. We were happy enough with our room, although it did lack some of the extras that seem to be expected at luxury hotels — little bottles of body lotion, fluffy bathrobes, and so on. On the plus side, it had a large walk-in shower (not the tricky and sometimes terrifying shower-bath combinations found in so many French hotels), was kept very clean, and was supplied with fresh bottled water each day.

The weather. Mornings and evenings were surprisingly cool, and I wound up buying a zip-up  sweatshirt and a scarf to keep warm. But the afternoons were sunny and pleasant. I’m thinking that March or April might be better for a visit, if you’re after sun and swimming.

The food. For quantity, variety, and quality, the food at this Club Med was the best of any of the buffets we’ve had at various resorts and hotels. But we were happier at La Source in Grenada a few years ago, where breakfasts and lunches were buffets, but dinners were served à la carte. Jan in particular was unhappy that so many of the foods at the Club Med main restaurant were cool to lukewarm by the time we walked our plates back to our table.

The drinks. No complaints about the wine and other drinks. They were freely available, and generally quite good. We never felt compelled to pay extra for any of the “premium” wines, because the Moroccan rosé (actually a gris) was tasty and refreshing.  If you wanted to stretch out your dinner or lunch with another glass or two, or even another bottle, there was never a fuss. Bar service was usually quick and professional.

The activities. As you can imagine, no complaints here. We took part in the aquagym exercises one morning in the “tranquil” pool (adults-only, heated) but on other mornings we were either away from the resort or found the air simply too cool for comfort. We used the well-equipped gym quite a lot, and I had a good back massage at the spa one morning. As for other sports and activities, there are tons.

The guests. I’d say the clientele was reasonably upscale, but not over-the-top wealthy. The biggest surprise was how family-oriented the resort was, and frankly that was a bit of a bother. We didn’t mind the little kids around us — generally, they were quite cute and well-behaved, and we enjoyed watching some of their activities. But the pre-teens and teens were sometimes just too much, running through the bar, jumping off stairs, pushing one another, and so on.

The bottom line. Were we glad we went? Yes, for sure. Would we go again? No — the once was enough.  (On another trip to Morocco, we’d probably stay in another area, and possibly not in an all-inclusive resort.) Would we recommend this Club Med? Absolutely, if you have kids up to the age of 15 or 16 (after that age, teens find just about everything boring, especially if their parents are nearby).

And finally, what about that weight gain I’ve mentioned? Well, in the one week we were away, I packed on 2.4 kilos, or more than five pounds. Again, I blame the pastry chefs, plus the fact that we tended to eat big dinners (which we don’t, while at home). Having returned to Daglan, I’ve already lost about half that weight-gain, and I’m staying as far away from the bakery in Castelnaud as I can.

 

Posted in Food, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

French connection: Morocco, Part II

In today’s posting, we visit the medina of Marrakech — the city’s ancient quarter — and enter the souk or market via the Jamaa el Fna, a huge square in the heart of the city.

In the interests of accuracy, my wife Jan and I actually made the trip to the souk on the morning of Monday, February 23, at the start of our one-week vacation in Morocco. To get there, we took the free bus that was provided by our resort, the Club Med Marrakech La Palmeraie.

As I wrote in yesterday’s posting, I was  enchanted with Morocco, as Jan was during her vacation there some 30 years ago. She particularly wanted me to see the Jamaa el Fna, a famous square whose name seems to have many spellings and many meanings, including “assembly of the dead,” named for the public executions that took place there.

I’ll confess I was a bit apprehensive about the venture, recalling the terrible explosion that took place on April 28, 2011 at a café on the edge of the square, killing 17 people. Just how tense would the place feel?

As it turned out, it was a pretty easy-going and enjoyable trip. As we clambered out of our bus, a man latched onto us and made it clear that he very much wanted to be our guide. After saying no quite a few times, we finally said yes; the price seemed reasonable for his morning’s work, and he was not only friendly but also spoke good English.

As we crossed the huge square, which seemed fairly bare, he explained that mornings tend to be quieter; the activity picks up as the day rolls along. So for us, there was not a lot to see in the square, except for a few snake charmers, some monkeys on leashes, and women who could decorate your hands with henna.

Here is our guide chatting with Jan, as we stopped for a coffee and some water on the edge of the square.

We've stopped for coffee, water, and a chat with our guide.

We’ve stopped for coffee, water, and a chat with our guide.

After the coffee break, we finished our walk across the square, passing these stalls selling oranges and orange juice:

Orange juice was for sale at several stalls around the square.

Orange juice was for sale at several stalls around the square.

And then it was down this wide street, and into the souk itself:

Our guide walks with Jan across the square and towards the souk.

Our guide walks with Jan across the square and towards the souk.

What we found was a maze of inter-connecting small streets and alleyways, lined with stalls selling just about anything — jewellery, fresh meat, statues, clothing, shoes, lamps, and much more. The streets are narrow and cobbled, so the walking isn’t all that easy. Carts pulled by donkeys, or pushed by men, as well as bicycles and motor scooters, managed to thread their way among the shoppers. Here’s just one of many carts:

Carts like this were common sights in the market area.

Carts like this were common sights in the market area.

The next photo shows one of the loveliest and quietest streets we saw, but it gives you some idea of the market area:

One of the quieter streets in the souk.

One of the quieter streets in the souk.

As it turned out, our guide had a specific destination in mind — a government-run store that sells a wide variety of herbs and spices and of course the ever-present Moroccan wonder-drug and all-purpose cooking-and-flavouring oil, argan oil. (That’s the oil that comes from a type of nut that goats seem to love, as I showed in yesterday’s posting.)

After a brief tour of the store, and a demonstration of argan oil extraction, we were led into this room where the store’s manager explained (in quite good English) the uses of virtually every herb, spice and oil mixture in the store:

We get a demonstration of how to rub oil on your temples.

We get a demonstration of how to rub oil on your temples.

In this next photo, he’s ticking off the benefits of argan oil. Eventually he finished his pitch, we bought a few items (including some saffron and one of the argan oil mixtures), and headed back out to the main square. After a rest and another coffee, we walked back to the waiting bus — thinking ahead to a big fat lunch.

Ticking off some of the benefits of the natural argan oil.

Ticking off some of the benefits of the natural argan oil.

And speaking of big fat lunches, in my next posting, I’ll offer a comprehensive review of our experience at the Club Med resort. You just might be surprised at how much weight a person can gain in a week.

Posted in Food, French language, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

French connection: Morocco, Part I

We are now back home in Daglan after spending the last week of February vacationing in the Kingdom of Morocco. It was the first time I had ever set foot on the African continent, but it was the second visit to Morocco for my wife Jan, who has raved about the country for years.

Morocco turned out to be easily the most “exotic” or different country I’ve ever visited, and one of the things that surprised me was just how French the people and customs are. (Quick facts: the population of Morocco is just over 33 million; and it became fully independent in March 1956, with the ending of the French protectorate.) Hence my title, the “French connection.”

While Arabic and Berber are the country’s official languages, French is spoken widely, and we used it frequently. Interestingly, we commented that many French-speakers in Morocco were easier to understand than some of our neighbours in Daglan, probably because they learned French in school, instead of picking up the language (and the slang, and the accent) from family and friends in rural France.

In any case, in this and the next two postings, I plan to give you a taste of the country and the places we visited.

We’ll start with the airport in Marrakech where we landed, having flown via Air France directly from Toulouse. The flight takes just a bit over two hours, so that part of the journey was  quite easy. (Typically, of course, travel from Daglan is not all that straightforward. First we had to drive 30 minutes to Gourdon; then take the train for about two hours to Toulouse; then take a taxi to an airport hotel; and then spend the night at the hotel to catch a morning flight.)  In any case, here’s the airport in Marrakech:

Here's where we landed in Marrakech.

Here’s where we landed in Marrakech.

On the way to our resort, we saw the kind of mixed traffic you might expect — modern cars and trucks and buses, plus beat-up vehicles, plus pedestrians trying to dodge their way across busy streets, with bicycles and motorbikes everywhere, and quite a few carts being pulled by horses or mules. Or men.

But it certainly wasn’t the terrifying or chaotic scene that I’ve observed (at least on television) in some countries in Africa and Asia; and in fact, I think I could drive more comfortably by myself in Marrakech than in Rome.

Exotic? Indeed. Street signs are usually in both Arabic and French; the dress is obviously specific to Morocco; and you do come across camel drivers and snake charmers reasonably often. This man and his cobra were on display at our resort, entertaining a group of children one afternoon, but we also saw quite a few snake charmers in the main square of Marrakech:

This snake charmer was performing -- for the benefit of kids -- at our resort.

This snake charmer was performing — for the benefit of kids — at our resort.

A sight we both loved was the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, which lie outside Marrakech. When Jan was in Morocco some 30 years ago, her visit was in September, so the snow hadn’t fallen yet on the mountaintops. But for our February trip, the snow was still glistening.

In this next photo, taken from a tower on our resort grounds, you can make out the mountains in the distance, although they may look like fluffy clouds to you:

The snow-capped Atlas Mountains are in the distance.

The snow-capped Atlas Mountains are in the distance.

While we spent much of our time at our resort (a Club Med facility), we did get off the grounds to visit the heart of Marrakech, as well as the port of Essaouira, formerly a Portuguese stronghold known as Mogador.

Six of us made the day-long trip to and from Essaouira — the driver and our guide, with Jan and me, and another couple of tourists from Switzerland. Along the way, we made a few stops, first for some (truly awful) coffee. Then we pulled over to see a group of goats, who regularly climb the argan tree to eat its fruit; the nut inside provides the incredibly popular argan oil that is used both in cooking and to treat virtually every ailment known to mankind. Here are the argan-munching goats at work:

Just off the highway was this tree, covered in hungry goats.

Just off the highway was this tree, covered in hungry goats.

As we stood by the side of the road, a shepherd rushed over with a kid for us to admire. Here’s our fellow traveller, the woman from Switzerland, holding the beautiful young goat:

Our companion on the trip was able to cuddle with this kid.

Our companion on the trip was able to cuddle with this kid.

As we approached Essaouira, heading down from the hills toward the Atlantic Ocean, our guide stopped our van so that we could admire the town and its harbour in the distance. Strictly by chance (ha!) there were a couple of camels on the scene, just itching to have their photos taken with the tourists, and to earn a tip for their owner. Here I am, at a comfortable distance from the larger of the two camels:

Looking down from the hills to the harbour of Essaouira.

Looking down from the hills to the harbour of Essaouira.

Once we reached Essaouira, we headed for the harbour itself, and braced ourselves against some fierce winds as we looked over the fishing fleet:

Checking out the fishing boats in the harbour.

Checking out the fishing boats in the harbour.

We also took some time to watch boats being repaired, and some being built. The owner of this boat took the photo himself, and told us that it would six men a full year to complete the vessel:

A work in progress.

Boat-building: a work in progress.

As we neared the end of our visit to the harbour, we came across two fishermen who were cleaning squid — while being watched very closely by a patient cat, who was obviously hoping for a scrap or two:

The patient cat kept waiting for one of the fishermen to offer a treat.

This patient cat kept waiting for one of the fishermen to offer a treat.

And then we walked off to a hotel, where we spent a few relaxed hours with some tasty Moroccan rosé wine and perhaps the best meal of our trip — a delicious plate of nicely spiced and fried John Dory.

In my next posting, we’ll go into the heart of Marrakech itself.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Food, History in France, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mixed results at a new Asian restaurant

Even the most ardent lover of traditional food here in the Périgord can grow weary of cuisse de canard and magret de canard and manchons de canard. So a new Asian restaurant — like a Vietnamese restaurant that recently opened in Sarlat — is an obvious draw.

My wife Jan and I are big fans of Sawadee, a Thai restaurant in Cénac, a short drive from Daglan, but sadly it’s now closed for the winter.

So on Friday, on a shopping trip to Sarlat, we decided to have lunch at Le Bambou. And our verdict? Decidedly mixed.

Le Bambou is right on one of the main streets leading into downtown Sarlat, not far from the  renovated Lidl supermarket. It’s in an old limestone building, and looks attractive enough. Here it is:

Red lanterns make the entrance easy to spot.

Red lanterns make the entrance easy to spot.

The inside looks pretty good too, with exposed stone walls around the perimeter and some nice modern touches as well:

The interior is comfortable, with reasonably well-spaced tables.

The interior is comfortable, with reasonably well-spaced tables.

We liked some of the decorative touches, like these planters suspended on a wall near our table:

Planters hanging on a wall.

Planters hanging on a wall.

When it came to ordering, however, things got a bit messier. The head man — presumably the owner — was enthusiastic, but hard to understand. Just one example: We ordered a glass of sake to begin, and when it arrived I asked him (in French), whether it was hot. “Oh, oui, oui!” he exclaimed. Then we took a sip and found that it was cold. I can only presume that he thought I was asking if it was warming, as opposed to hot (and it was indeed very warming).

Things got worse when the waitress arrived, and Jan tried to explain her gluten allergy, including the fact that we had brought along a bottle of gluten-free soy sauce for the kitchen to use when preparing Jan’s dishes, if required. That discussion went pretty much nowhere, and at times our waitress seemed to be speaking more Vietnamese than French. Much confusion.

Still, we ordered, and hoped for the best.

As my entrée, I chose shrimp sticks — sort of like shrimp fritters wrapped around sticks of sugar cane and then deep-fried. They were fine, if a bit gummy, and the sauce that came  with them helped. Here’s my plate:

The shrimp on sugar cane sticks were good, but a bit gummy.

The shrimp on sugar cane sticks were good, but a touch gummy.

For my plat principal, I ordered canard laqué (or lacquered duck), thinking it would have a crispy skin like Peking duck. Instead, my plate was a whole lot of duck breast slices covered in a sauce. It was fine (although much too large a portion), but not really what I wanted or expected. Here it is:

The duck breast slices were drowning in sauce.

The duck breast slices were drowning in sauce.

For dessert, I decided on something tropical — like a banana dessert. So I chose the kind of dessert that comes with three scoops of ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and chopped nuts. Yes, it was the traditional banana split. like this:

That Vietnamese classic: A banana split.

That Vietnamese classic: A banana split.

So we left the restaurant well fed, and not really unhappy. But neither were we delighted with either the service or the food, and so the consensus is that we probably won’t be rushing back. Meanwhile, we look forward to Sawadee in Cénac re-opening, next month.

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