For all the times we had visited Sarlat, the beautiful medieval town about 20 kilometres from Daglan, my wife Jan and I had never eaten at Les Jardins d’Harmonie, until friends Iain and Nancy suggested we try it. In fact, we’d never even heard of the restaurant.
But we very much enjoyed our lunch with Iain and Nancy, and later had a good meal there with our friend Suzanne. So this past Friday, when we were considering a place to lunch with friends Chris, Joanne, and Les, plus Chris and Joanne’s two children, we thought we’d give Les Jardins d’Harmonie another try. It’s a place you might want to consider.
Because it’s a bit hidden away, I’ll provide a visual guide to finding the restaurant. And even if you’re not interested in tracking it down, you might like to see how Sarlat looks at this time of year.
We begin our short walk at the large parking lot, Place de la Grande Rigaudie, which lies at the south end of the centre of the old town. Here’s the view as you enter the Secteur sauvegardé, or Protected Area, heading north:
Just keep on walking, and when you saw the restaurant La Rapière on your left, you’ll know you’re getting close.
And this is where you’ll find the restaurant — through the archway marked Passage Henry de Segogne, which adjoins the Maison de La Boétie, which was built in 1525. (No extra charge for historical gems like that.)
A few steps past the arch, and here you are:
Before we get to the food we enjoyed, a few words on the restaurant’s overall reputation. In the 2013 Michelin red guide to hotels and restaurants, I could find no mention of it. Yet it’s clearly trying hard to be a fine-dining destination — sometimes succeeding, sometimes flopping. My latest check of TripAdvisor reviews showed these ratings: Excellent — 72; Very Good — 43; Average — 15; Poor — 15; and Terrible — 6. So it’s all over the place, although the Excellent and Very Good ratings together represent 76% of all the reviews. (No extra charge for my arithmetic.)
Based on our experience, I can understand the varied points of view. Slow service is one frequent complaint, and our lunch certainly got off to a slow start. (In fairness, last Friday was a holiday, La Toussaint, and Sarlat was quite crowded for a dreary November day. La Toussaint, or All Saints’ Day, is a family-oriented holiday in France, and so the restaurant was particularly busy.)
However, I do think patience is a virtue, and I do sympathize with the difficulties of staffing a restaurant for every kind of day in a tourist area — slow, busy and in-between. Eventually, we did receive our apéritifs, placed our orders (with the fluently bilingual hostess), and settled back to enjoy our meals. So here’s a look.
My entrée was this serving of terrine de foie gras, served with poivres d’Orient and fleur de sel, and I have to say it was absolutely delicious. (I do think it’s time for the chef to lose the “fried spaghetti” garnishes, like the two sticks that you see poking out of the left corner of one of my pieces of terrine. This garnish shows up on many dishes, and doesn’t add much of anything; munching on a fried, dry piece of spaghetti is a bit like eating a twig. At least if he used a twig of rosemary or thyme you would know that you shouldn’t attempt to eat it.)
Jan also raved about her entrée — a carpaccio of scallop, sitting on a bed of very finely chopped vegetables. Here it is:
Because there were five adults at our lunch, and quite a variety of meals, we ordered both white and red wines. The white was reasonably local, from the Bergerac area — a Château de la Jaubertie Mirabelle Blanc, which is made from 50% Semillon grapes and 50% Sauvignon Blanc. The red came from farther afield, in the Loire — a Domaine Filliatreau 2011 Saumur Champigny, which is a Cabernet Franc. Both were good accompaniments to our lunches.
For my plat principal, I ordered the travers de porc, which is fairly hefty chunk of pork rib that’s been baked into tender submission and coated with a thick, sweet sauce — that I happen to like, and various TripAdvisor reviewers couldn’t stand. Here’s my serving, complete with a side dish of rice, extra sauce for dipping, those ubiquitous fried spaghetti sticks, and an assortment of vegetables and mushrooms that was quite grand by restaurant standards in France (where a piece of parsley sometimes serves as The Vegetable). Here’s my serving, which I thoroughly enjoyed:
To wind up our lunch, several of us had the chocolate fondant dessert, which had all the necessary melting chocolate in the centre of the cake, served with a nice ball of ice cream; quite delicious.
So when all was said and one, what’s the recommendation? Our friends Joanne, Chris and Les all thought Les Jardins d’Harmonie was a good choice, and they do know their Greater Daglan Area restaurants. As for Jan and me, I’m sure we’ll go back. And if you go, just be patient at the start if service seems a bit slow; it should all work out fine.
A further wine note. I mentioned earlier that our white wine was from Château de la Jaubertie, which is one of the better known vineyards in the Bergerac area. If you’re interested in learning more about wine-making in general, and the château in particular, you might want to read A Vineyard in the Dordogne, How an English Family Made Their Dream of Wine, Good Food and Sunshine Come True, by Jeremy Josephs. (I downloaded a copy onto my Kindle Fire.) This is certainly not great literature, and not quite the “sunny” tale that the book’s subtitle suggests. It’s actually an intriguing story of a family’s internal battles, name-calling and business politics. Sort of “Dallas,” in southwest France.
A quick update on Halloween. In case you’re wondering, the kids of Daglan apparently did not receive their copy of the memo advising that Halloween is becoming more popular in France.
At our house, we were fully prepared — we had bought lots of candy, loaded up a bunch of individual plastic bags with the sweeties, and placed our jack-o’-lantern on the front steps, with a small flashlight inside of it. We turned on the light at the front steps, and were all set for the trick-or-treat set. Here’s our pumpkin as it looked before night fell:
But for all that, there was so little action it was a bit embarrassing. Here is a photo of two of the five (that’s 5!) trick-or-treating kids who visited us, the entire evening:
The pumpkin went to the déchetterie the very next morning, in disgrace. As for the remaining bags of candy, we have been giving them away to deserving children. No, really, we have.