For really special meals, my wife Jan and I head to one of the Michelin-starred restaurants in the Greater Daglan Area — places like Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat and Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat, each of which has a single étoile, or star. Both are superb.
Yesterday (Thursday), we ventured further afield and had an amazing lunch at Les Trois Soleils de Montal, a hotel and golf resort whose restaurant, we decided, definitely deserves its star. Not every aspect of our meal was perfect, but it came very close, and a number of the dishes (as you’ll see) were amazing.
The occasion this time was the visit of good friends from Toronto, Rob and Darlene, who are as least as “foodie” as we are. Getting to Les Trois Soleils de Montal took about an hour an a half from our village of Daglan, as the restaurant is located near the village of Saint Céré in the département of the Lot, next to our own Dordogne département. It’s a bit north and east of both Rocamadour (the popular tourist destination) and the village of Gramat. Here’s what the front entrance looks like:
Since the day was sunny and very hot, we opted to sit on the shaded terrace, where the awning protected us from the sun but didn’t do much to lower the heat. Still, it was a nice spot for lunch, with a pleasant (but not dramatic) view over a wide selection of plants and trees. Here’s a view from our table:
Before I get to our meal, I’ll provide a quick reminder about the Michelin system. First of all, only the very best restaurants receive a star at all. In Michelin’s understated prose, one star signifies “une très bonne table,” or “a very good restaurant.” Then, two stars are for places with “excellent cooking, worth a detour,” and three stars (the top rank) identify “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” (We’re making one of those special journeys later this summer, to a restaurant in Paris, and of course will report back.)
The menu at Les Trois Soleils de Montal provides very little information, because the dishes change constantly. The menu simply refers to three déclinaisons, or tasting menus, at 32 euros, 48 euros, and then 78 euros. At the table, the hostess told us what each menu offered that day — and perhaps not surprisingly, all four of us chose the 78-euro déclinaison.
Once we were seated, we ordered a bottle of Champagne to begin. But even before it could be poured, a server whisked individual plates of amuse-bouches in front of us; that was a bit too rushed for our taste, and the goodies looked rather ordinary for a starred restaurant. The slices of sausage were certainly not worthy examples of the kitchen’s skills (other than using a knife) while the small tomato was a bit soggy. On the other hand, the frothy soup of carrots flavoured with galangal, a type of ginger, was delicious. Here’s my serving of amuse-bouches:
However, once we had settled back to finish our Champagne, the service slowed to a more enjoyable pace, and the first of our many courses began to show up — with white Sancerre wine for the earlier dishes, and a bottle of Chinon red wine for the heartier main course. (Chinon comes from the Loire, and is one of the few wines made with the Cabernet Franc grape that I really like.)
Our first entrée was foie gras that had been prepared with a thin, somewhat crisp coating of sweet miso, so that the effect was like the topping of a crème brûlée. Here’s my serving:
Next came a salad — a lovely mix of vegetables with a citrus dressing, on top of big chunks of perfectly cooked lobster meat. Here’s my plate:
Then we had a frothy seafood soup, topped with enoki mushrooms, and with delicious parcels (like ravioli) of langoustines or large prawns floating in it. (I have to point out that this dish was one of a few during the meal where it took a last-minute intervention by the hostess to address the needs of Jan, who is allergic to gluten, and thus can’t eat the wrappers around the langoustines. The hostess quickly took away Jan’s bowl, and brought back another serving in a few minutes, with wrapper-less languoustines.) Here’s my bowl:
For the main fish course, we had perfectly cooked turbot, like this:
And then came the hearty main course, a plate of roast pigeon accompanied by roast onions, carrots and mushrooms. By this point, we were all feeling pretty full, but we soldiered on, as you’d expect. Here’s my pigeon:
Since this is France, we were not deterred from tackling the cheese course. Here’s one of our servers, plating a piece of Roquefort for one of us:
As we slowly began digesting our cheese, what should appear but two plates of desserts, side by side. The main dessert was this plate — a preserved lemon, hollowed out and filled with an intense lemon sorbet, and then surrounded by a variety of red fruits:
Next to it was this plate with a variety of chocolate treats:
And when at last every scrap had been consumed, we relaxed with espressos, and eventually headed back to the car for the drive home to Daglan.
Not surprisingly, what we all wanted to eat for dinner that evening was precisely nothing. And that’s exactly what we had.