An oh-so-leisurely Sunday lunch

A leisurely Sunday lunch with good friends, enjoying fine food, is both a treat and a tradition for us here in the Greater Daglan Area. However, I do make a distinction between plain-old leisurely and so-much-time-between-courses-that-you-could-learn-how-to-play-contract-bridge leisurely.

Unfortunately, the latter sort of leisurely was what we experienced on a recent Sunday at Le Saint Martial, a restaurant at the main crossroads in Saint-Martial-de-Nabirat. That’s a village  just a short drive from Daglan over lovely country roads, through farm fields and woods.

I’ll return to the subject of slow service at the end of this posting, but for now let’s take a look at the restaurant and Chef’s generally excellent food.

Le Saint Martial is a handsome restaurant, set in an old limestone building that’s been polished up and refurbished inside. What was once a bar at street level and a tiny restaurant on the lower level is now a full-fledged restaurant devoted to fine dining at both levels.  The interior is modern, well furnished and comfortable. Here’s how it looks from the front:

The restaurant seen from the village's main street.

The restaurant as seen from the village’s main street.

And here’s the rear of the restaurant. For our recent Sunday lunch, we were seated in the lower level, at a table for six just behind that large picture window:

The large ground-floor window was where we were seated.

We were seated near that large ground-floor window.

There were six of us for lunch, celebrating the birthday of one of our friends, and we all began with a Kir Royale (Champagne flavoured with black currant liqueur). About the time that I’d finished my drink, the amuse-bouches were delivered. We each received two small tastings — a dish of foie gras crème brûlée, plus a glass with tartare of tuna covered in a rich sauce. Here’s my serving:

Our amuse-bouches -- foie gras and tuna tartare.

Our amuse-bouchesfoie gras with a sugary crust, and tuna tartare.

As my entrée, I chose foie gras mi-cuit, done in a sort of en croute style. This was a twist on the French classic of a meat terrine, which has foie gras in the centre; this version had a (delicious) meat filling down the centre, surrounded by layers of the foie gras. The sauce (with pieces of fruit) that accompanied the meat was fine, but the crust atop the meat was tough and difficult to cut, and not the least bit flaky. Still, the rich taste of the foie and the meaty filling made the dish a stand-out. Here’s my plate:

I especially loved the meaty filling between the layers of foie gras.

I especially loved the meaty filling between the layers of foie gras.

My main course, or plat principal, was the star of the meal. In a pastry crust sat pieces of the claw meat from an homard bleu — Brittany’s blue lobster — with the tail meat on top. Around it were seashore greens, mushrooms and a few not-very-successful gnocchi that incorporated seaweed. Save for the dense gnocchi, the dish was wonderful — and here it is:

This lobster dish was the star of the show.

This lobster dish was the star of the show.

For dessert, my wife Jan and I each ordered a peach dish that was supposed to be in the style of a tarte tatin. Both of us thought that the peaches lacked the caramel “punch” that’s typical of a tarte tatin, and actually did not have a lot of peach flavour. So the dessert was fine, but not exceptional. Here’s mine:

A good dessert, but not a great dessert.

A good dessert, but not a great dessert.

Now we come to our reaction to the service  we experienced not only at our recent Sunday lunch but at a dinner we had at Le Saint Martial with a group of friends earlier this year. At the dinner, there was one awkward period near the end of the meal where we were ignored for something like 20 minutes.

At our lunch, we never experienced a wait quite that long, but the delays between courses were both noticeable and sometimes uncomfortable. And this occurred despite the fact that we were the only people in the lower part of the restaurant, and only one or two tables were occupied in the upper level.

Le Saint Martial is a family affair, as it happens, with Jean-Marc Réal as the chef and his wife Valérie as hostess — and the one and only server.

Before writing this, I checked TripAdvisor, to see what others thought. Overwhelmingly, the results were positive — out of 103 reviews, 76 gave an Excellent rating, while 23 said their experience was Très bon, or very good. That’s a total of 99 positive reviews. There was just one Mediocre rating, and three ratings of Moyen, or average.

As it happened, the one Moyen review that obviously struck a nerve — because it received a long reply from Mme Réal — was called “Cuisine oui! Service non!” In her reply, Madame recognized that lack of staff was an issue, and said she regretted that the restaurant cannot afford another server.

In the restaurant’s defence, she wrote, tables are brought whole baskets of bread (instead of individual pieces), so customers can munch on bread while waiting for the next course. And guests can pour wine for themselves between courses, once she has opened the bottle and let them have a taste.

Sympathetic as I am to small operations and their tight budgets, it seems to me that adding a not-terribly-costly young man or woman to the team during lunch and dinner services would be a good investment.

He or she could learn the restaurant business while delivering water, bread, and plates of food to the table. And I’m pretty sure that more of the tables would be full of customers if the level of service came a bit closer to matching the standard of the food.


This entry was posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to An oh-so-leisurely Sunday lunch

  1. David says:

    We are An American couple who were looking at home in Daglan on Friday. While standing on the small bridge over the river, a young French man passed us spewing a string of angry French words. We wandered away only to have the man drive by a short time later aiming his car directly at us while we perused the Daglan map. We jumped out if the way but it stained our visit to Daglan and we decided to buy elsewhere. We love your newsletter and do consider our experience an exception but geez. Thanks for the great review!

    Dave and Jason

    • loren24250 says:

      Yikes! What a terrible story! I can’t imagine how this could happen in our normally peaceful village. So sorry you won’t be considering a place here. But once you’re settled — if you’re nearby — please do give Daglan another chance.

  2. Paul says:

    Helpful review and you make a very fair point.

    Thanks Loren


    • loren24250 says:

      You’re welcome. Well, my review also reflected the feelings of our entire group. At one point during the meal, Madame spent a fair bit of time in the wine cellar, searching for a wine we had ordered. That sounds fine — for us — but of course it meant that another table or tables was getting no service.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I do think this review is very unfair. First, it has been posted where Valerie is very unlikely to see it – or, therefore, to have the opportunity to respond. Second, as far as the service is concerned: we live in Daglan and go fairly regularly to Le Saint Martial. We like the bread in a basket and the wine left on the table – that way, everyone can have the quantity they want at the time of their choosing. If only two or three tables were occupied, the pace of service was not down to the absence of a server. Most likely, it’s simply because Valerie’s definition of leisurely differs from yours. It’s a matter of taste. And, anyone who can describe an employee in France as “not-terribly-costly” is not familiar with French social charges! Finally, be grateful that Le Saint Martial remains open most of the year. As of today, Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat closes for almost 6 months – perhaps because its staff costs mean that it’s not economically viable to serve two or three tables?

    • loren24250 says:

      Thanks for your comments. Fair enough — difference of opinion. Just to be clear, I didn’t post my blog where it can’t be seen; my blog is Radio Free Daglan, and always has been. People see it, or they don’t. Anyway, I suppose that one’s view of the restaurant is a matter of taste. I prefer to have my food served at what I consider a reasonable and pleasant pace. If you’re happy with slower service, that’s fine. Enjoy! As far as my “not-terribly-costly” comment, I simply meant that one could hire a lower-cost employee, instead of a top-level server. You’re right to praise Le Saint Martial for staying open most of the year. Still, we won’t be rushing back.

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