We had been hoping that this past Sunday would be another beautiful summer’s day, because we knew that the restaurant we would be trying for the first time has lots of outdoor seating. Instead, we woke up to a cool and rainy morning, and proceeded to have a fairly miserable hour-long drive on narrow, twisting roads.
So when we showed up at Le Petit Léon, in the lovely village of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, we were seated inside, away from the wet terrace, and joined friends Helen and Roy at our table for lunch.
As you might suspect, when we had finished our lengthy and truly enjoyable lunch, the weather had changed completely, with brilliant sunshine, as you’ll see in this photograph that I took as we left the restaurant for the long ride home:
We were visiting Le Petit Léon because a friend of my wife Jan had heard a glowing recommendation from a tourist, who had stumbled on the restaurant while driving around the Greater Daglan Area.
Things got even more interesting when I visited Le Petit Léon’s website, where the tagline for the restaurant is “Fine Dining with Rustic French Flair.”
In fact, it turns out to be a summer restaurant only, and the chef is a young New Zealander named Nick Honeyman, who trained at a number of restaurants in Australia and France, including the acclaimed L’Arpège in Paris (three Michelin stars).
We chatted with him after our lunch, and learned that he brings his entire brigade from New Zealand to Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère. So there really is Kiwi magic in the kitchen, although the serving staff all seemed to be French. I’ll write a bit more about him later — but now to the food.
All four of us had the 30-euro, three-course lunch, which offered four choices for each course.
My entrée was a wonderful, rich soup — described on the menu as Potato & Truffel Velouté | courgettes | ricotta | salted melon | garlic. Okay, their spelling isn’t always perfect; that should be truffle. In any case, it was truly exceptional, with a heady aroma of truffle. Here’s my serving:
My plat principal was equally wonderful. The menu describes the dish as Veal Rump | beef cheek | cep sauce | smoked purée | brown onion. More commonly, in France that sauce made with cep would be cèpe, but what the heck. The pieces of veal were perfectly cooked, tender and succulent. The beef cheek was so soft that it was literally in shreds; in the photo below, the beef is in the little bowl on the left, under the smoked purée:
My dessert was a wonderful concoction, described on the restaurant menu as Chocolat | pear & parmesan | fig | spéculoos (so, some of the spellings are French, others English). In case you were wondering, the spéculoos refers to crumbs of a traditional Belgian cookie, cinnamon-flavoured, and surprisingly popular in France. Here’s my dessert:
I’ll close this posting with a few additional bits of information on the locale, the chef, and the restaurant,
The locale. The village name indicates that it’s located on the Vézère River, a long and important tributary of the Dordogne River. The Vézère Valley is made up of limestone cliffs, which are riddled with caves. These provided homes for some of the earliest pre-historic settlers in Europe, and include such famous sites as the Lascaux caves. The whole area was named by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, and has been called The Valley of Mankind.
The chef. When the four of us left the restaurant, Nick Honeyman was relaxing on the terrace with his infant daughter, and we asked him about his plans. It turns out that he loves France, and regards his time at Le Petit Léon as a virtual vacation. Despite running such a high-quality restaurant, he said his time in rural France is stress-free compared with his life back in New Zealand. There, he owns Paris Butter, a fine-dining restaurant in Auckland. Its website offers this tagline: “French Inspired. New Zealand Grown.” I hadn’t thought that New Zealand could be stressful, because I think of it as a green and pleasant land. But Auckland is a major city (population of more than 1.6 million) located near the north end of the North Island. So I guess it’s busy, busy for the chef and his crew.
The restaurant. We’d love to go back, but our visit might have to wait until next summer. We have a lot of social events ahead of us in August, so I figured we could go with our friend Joanne when she visits Daglan in September. But no dice — the restaurant opened June 20th, and is in business only until September 1. Boo hoo!