Eating out in the Dordogne Valley
Local resident Mark Sampson has some insdier tips for dining well in the historical Haut-Quercy area of the Lot département
1. Château de la Treyne
If you’re looking for somewhere on holiday to celebrate a special anniversary, this place is the stuff of fantasy. It’s certainly not cheap, but you’re paying for not only a memorable gastronomic experience, but also what’s called the cadre.
Built in the 14th and 17th centuries on the rive gauche of the Dordogne between Lacave and Pinsac, the château is set in a formal garden surrounded by 120 hectares of woods and parkland. Depending on the weather, you can dine out on the terrace that overlooks the stately, quietly flowing river or inside in the graceful Louis XIII dining room.
The welcoming ex-Parisian hosts, Philippe and Stéphanie Gombert, have created an environment that is elegant and distinctive without being at all intimidating. Their Périgourdin chef, Stéphane Andrieux, was awarded a Michelin star back in 2001 for his upmarket regional cuisine. Vegetarians and food allergies are accommodated without fuss or stigma, and the helpful staff guide you unobtrusively through each fabulous culinary creation. As an entrée, for example, the combination of raw and cooked green asparagus with a perfect poached egg in an aromatic truffle sauce is breathtaking.
Next up, perhaps, a fillet of duck with a rich red-berry gravy, or monkfish in a sauce of delicate curry spices and Quercy saffron. Then top this off with a dessert of pistachio sablé with mixed berries and a blackcurrant marmalade accompanied by a strawberry sorbet. The wines are refined, the bread is baked daily on the premises and all the ingredients selected have to meet the stringent criteria of a classified Relais & Châteaux in terms of season, locality and environmental respect.
The restaurant accommodates just 40 people and, while open for dinner every evening, lunch is served only on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and public holidays. So you’ll need to book your table. Fixed-price lunch menus start at €48 and dinner menus are from €96.
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Château de la Treyne, 46200 Lacave
Tel: (Fr)5 65 27 60 60
2. Le Pont de l’Ouysse
Picture a hot day in summer: eating out on a terrace underneath a spreading sweet chestnut or a venerable lime; just across from the ruins of a bridge and within earshot of the river that swept it away in 1966; almost literally underneath the Château de Belcastel, perched on its vertiginous limestone cliff. A leisurely time here chez the Chambon family is de rigeur.
While their mother oversees the hotel and their father the Bistro Chambon in Brive, chef Stéphane and maître d’ Matthieu are busy in the restaurant building on their father’s reputation for sumptuous local cuisine (which earned Daniel Chambon a Michelin star back in 1989). For all Stéphane’s early international experience – in London, Bangkok and Dubai, for example – his aim is to introduce outsiders to the best local produce and to offer locals a new take on it.
The produce is seriously local. The Rocamadour (melted into a bed of truffle-tinged mascarpone) for my extraordinary cheese course came from Uncle Guy’s nearby goat farm. From the Ouysse valley, a brief but beautiful tributary of the Dordogne, came the cèpes for a divine entrée of a terrine with garlic, parsley and a mushroom velouté, the trout fillet (with a crust of ground walnuts on a bed of young leaks) for my plat principal, and the strawberries that filled a filigree meringue along with a coconut sorbet and a Chantilly lifted with Szechuan pepper.
You can linger long over these and other components of their gastronomic Menu Belcastel with a great Château les Croisilles Cahors wine, then take a post-prandial stroll to the confluence of the Ouysse and the Dordogne before returning for an afternoon tea on the sun terrace. You’d never want to leave.
Vegetarians are welcomed and the menu changes with the seasonal fare. Fixed price lunches (except Sundays) start at €40 and dinners are from €60. The gastronomic Menu Belcastel is €89.
Le Pont de l’Ouysse, 46200 Lacave
Tel: (Fr)5 65 37 87 04
3. Les Trois Soleils
Tucked up in a wooded glade within sight of the Château de Montal, a classified Renaissance jewel on the edge of the market town of St. Céré, this unassuming hotel/restaurant is tailored for foodies with a sense of adventure.
A largely self-taught son of a local hotelier, Frédérick Bizat is passionate about his art. The ingredients themselves are primal and he takes consummate care in sourcing the best available – preferably but not exclusively in the locality. If the reputation of French cuisine rests rightly on its ingredients, it shouldn’t rest on its laurels. It has to be open to outside influences. My exquisite entrée, for example, was wild turbot with a delicate fennel purée given a slight Oriental zing by some Japanese nori and the zest of lemon from the Midi.
Preceded by either ravioli of langoustines or lightly fried foie gras marinated with saki and Kyoto miso, it was followed by a succulent grain-fed roast pigeon washed down with a spicy 2009 Madiran selected by the chef’s wife, Florence. The cheese board ushered in a chocolate surprise with red fruits and a crème brulée, or an extraordinary inverted variegated sugar cone concealing local strawberries, cream and sorbet.
A few years ago, the Bizats boldly abolished their à la carte. Frédérick is not one for florid descriptions and too many stock dishes belie guaranteed freshness. The menu changes each day within the context of three set formulae. While happy to cook for vegetarians, they should phone the day before to warn him. The proof of the pudding, so to speak, lies in the Michelin star and a steady increase in clients.
The set formulae start at €32 (for weekday lunches only) and rise to €82 for a seven-course ‘declension’. In high season, the restaurant is open all week except for Monday lunch.
Les Trois Soleils de Montal, 46400 St. Jean Lespinasse
Tel: (Fr)5 65 10 16 16
Stroll the markets and shops of the Dordogne Valley area and stock up on its cheeses, wines and walnut-based oils and cakes
Café Douceur, 34 rue Général de Gaulle, 19120 Beaulieu sur Dordogne
Tel: (Fr)5 55 28 67 05
Yes, it’s just into the Corrèze, but this café is ‘sweetness’ itself. It’s open all day most days for everything from tea and home-made biscuits to copious meals made from local ingredients.
Le Relais Sainte Anne, rue du Pourtanel, 46600 Martel
Tel: (Fr)5 65 37 40 56
This erstwhile religious school for girls serves the best aperitifs in town. Since licensing laws dictate that they must be a prelude to a meal, enjoy the full enchanting experience!
Marché de Souillac
Place de Doussot et Place Saint Martin, 46200 Souillac
Tel (Office de Tourisme): (Fr)5 65 33 22 00
Located by a magnificent 12th century Roman abbey, and with everything from cheese to charcuterie to vegetables, the market will cater for most of your needs. Fridays all year from 9am-1pm.
Eric Lamy, Chocolatier
5, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde
Tel: (Fr)5 55 18 91 26
Cakes, macaroons, chocolates...all hand-made in the Lamy atelier and exhibited in the neighbouring shop like works of art. Discover a wonderful world of chocolate! Visits and courses are available.
Bread and Cakes
Jean-Pierre Fonteneau, Boulangerie/Patisserie Borie
Place Jet d’Eau, 19500 Meyssac
Tel: (Fr)5 55 25 40 78
If you’re near Collonges la Rouge, this popular bakery in neighbouring Meyssac offers a wide range of fine patisseries. Their rustic breads include the best rye loaf in the area.
Cave du Léopard
Place des Consuls, 46600 Martel
Tel: (Fr)5 65 37 30 27
This little cave on Martel’s market square, with its small but choice selection of aperitifs, comestibles and fine local and regional wines, is open all week from mid-May to mid-September.
Cheese, Charcuterie and Coffee
Place de la Halle, 46500 Gramat
Tel: (Fr)5 65 38 71 09
There are two fine épiceries on the same square in Gramat, unofficial capital of the Quercynois causse. Madame Pégourié is almost as old as her quintessentially French 100-year old shop.