I am totally spoilt. My “cantine” is Le Puits Saint-Jacques in Pujaudran.
It happens to be the closest restaurant to our house, my husband happens to supply the kitchens with coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops), and Bernard Bach just happens to be a lovely man and Michelin-star chef. Two stars.
So we go there for lunch a lot.
The lunch menu – Au retour du marché – is reasonable in price (32€) and always a delight. I can’t tell you about dinner, because I have three kids and almost never go out anymore (it sucks), but I’m guessing it’s just as good, if not better. It’s certainly fancier.
Having said that, Le Puits St. Jacques is not one of those fancy restaurants that leaves you feeling slightly ill at ease and out of your depth. I’ve been to those and, frankly, do not appreciate a haughty young waiter making me feel like I am not worthy of putting ten days’ worth of salary in a meal cooked by the chef and served by his good self. Whatever happened to the customer being king?
Bernard Bach’s restaurant is on a long cobbled street in what can only be called a one-horse town with one newsagent’s, a pharmacy, and a pizzeria. The façade is discreet. In fact, I had driven past it several times without taking any notice before actually eating there.
A young man holds open the heavy door and we step into the little salon with the huge old sepia photograph that covers the whole wall. It shows two oxen pulling a wooden plough guided by an old woman in a sun dress and a floppy hat. I haven’t thought of asking if she’s a relation… I’ll ask next time. We haven’t booked a table – it’s a spur of the moment thing. We’re lucky. The place is full, but there’s always a no-show, or else we can eat at the table in the kitchen in the midst of all the action. (It’s noisy and hot, but I love it.)
We are a little disappointed: the terrace is not open today. Again, you wouldn’t guess from looking at it, but there’s a lovely, leafy courtyard in the back that is open all summer. It’s not really suprprising… although it’s the end of May, the temperatures are reminiscent of November and despite the sun and blue skies, “le fond de l’air est froid” – in other words, it’s chilly.
Before we order, we have quite a chat with Mrs. Bach. In France, it’s common for the spouse of the chef to be in charge of service and welcoming guests (It being a very masculine profession, this usually means Madame.).
She tells us they have worked every long weekend in May, except Labour Day on the 1st. Instead, they had gone for a drive and had had lunch at a very nice restaurant, Le Carré de l’Ange in Saint-Lizier. I’m secretly delighted that they took our advice and checked it out – it’s one of our favourite places in all of France (I’ll tell you about it some other day.).
We don’t even look at the menu. It’s always fresh, seasonal and well-executed. As a nod to my husband’s “diet”, only I get a glass of wine and he drinks half of it, convinced he didn’t.
Today’s starter consists of marinated sardines on a basil French toast with ratatouille vegetables and a delicious sauce. I works. In fact, I almost forgot to take the photo to show you…
The main course is a killer: tarte fine de rable de lapereau (perfect little rolls of rabbit on a paper-thin puff pastry with all kinds of things that would make your mouth water). It goes particularly well with the olive and thyme bread served from a large basket brimming with pain de campagne rolls and brown bread.
Not being a chocolate fan, I often end up being that person who asks for something else for dessert, anything else, but preferably cheese. Not today. Dessert is a Granny Smith vacherin, which is a kind of pavlova with fruit, meringue and, often, ice-cream. Bernard Bach has made us something cool and tangy, with green apple sorbet and chunks of crunchy meringue, it’s the perfect way to round off the meal.
I do realize I am gushing. Yes, I am a fan. I also appreciate the fact that, for a change, I get to eat in the same 2-star restaurant more than once, which is rare, as we usually visit those places as a special outing and tend to seek out a different one each time. It’s our favourite way to travel – with our tastebuds. Le Puits Saint-Jacques has yet to disappoint me. And that’s saying something.