I hold a lot of faith in the old adage that if you fail to plan, you must also plan to fail*. That was certainly what I was thinking as my family ran off in three different directions, desperately searching for a restaurant in the French town of Auch on the eve of our leaving. Somewhat naively, I suppose, we assumed the gastronomic south of France would be overflowing with restaurateurs vying for our Euros; but perhaps we didn’t take into account that we’d planned our visit in September, which could affectionately become known as the hangover of the tourist season. A hare’s breath away from settling for L’Italien, with its threats of “Irish cocktails and pizza” – that classic combo one yearns for when visiting France – we stumbled upon Le Bartok, a little rustic gem.
Relaxed, intimate and with just the right amount of shabby-chic, it’s an Anthropologie-lover’s dreamland of white-washed wooden walls, copper lampshades and see-through chairs. It was all very ambient, right down to the service. We were afforded a warm greeting by Julie, who co-runs the place with her chef husband Julien (Julie et Julien, that’s right).
Nestled among the laissez faire patronage and perfectly mis-matched decor of Le Bartok, we were presented with a hand-written wine list, with real photographs glued to the adjacent pages of the booklet – very cute. I also think it’s amusing that the default definition of ‘photograph’ is digital. Being able to get my grubby fingerprints all over one is so very kitsch. Anyway, it was a token flute of champagne pour moi (as, in an effort to cut down on the boozecohol, I decided to pass my usual post-prandial espresso martini. Damn my sobriety).
Let me start by saying this: my dinner at Le Bartok was absolutely the culinary highlight of the week. Our amuse bouche was a delicately whipped sweet potato morsel with just the right amount of spice.
To start, I shared a duck tartare with my sister-in-law, which was complimented by rolls of truffled goats’ cheese wrapped in seaweed and drizzled in a perfectly sweet nutty sauce. A reformed raw-fish-and-meat dodger, I’m now embracing tartare like never before, and it’s down to dishes like this. I was pleased to have shared my starter though: if our portions for the week were anything to go by, the French appetite eclipses my own. Having said that, it didn’t stop me from dipping into my mother’s basil sorbet; a recipe I will absolutely be Googling when I’m back in my own kitchen in December (newbies: I’m going travelling for a few months. Subscribe to be inundated with photos of turtles).
Forgive my lack of food photography skills; the cuisine at Le Bartok was far more beautiful than my modest ability could portray.
failed attempt to keep things light, I opted for the fillet of hake, briefly forgetting what a meaty fish this is. I wasn’t able to finish the dish (it is deceptively large), but it tasted beautiful. As was mother’s Le Bartok steak and frittata, complete with flower. Like all steaks should be.
It was a five star experience – for the food, the service, the atmosphere and the feeling that we were eating in a particularly refined and ever-so-genuine little French kitchen. If find myself in this part of France again – and I hope I do, if only to see more of this sunshine I heard so much about – I’ll definitely head back to Le Bartok.
For the rest of my photos of the south of France, check out my photo diary here!