Le Bartok, Auch: tres fine dining

Le Bartok8I 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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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).

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Forgive my lack of food photography skills; the cuisine at Le Bartok was far more beautiful than my modest ability could portray.

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In a 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.

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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.

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For the rest of my photos of the south of France, check out my photo diary here!


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