Writing travel guides, one of the first things we learned is not to bang on about how wonderful/authentic/full-of-character places were when we first wrote about them and how crowded/homogenized/regimented they had become. It’s true, of course, but who wants to hear it? If people weren’t lucky enough to visit Venice’s San Marco when you could just wander in and spend hours there, it’s not their fault, is it?
Recently, one of our most reliable local restaurants, La Poule au Pot in Goujounac, was suddenly shut down. It was a duck ferme auberge, famous for heaving quantities of hedonistically delicious food and the best sautéed potatoes on the planet. Howls still reverberate down the Lot Valley: Où sont les patates d’antan?
But two superb wonderful/authentic/full of character local restaurants are still going strong and it’s time to toot their horns for them because we don’t want to ever say: ‘Oh you should have been here when they were open.” Of course we hope they endure forever, but of course nothing does. Go now. Their Internet presence is minimal, and as we know all too well, people don’t buy guidebooks anymore. They mostly rely on word of mouth.
The first is La Terrasse in Grezels. We went last week but forgot to take our camera, so all these photos are by our dear friend Marianne, who went the next week.
Grezels on the river Lot is a Brigadoonish sort of place. Any good village in the Lot will have a medieval castle or château, vineyards, a brocante (antique shop), and a B&B or two, and Grezels ticks all the boxes. And it has La Terrasse, where time has stood still, at least since 1989 when we first went. The only concession to the 21st century is having the menu in euros instead of francs.
‘Terrasse’ is something of a misnomer. There is a terrace but it only has space for a couple of tables and it is only used for apéros before lunch. Lunch, in fact, is all they do, in the old rural tradition that you are famished after slogging away in the fields all morning, and need to camel up for more of the same in the afternoon.
The best we manage to do is not eat any breakfast and make the 4km walk there from Puy l’Evêque.
The couple who own it are two of our favourite people, but we know next to nothing about them, not even their names. Madame has a very sweet voice, takes the bookings (reservations are essential) and does the cooking. No one we know has ever seen her, behind her wooden kitchen door, but I imagine she must be a serene and happy soul. There are never any bells and whistles: foam? nitrogen? sous-vide? Quoi? Her style is what the French call ‘bonne femme’—literally ‘good wife’ but what it really means is comfort food, simple, honest, fresh French home cooking, which very few restaurants seem to do anymore. Certainly none as good as La Terrasse.
Monsieur, who has the physique of someone who played rugby in his youth (like every other red blooded male in this region) is in charge in the stone-walled dining room, adorned, Lot style, with a stuffed weasel, a mounted deer head, and a giant wooden fork. After years of practice he can single-handedly keep the dozen or so tables turning over like clockwork. It helps that there’s no need to take orders, because although the menu changes every day, there is no choice; one gets what Madame has been inspired to cook. This of course is ideal for those of us who like everything and hate making decisions. But Monsieur has an eagle eye; if he spots someone not eating a course, a substitute may well appear. The last thing he wants is anyone to go away hungry.
When you sit down, there will be a carafe of local red wine (very quaffable version of our local puts-hairs-on-your chest Vin de Cahors, immediately refilled when you empty it) and a basket of crusty brown country bread. Soon a tureen of delicious homemade soup will appear; a rich tomato soup with noodles, or perhaps a traditional chickeny stock with bread and cheese. Portions are generous, and there’s usually enough for more.
If you’re not a regular, Monsieur will come around as you finish and splash some wine in your bowl to remind you to faire chabrol—drink the last spoonfuls of soup mixed with the wine directly from the bowl, as one does in these parts. It’s especially good if there are some stringy gooey bits of melted cheese on the bottom. Soup bowls around here have no rims, so you usually don’t slobber it all down your chin and shirt.
The hors d’oeuvres that follow is no dainty little piece of pineapple and cheese on toothpick affair. It might be an omelet laden with cheese or cèpes, or a quiche lorraine.
This is when the uninitiated begin to panic: this is where a normal lunch at home stops.
Mais non! Time for the main course–a heaving platter of sliced duck breasts and beignets de courgette, or perhaps tender beef and carrots and golden roast potatoes. It’s excellent home cooking although not many of us were lucky enough to have such talented parents. Afterwards, a green salad to ‘lighten’ the stomach.
Then the fromage— a choice of five or six, including the soft white cabecou de Rocamadour, our local goat cheese. More wine is required. And then dessert—a home baked tart, or rich chocolate mousse. Coffee is included.
For Sunday lunch, when you’ll need to book a table early, there’s even more: after the soup there’s a seafood course, with a glass of white wine; followed by an entrée (generally something rich and stewed) followed by the main course. It costs a bit more than the weekday €18, but no one has ever complained.
La Terrasse, Grezels 46700 (on the Lot, south of Puy-L'Évêque), tel 05 65 21 34 03