Le Sud – Aiguebelle

September 25, 2006

On September 21, 2006, we dined at Le Sud, in the little beach resort of Aiguebelle, east of Le Lavandou on the coast between St. Tropez and Toulon.   This was our fourth visit here and we had high hopes that it would be as excellent as it had been before.  Le Sud has had a Michelin star for quite a while, but in the 2006 Guide it is classed as a candidate for two; this is not surprising in view of the quality of its cuisine, but surprising to me in view of its admirable, but limited, formula.   The chef, Christophe Petra, petra-1.jpgcame to our table shortly after we sat down to discuss what he planned to serve us.  There is no written menu.   He proposes choices only for the main course, but one can ask for a substitution in any of them, which we have never done.   He gives a complete description of everything and is quite charming.

We had a champagne rosé apéritif accompanied by five interesting little hors d’oeuvres.  Then the first amuse-gueule arrived, which was no little trifle of leftovers; it was a substantial croustillant of flavourful truffle slices; the second was a cup of velouté de cèpes with a sprinkle of chopped truffles.  The first course was a stuffed quail leg and a quail breast topped with a fried quail egg served with sauce of fresh grapes; this was quite an elegant dish.  Then a piece of dos de cabillaud (cod) was served on a bed of stewed tomato and fennel; there was a strip of nuts with curry oil on the side of the plate; it was good fusion: Provençe meets Pondicherry, but not wine-friendly.  A parsley risotto followed, garnished with olives, pine nuts and a parmesan tile.  For her main course Linda had the terrific pigeon in a puff-pastry crust served with truffled puréed potatoes.  I had the “four hour rabbit,” rich, well-cooked meat formed into a timbale held together with steamed eggplant skin, served with a creamy polenta with pine nuts.  These are both signature dishes for Petra and are usually offered.  Other choices were a medallion of veal, a fish dish and a pork roast, pied-de-porc dish for two.  (The later diners don’t get all the choices.)  A fine, ample cheese cart followed and then ten small desserts served all at once, including a baba au rhum and a warm, soft chocolate mouilleux.  Some bonbons and a glass of marc de Provençe is offered after all of that.le-sud-2.jpg

The cuisine was up to all of our expectations and memories, but, alas, the service and ambiance were not.   The dining room staff used to be an exceptional group of thirtyish professional and personable waiters.  They described the food, took your orders and took excellent care of everyone while the chef stayed in the kitchen.  Now the staff is quite varied in age, experience and quality.   We particularly did not like the sommelier who steered us off the 1995 Château Pradeaux I was ordering onto a boring Beaune which he described as exceptional.  (We have always ordered one of the ample selections of red wine from nearby Bandol before.) After we complained, he neglected to offer us our marc, not that I needed it.  (We also had a half-bottle of Chablis between the champagne and the red wine.)   The delivery of the plates was fine, and moved along nicely until the predictable cheese cart bottleneck.   It is hard to say just why some glitches in the service should have made such a difference in our perception of the ambiance; the clientèle was similar to what it had been on our two previous visits at this time of year: people on holiday, but almost all French-speaking, neatly dressed and appreciating the food.  Our second visit had been in a mid-December when the crowd was mostly local, there were lots of truffles and the ambiance was nicely festive.   One move toward more a standard presentation is the extensive cheese cart; there used to be a smaller, very well selected cheese tray.   
Petra has kept his price at 59 € for all of this (except the wine, of course), which is admirable in a way, but I think is a mistake with quality staff being so hard to find and retain.  It will be interesting to see what he plans for the future.  One portent is that he has slimmed down considerably and is much in evidence at the restaurant, but I have not seen him mentioned as appearing elsewhere. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s