Au P'tit Goûter
Chavignol, 18300 Sancerre
Tel: +33 (0) 2 48 54 01 66
GPS: 47.337536, 2.798432
Just down the road from La Côte des Monts Damnés, the Bourgeois family's hotel in Chavignol where the Bistro des Damnés can be found is Au P'tit Goûter. This unassuming little bistro sits on the main road through the village. Perhaps 'main road' is something of a misnomer; after all, it is barely wide enough for two cars to pass in places, and it is not infrequently blocked by viticulteurs and their tractors, or other trundling agricultural machines.
That Au P'tit Goûter sits in the very centre of this wine village, at the heart of what is surely the Loire's most famous appellation, is very apparent within. Proprietor Gilles Dubois clearly knows every domaine you or I might be aware of, as well as a few less familiar names. The wine lists are chalked up on boards on the wall; one for white wines from Sancerre, another for red wines from Sancerre, a third for more white selections from François Cotat, and a fourth for more red options from selected domaines. The Vins d'Ailleurs - wines from anywhere other than Sancerre - are all crammed onto one board which features the rest of the Loire, the Rhône, Burgundy and the Languedoc. At last, a proprietor who has the balance of regions correct!
The food here, in my experience, is straightforward and served without fuss, in essence nicely executed but rather rustic in style. I kicked off with Chavignolaise, having first established that this was indeed a dish featuring the famed local goat's cheese. Four slices of Crottin de Chavignol - probably amounting to a whole cheese - came on large croutons, gently grilled to soften but not overly brown the cheese, and it was accompanied by a lightly dressed green salad. Simple and traditional stuff, but exactly what I was hoping for, and a tip-top choice with the 2009 Sancerre Clos de Beaujeu from Gérard Boulay.
This simple and rustic feel continued with the main course, entrecôte with maison frites, fairly coarsely cut frites and a very large and flavoursome steak, cooked saignant. Really there was no faulting this, and perhaps that is as it should be; if there is one bistro-staple that you have to get right, surely it is entrecôte-frites. Washed down with the 2007 Sancerre Rouge Cuvée La Jouline from Dominique Roger which I enjoyed (I have been burying some red Sancerre demons recently - this seems to be something I have to do from time to time) this was very enjoyable.
Despite the good quality and rustic appeal of the food served here, and the very attractive prices (perhaps my thoughts are influenced by my long experience of prices in the UK, rather than France) this restaurant was practically empty on the night I visited with Jim Budd. In fact, by the end of the evening the only other diners were Gilles the proprietor, and his wife and son, who were all busy tucking into a huge bowl of moules marinières. Perhaps the fact it was a Tuesday evening was relevant, and with the harvest in full swing it may be that the locals were too busy or too exhausted to dine out. Nevertheless I thought the restaurant an absolute dream, a combination of good yet simply executed food with friendly service from a patron who had evident knowledge of the local wines. It had a casual atmosphere and it would be an excellent venue to take children (I'm think of my fussy teenagers, rather than screaming toddlers, to be honest), with plenty of appealing dining options, and fair prices. Despite that it also appeals to what you might call cognoscenti; dine here and you might well find yourself on a table next to Michel Bettane or even Frédéric Engerer of Château Latour, both of whom have been seen tucking in here recently.
Prices: Three diners split a €150 bill three ways, and this bought us three starters, three main courses, at least one cheese board (I forget if there were more), a few introductory glasses of 2012 Sancerre from Alain Gueneau as an aperitif, the two bottles of Sancerre mentioned above, and coffee. We finished the evening with a complimentary glass of Marc de Sancerre, aged 30 years, from Domaine Vacheron. For such a feast, €50 per head seemed very reasonable. (7/12/13)