EAT OUT IN LIMOGES
The porcelain city has more than empty dishes to offer in this culinary guide.
1 Les Petits Ventres
Limoges is a city red in tooth and claw, and Rue de la Boucherie is its spiritual heart, still timbered and picturesque but no longer thick with the gore and reek of butchery. Halfway down, opposite the butchers’ chapel, Les Petits Ventres is a typical tall and narrow building with cosy dining spaces on three levels, an eclectic jumble of art, and tables on the street to tempt the passing trade.
The colourful Stéphanie – Cuq by name, a cook by training – welcomes guests with a smile and a limousin aperitif of chestnut syrup and cider. When her husband left two years ago, former sous-chef Adrien Hoffele from Colmar stepped up to the plate. He continues to offer meaty classics including tartare de boeuf and filet de boeuf Rossini as well as regional staples: charcuterie cuts from cul noir (blackbottomed) pigs from Saint-yrieix, or, for the full experience, l’assiette des petits ventres comprising calf’s head, tongue, caul and testicles with a sauce gribiche. Offal is not compulsory, however. “We also sell lots of fish,” Stephanie says. “People’s habits have changed, and you have to adapt.”
Le petit ventre itself – sheep’s trotters wrapped in its stomach – has not been on the menu since the BSE outbreak. But if you are interested, join the tens of thousands of offal devotees who descend on Limoges’ boucherie quarter on the third Friday of October
for an outdoor tasting fair, the Frairie des Petits Ventres.
After lunch, look in on the chapel across the street, with its 15th-century sculpture of Saint-anne, the Virgin and Child, who is munching on a raw kidney.
Open Tues-sat noon-2pm, 7.30pm9.30pm. Three-course menus from €27.50 including aperitif, mains from €16. 20 Rue de la Boucherie, 87000 Limoges Tel: (Fr) 5 64 28 58 32 www.les-petits-ventres.fr
2 La Cuisine du Cloître
“I had a restaurant on the other side of town for 17 years before this, so the limougeauds knew me already,” says Guy Queroix, the convivial owner-chef of this new restaurant in the cobbled pedestrian zone near the cathedral.
Trust in the chef is important for a restaurant that operates on the principle that he knows better than you do, what you want to eat and drink. You choose how many courses – three, four or five – and how many glasses of wine, and Queroix does the rest. As he says on the so-called menu: ‘ Merci de votre confiance et laissez vous guider’ - the idea being “to refocus on seasonality. People are too used to eating tomatoes in January.”
Given notice, allowance is made for allergy and aversion, and choice of wine is not entirely inflexible. Even so, this is not the place for the fussy eater, or one for whom nothing but turbot and chablis will do. Queroix describes his style as ‘more gastro than bistro’ and this is no idle boast. Food came beautifully prepared and presented: artichoke hearts with Serrano ham in a wine reduction, slow-cooked veal on a courgette risotto, and interesting character wines from Puglia in southern Italy.
The former convent’s indoor spaces are decorated in a fittingly spare style with the option of dining on the terrace, looking out over the Irish Pub and other haunts on Rue de la Haute Cité, a lively evening hub.
Menus from €35, €12 for two glasses of wine; lunch menus from €15 including coffee.
Open Tues evening to Sun lunch noon-1.45pm and 8pm-9.45pm. 6 Rue des Allois, 87000 Limoges Tel: (Fr) 5 55102829 la-cuisine-du-cloitre.fr
3 Chez Alphonse
After stocking up with provisions or sharpening the appetite on a tour of the central market, there is nowhere more pleasant (and convenient) to rest the legs and refuel than Chez Alphonse, a reassuringly traditional place with red and white check tablecloths, advertising posters for aperitifs that no one drinks any more, pig-themed ashtrays (‘ chez moi tout est bon’) and the busy hum of a successful bistro: if you have not booked, be sure to arrive early for lunch.
The elegant patron Christophe Buteau dislikes the term bistronomie, preferring to speak of cuisine de cantine, terroir and ‘no cheating with the product’, much of which comes through his sister business Tripes & Compagnie. Portions are generous: terrine maison comes in the pot – help yourself – and traditional staples such as stuffed cabbage may be enough for two. The ‘ incontournables’ board includes offal classics: ris de veau, tête de veau à la façon d’alphonse, tripes à volonté, pied de cochon. For a lighter lunch, M Buteau might suggest a plate of raw tuna with a perfect vinaigrette, finished off with a clafoutis or a café gourmand.
Open Mon-sat noon-2pm and 7.30pm-10.30pm (11pm Thurs, Fri and Sat); lunch menu €15.95, mains around €15. 5 Place de la Motte, 87000 Limoges Tel: (Fr) 5 55 34 34 14 www.chezalphonse.fr
ABOVE: Bars and restaurants doing a roaring trade in the lively Rue de la Haute Cité in the historic quarter of Limoges