L'Antiquaire represents what the Michelin guide used to call une valeur sûre: value you can count upon - which is not always something tourists can actually count upon in one of the most beautiful villages of France.
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The big mystery about this little restaurant in Lourmarin is, really, how the owner, David Dubouchet, keeps the show on the road, almost single-handedly it appears, especially given all the fierce competition in town.
He's a warm and attentive maitre d'-cum-sommelier, welcoming you, taking your order, advising you on the wine, translating into English for non French speakers and pausing at each table to chat and make everyone feel at home.
Dubouchet is also the chef and we can only assume that, unless he's somehow cloned himself, there's a sous chef or commis beavering away in the kitchen at the basic preparation and the finishing touches. Even so, we did wonder how he manages to keep up the quality in the height of the season.
Anyway, even on a mid-week evening in early April, the restaurant was already fairly busy. L'Antiquaire's approach is simple: a range of affordable but ambitious set menus, both at lunchtime and for dinner. And it has been in business since 1997, so something must be right.
We suspect the clientele comes from word-of-mouth recommendation and returning customers, since the restaurant is discreetly tucked away down a quiet, narrow side-street, pictured top left, with no pavement terrace tables to attract your attention and lure you in.
In fact the dining areas are on the first floor above an antique shop, or antiquaire, whence the name. They're furnished in eclectic, shabby-chic style, with well-spaced tables so that, despite the high ceilings, the noise level isn't over-powering. There's also a tiny outdoor terrace for summer.
The short but varied menu offers a choice of half a dozen starters, three meat main courses and three fish ones. You can even eat a very non-local bouillabaisse (which must be ordered ahead). The cheese is a provençal brousse du Rove and the dessert a selection of taster portions of favourites such as creme brûlée, crumble and chocolate mousse.
The cuisine is French, with an emphasis on light, seasonal ingredients. Such dishes as asparagus and smoked salmon flan, pressed fillets of red mullet in a tomato and olive gelée, filet of plaice stuffed with herbs and vegetables and sautéed shoulder of lamb were all on the spring menu when we visited: click here to see the current choice (in French only).
L'Antiquaire has another massive plus point: Monsieur Dubouchet is willing to advise on and even - on request - adapt the menu for vegetarian, vegan, gluten- or lactose- intolerant, diabetic and other special diets. This is not nearly as common as it ought to be in ultra-inflexible France.
The food was attractively presented without being twee (no alfalfa shoots or miniature pansies, thank goodness), the portions were ample and the wine, recommended by Monsieur Dubouchet, a good Domaine des Vaudois Luberon rosé, very reasonably priced.
Our meal, from the "L'Antiquaire" four-course set menu, was a little uneven, with some outstanding dishes and other less successful ones (doubtless because of the pressure on Monsieur Dubouchet's time). But, time and again it has been our experience that an enjoyable meal out is not just about immaculate gastronomy.
Visited April 2014
Where: L'Antiquaire, 9 rue du Grand Pré, 84160 Lourmarin. Tel: (+33) 4 90 68 17 29 Website for L'Antiquaire restaurant in Lourmarin