Thursday, January 21, 2010

Le Cercle, Les Issambres

If you are driving the scenic route east along the Mediterranean Sea on the N 98, headed from St. Tropez towards St. Raphael, you will arrive in Les Issambres. Les Issambres is a residential community located in the Var region of the Cote d'Azure, halfway between Sainte Maxime and Fréjus.

There is not much to Les Issambres, except for new villas which are sprouting up everywhere. But if you come upon Restaurant Le Cercle, do not hesitate to stop for lunch if you are looking for a great place to eat. To tell the truth, my family would say that I am a "list" person; if a restaurant is not on a "list" such as Michelin, Gantié, Pudlo or recommended by Yelp, Chowhounders or well regarded by Zagat reviewers, I hesitate to try it out.

I would say that I have become less dependant on "list" as a result of our trips along the back roads through the South of France. This is probably because it has been forced upon me as I will explain below and because we have been happily surprised on more than a few occasions.

Restaurants in Provence usually serve lunch between noon and 2 pm and dinner between 7:00 or 7:30 and 10:00 p.m. And unlike the United States, there is one seating and once the restaurant is "complet" or full, you are out of luck if you are looking for a table.

As eating is a great pleasure for us and a highlight of the day and not something we ever do purely for sustenance, we make it a point to get into a restaurant for lunch no later than 1:00 pm; even if I don't know of a "list" restaurant in the area.

That was the case the day we happened upon Restaurant Le Cercle. It was after 1:00 pm, and I was very worried that we wouldn't find a good place to eat. We came around the bend along a pretty cove and there sat Restaurant Le Cercle.
It was a beautiful day, the restaurant looked nice from the outside and the parking lot was full of cars with license tags starting with 83; the local tag number. For me, that is always a sign of a restaurant that is well regarded by the locals and I am happy to try it out, "list" or no "list".

Shirley considers lunch at Le Cercle to be one of the best meals of her life. A bottle (maybe 2, I can't recall) of chilled rosé wine, fresh seafood, local vegetables and outstanding although simple cooking made for a wonderful leisurely lunch, the kind of lunch the people of Provence are so famous for. We both ordered Sole. They actually brought the fish out to show us three different times so we could be sure it was fresh and cooked correctly; first before it was cleaned, the second time after the fish was cooked but prior to being deboned and finally deboned on a plate accompanied by a simple lemon wedge.

Our "plat" or main course was accompanied by ratatouille and a green salad. For those who don't know despite the movie by the same name, ratatouille is a traditional Provençal vegetable dish consisting of tomato, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, garlic, olive oil and herbs.

Every Provençal cook has their own version; to me, many look and taste like vegetable soup. Hands down, the ratatouille at Le Cercle was the best I have ever eaten. The vegetables were cooked slowly to the point of caramelization and the juice of the caramelized vegetables were reduced to almost a syrupy consistency.

We finished our lunch with nougat glacé, a traditional frozen dessert of France. A petit café and we were ready to hit the road.

All in all, a very good meal! We would happily return. Guess what; Restaurant Le Cercle is now in the 2009 Guide Gantié so its on a "list".


  1. Just popping in to say that I'm enjoying your blog. I love the pictures!

  2. Thanks for the feedback! I'm having a good time and I am glad you enjoy what I share.

  3. Based on your recommendation, I went there Saturday evening for dinner. It was the best fish I've had for a very looooong time, thanks for sharing and yes definitively a place to return to!
    Keep up the good work!

  4. Anonymous - Thanks so much for checking out our blog and for your nice feedback. I am very happy that you enjoyed your meal at Le Cercle. We are in Provence now and we keep talking about taking the drive from Sablet to go eat there.