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Unappetising End to the Season: Le Lavandou Peut Mieux Faire

By Colin Randall @salutsunderland

End of season

The beaches are emptying, bars are less likely to offer entertainment and the streets are deserted compared with only a week ago.

What seemed like a busy late season has suddenly gone quiet, at least in Le Lavandou. Sainte-Maxime was a little more lively and I am sure the bigger resorts of the French Riviera will be, too. But if the tourism industry was counting on a bumper end to the season, it may be disappointed.

As recently as Friday night, there were lots of people about. And some establishments, especially restaurants, will continue to do good business. Whether they all deserve to is another matter.

A second visit to La Ramade, perfectly situated on the sea front, did nothing to dislodge the feeling that midmarket dining out in France, certainly in areas where there is a captive clientele, is too often a dispiriting experience.

Walk past most nights and the restaurant is full, even though there is room for 90 even before staff press into use an overspill wing of tables with 18 more places. The owner, Christophe, is ready whenever tables become available to venture outside and entice passers-by to come in to occupy them. And when we have paused to look, people with food in front of them seem happy enough.

So what can possible go wrong? Well, getting that food to the table is a task the staff manage with only patchy success.

We sat down at 8pm. It was 8.35pm before a waitress, one of only three on duty, asked if we wanted drinks and to order. We placed our orders.

By 9pm, only a carafe of water had arrived. I know restaurants want, perhaps need, to sell bottles of still and sparkling, but is that really an excuse for serving a carafe of tap water, as they are obliged to do, that is not even slightly chilled?

Soon after that, Christophe passed by. His "tout va bien?" was not the best way of addressing people who had sat for more than an hour twiddling their thumbs.

But he cared that we had been overlooked and, within a minute, had ensured we were served some tapinade and croutons. This seemed to surprise the waitress when she arrived a little later on the same mission, though our impatience was certainly not directed at her (the French, for reasons that are important to them but don't mean a damn to customers, simply won't employ enough staff).

By 9.15pm we had our starters. With our 27@ menus, we'd chosen moules farcies and a salad of fritures - whitebait or similar - which are both simple dishes liable to challenge no restaurant, especially on offering them on a set menu. And the fritures were fine.

But the mussels, which absolutely must be piping hot, were little better than warm. Waiting for them to be re-heated might have tested the will to live. I strongly suspect they were, in fact, ready for some time before they were served.

Main courses were lamb's shank and sea bass, acceptable without suggesting anything that could not be drummed up easily and more tastily at home, and the desserts were copious (though my order of a café liégeois arrived as a chocolate one).

With a half-litre of local red, but no apéritifs or coffee, it came to 74 euros and Christophe kindly plonked limoncello digestifs on our table.

Reviews at Trip Advisor are mixed but, in fairness, include some seriously good ones. I will never dismiss a restaurant on the basis of two visits, neither bringing great pleasure. But with only a few honourable exceptions, and only a few more obvious candidates to try, I remain unconvinced that Le Lavandou, so popular among French and foreign visitors, is a place to eat out. Above the town, in Bormes-les-Mimosas, there are better but pricier restaurants; I am aware of more than one along the coast.

Tell me if you know I am wrong.

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