An Invitation to Doodle While You Lunch

Peckish and a doodlebug? Well here’s just the restaurant for you – Le Jardin de Naris is the oldest and most bohemian establishment in the small port town of Marseillan (34340 – Herault, Languedoc Rousillion). 

“A customer “doodle” at the Jardin de Naris

Spilling artistically out onto 24 Bvd Pasteur, the restaurant has been run for the past 30 years by its artist/owner Jacqueline Servan, whose hallmark is her dedicated band of doodlers.“When people ask why there are crayons on their table I always tell them its so that they can leave their mark, a trace of their visit, on the table napkin”, she tells this writer.Naturally the kids love it the most — where else can they can be positively encouraged to scribble all over the table at lunchtime — and that can’t be bad for encouraging loyal customers to return.
Jacqueline Servan attended the ‘Ecole supérieure des beaux-arts de Montpellier and developed her love of cooking as a result , whether it was the artistic arrangement of the ingredients, or just a primal need for herself and her roommates to survive, is not clear. “I left college, wandered, travelled, painted and then fell into this restaurant, where I still do all four,” she said simply.

Jacqueline Servan

Where other restaurateurs bustle up to the table with the bread, menus and the wine list as you sit down, Jacqui inscrutably offers you a collection of felt tip pens and crayons before bringing the couverts and amuse bouche.

As a result her collection of original restaurant art is now enormous. “I don’t keep it all of course, but I select the best and either use them as is, or make collages or other works out of them” she says. It’s a sort of artists’ collective around a lunch table, where most of those who come to dine, have no idea they had other hidden talents.”

She offers warm words of encouragement to her guests and along with the bread, wine and amuse bouches makes sure that they are well supplied with doodle pens and crayons for before, during and after the meal.

The ambiance could not more conducive. The outdoor patio is a riot of colour, objets d’art, souvenirs collected on her travels, bits and pieces from vides greniers, an eclectic assortment of visual delights casually assembled to accompany a menu that is entirely in keeping.

The Outdoor Patio is a Riot of Colour

Traditional Cuisine – Reshaped!
As Elle magazine noted recently “In the dining room, one admires a deco that is a mixture of artworks and Chinese objects. The courtyard is verdant and the patron ensures the marmots (slang for children) are encouraged to scribble on the table cloth with crayons she supplies. The menu is traditional cuisine reshaped with recipes offering moule madras au curry et fruits, (clams in a curry and fruit sauce), crumble de courgettes aux herbes fraîches et basilica, burger légumes d’été et fromage frais ( a vegetable burger with fresh summer vegetables and goats milk cheese). The menu is priced between €12.50 to €26 (lunch) with a special menu for the “little artist’s” at €7.50”

The building itself belonged to her great great grandparents whom she would visit as a little girl playing in the courtyard which today comfortably seats some 30 people under colourful, tasselled umbrellas at tables covered in paper napkins and supplied with all the normal trimmings of a restaurant along with a pot of crayons and felt tip marker pens.

And here is the result says Jackie, pointing under the restaurant counter to a vast pile of decorated napkins . She says she turns the best of these into art works which she hangs on the walls of the restaurant or sells over the internet or at the local médiathèque. “Apart from customers I also have poets who come here to write tablecloth poetry”

Customer Doodles – Le Jardin de Naris

The artists’ penchant for travel is reflected in her menu which includes curries and vegetarian dishes all mirroring both her own experiences and the demands of a cross-selection of tourists, foreigners and locals who frequent her restaurant. “I travel a lot and I like spicy and regional foods, she says explaining the curries.

Jackie, 52, lives just outside in a suburb called Maldormir. Explaining the name she (poor sleep) she said in the early days of the town, which is on a lake that is fed from the Mediterranean, people were “massacred by mosquitoes” and the labourers building the suburb, who slept around here, gave it its nickname… which persists through to today.

Here are notes from visitors who found the restaurant through the internet (although Jackie herself declines to set up a website): “Small and welcoming resto in Marseillan with a small inner courtyard and garden for fine weather dining , open year round . choice of 5 menus. Recommended by le Routard, Tel. 04 67 77 30 07 Excellent value the menu at €18. 50. Warm and friendly welcome! The canard aux cerises was very good.”

Marseillan – Home of Noilly Prat
And while you are in the town — birth place of one of France’s most famous dry vermouths — pay a visit to the Noilly Prat cellars. Here grape varieties — Blancs de Blancs — are matured in large oak casks in warehouses first used in 1850 and combined with a variety of spices and herbs from all over the world before being aged outdoors for a year. More on the Noilly Prat cellars here

Story: Ken Pottinger

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