Bordeaux for be­gin­ners

A lead­ing chef un­cov­ers some of south­west France’s tasti­est se­crets

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - BRUNO LOU­BET

I DON’T go back home to Bordeaux as of­ten as I would like, but I was there this sum­mer, stay­ing with one of my sis­ters, who lives in St Emil­ion in a house made of lovely blond lo­cal stone and sur­rounded by vine­yards. And when I’m in Bordeaux I look for­ward to end­less lunches with my fam­ily.

Our get-to­geth­ers are large af­fairs (I amo­neof seven chil­dren), so we nor­mally set a big ta­ble out­side un­der the oak tree. As usual I was roped into cook­ing, which means start­ing the day at the mar­ket, vis­it­ing old haunts and check­ing if there is any­thing new. This year I took my nephew Leo, who im­presses me with his food knowl­edge even at the age of 10. He was my com­mis for the day. He might be the next chef in the fam­ily.

When I was his age I knew I wanted to be a chef. I went to Bordeaux Ta­lence cater­ing school at 14, and on week­ends I would work at a restau­rant called Grill de Dal­lau. It was owned by an exParisian cou­ple who cooked tra­di­tional re­gional dishes and in­stilled in me a very straight work ethic. The main at­trac­tion was a fire­place in the cen­tre of the restau­rant where we cooked the meat on vine cut­tings in front of the guests.

A lo­cal lady was do­ing the gar­nishes, the duck con­fit, the foie gras, the snail per­sil­lade and other lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties.

Sadly, it’s long gone but there are still places in Bordeaux serv­ing re­gional cui­sine with the same no-non­sense ap­proach.

I de­cided to go tra­di­tional for our lunch, too. Duck con­fit, ceps and wal­nut salad (my sis­ter has a wal­nut tree by her kitchen door), a cote de boeuf, the way my fa­ther used to make it, and a prune tarte with ar­magnac. I used to pick ceps with my fa­ther and we would al­ways re­turn with bar­rowloads of them, which my mother ei­ther cooked sim­ply with gar­lic, or froze, pre­served or dried so we would have enough to last the win­ter. My fa­ther also grew all the veg­eta­bles we needed in a nearby allotment, as well as keep­ing chick­ens, pi­geons and ducks.

In the au­tumn he would buy a dozen of a spe­cial breed of duck for foie gras and con­fits, plus a cou­ple of tur­keys (you can guess what they were for).

Ev­ery day be­fore and af­ter school my broth­ers and I would have to go and force-feed the ducks. It was not for the squea­mish and there is no way any of my daugh­ters would agree to do that now.

Eat­ing to­gether in our fam­ily is much more than the end re­sult, and af­ter dis­agree­ing on the lat­est in French pol­i­tics the con­ver­sa­tion nat­u­rally moves to our favourite sub­ject: food and restau­rants.

I rely on them to keep me up to date with what’s go­ing in Bordeaux, such as new dis­cov­er­ies like the hid­den gem that is L’Ap­part or great new shops such as Fro­magerie Deru­elle or the fab­u­lous wine bar Aux Qu­a­tre Coins du Vin. Of course you can’t for­get what in France we would call the in­con­tourn­ables, clas­sic lo­cal restau­rants such as La Tupina and Fer­nand. They are true to our ter­roir but I am also pleased to see chefs in Bordeaux are not scared to be dif­fer­ent, and to see new and ex­cit­ing restau­rants emerg­ing.

I al­ways won­dered why a beau­ti­ful city sur­rounded by such rich pro­duce didn’t gen­er­ate more restau­rants in the man­ner of Lyons or Stras­bourg. My the­ory is that, un­til re­cently, what made Bordeaux rich — wine — took prece­dence. If a wine pro­ducer or mer­chant had a client to en­ter­tain, he would usu­ally do so at the prop­erty and would have some­one lo­cal to cook food that paired well with what was on of­fer.

Now­places such as the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte have been very clever in open­ing the mag­i­cal Les Sources de Cau­dalie, which has two restau­rants where you can try their wines along­side oth­ers.

In the past 10 years Bordeaux has en­joyed a resur­gence of qual­ity shops, restau­rants and mar­kets. Here is a se­lec­tion of my favourites, some clas­sic, some new. Best bistro: La Tupina La Tupina was voted the sec­ondbest bistro in the world by the In­ter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune. Chef Jean-Pierre Xi­radakis is one of my he­roes and has al­ways been a fer­vent am­bas­sador for food from the south­west. The room cen­tres on two im­pres­sive fire­places, with food such as bread and meat on dis­play as a re­minder that you’re here to en­joy your­self. The menu reads as if my grand­mother re­turned and de­cided to cook us a wel­come back Sun­day lunch. More: latupina.com. Best for cane­les: Bail­lardran Bail­lardran is a chain spe­cial­is­ing in cane­les, a dark caramel cake with a moist cen­tre flavoured with rum and vanilla. The name de­rives from the fluted cop­per mould in which it is made. Bail­lardran also sells mac­arons but has built its busi­ness on cane­les. My fam­ily swears by them. More: bail­lardran.com. Best ho­tel and spa: Les Sources de Cau­dalie When you drive to the vine­yards of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, 12km from the cen­tre of Bordeaux, you reach the quiet ham­let of Les Sources de Cau­dalie.

Its ho­tel, restau­rants and spa are a true fam­ily op­er­a­tion. Alice Tour­bier, daugh­ter of the Smith Haut Lafitte pro­pri­etaires, and her hus­band, Jerome, have cre­ated a wine-coun­try ho­tel at­tached to two great restau­rants, all of them set in in­spir­ing sur­round­ings.

The 19th-cen­tury laun­dry hall has been con­verted into a suc­cess­ful bistro, and restau­rant La Grande Vigne is one of the best in the re­gion, with the chef, Ni­co­las Masse, bal­anc­ing cre­ativ­ity and ter­roir.

What’s more, the 16,000 bot­tles stored in its wine cel­lar should sat­isfy any­one. More: sources-cau­dalie.com.

Best brasserie: Fer­nand Fer­nand is on the Quai St Pierre and looks like a typ­i­cal old brasserie, as if it’s been there for 100 years. But in fact it’s only been open for seven. The lunch menu is a bar­gain at ($24) and the a la carte favours boun­ties from the nearby At­lantic. Last time I was there I had steak tartare pre­pared at the ta­ble and served with home­made chips, and it was per­fect. It is open for lunch and din­ner, more like a bistro, not all day, as is usual for a brasserie. More: fer­nand-bordeaux.com. Cheese par­adise No1: Baud et Mil­let A cheese lovers’ par­adise for 23 years, es­pe­cially as you can help your­self. You head down a nar­row stair­case into the cel­lar and se­lect as many of the more than 100 cheeses on of­fer as you can eat. The a la carte is quite fun, with dishes such as cherry toma­toes and ro­que­fort clafouti or a tomme de savoie with a morel sauce. More: baudet­mil­let.fr. Cheese par­adise No2: Fro­magerie Deru­elle Elodie Deru­elle is so pas­sion­ate about cheese, she was a shep­herd for a while. Although her shop has been open only a few months, her St Feli­cien, mi­mo­lette and bleu de bresse have at­tracted a fol­low­ing, and she sup­plies lo­cal restau­rants. More: 66 Rue du Pas St Ge­orges, 33000 Bordeaux. Best-kept se­cret: L’ap­part Rarely men­tioned in guides, and with­out even a web­site, L’Ap­part is Bordeaux’s wild card. Sit­u­ated in a plain villa in Merignac, it has been open for about eight years and its of­ten-chang­ing, al­ways creative modern menu still man­ages to sur­prise. Rea­son­ably priced and favoured by a young, so­phis­ti­cated crowd. More: 15 Rue Maubec, 33700 Merignac. Best Moroc­can: Le Rizana In the heart of the Quartier St Michel, a short stroll from the Marche des Ca­pucins, Le Rizana is a small, un­pre­ten­tious Moroc­can restau­rant with more seats out­side than in. The owner, Ichen Kaad­u­achin, took it over from his par­ents, who had run it for 23 years. There are lots of Moroc­can restau­rants in St Michel but Le Rizana has the edge, as well as bril­liant tagine with great depth of flavour. More: 7 Rue Gas­pard Philippe, 33000 Bordeaux. For wine lovers: Aux Qu­a­tre Coins du Vin Only open from 6pm and closed on Sun­day, Aux Qu­a­tre Coins du Vin has a tast­ing ma­chine called Vin au Verre that al­lows you to choose 3cl, 6cl or 12cl sam­ples from a se­lec­tion of 32 wines. It’s a great way of tast­ing grands crus at rea­son­able prices. The wine bar also of­fers the chance to try be­fore buy­ing from its cel­lar, as it is also a cave. More: 8 Rue de la De­vise, 33000 Bordeaux. Best mar­ket: Le Marche des Ca­pucins Le Marche des Ca­pucins is the main cov­ered mar­ket in Bordeaux, and there you will find butch­ers, fish­mon­gers, fruit, veg­eta­bles, flow­ers, wine, even honey. It’s where chefs do their shop­ping, and it is full of great char­ac­ters, ven­dors with big mous­taches or old grumpy blokes in berets. More im­por­tant, the qual­ity of the pro­duce is su­perb. More: Place des Ca­pucins, 33000 Bordeaux. Best for bread (and madeleines): La Fabrique Pain et Bri­coles Here they bake the best bread in Bordeaux: it’s so good the queue of­ten stretches for 15m out­side the shop. But the shop is so plain, it’s al­most as if those who run it don’t know how great they are. I par­tic­u­larly like the pain de cam­pagne cooked dark with a fan­tas­tic crust. And the madeleine se­lec­tion is also a must. More: 47 Pas St Ge­orges, 33000 Bordeaux. Best for fish: Le Pe­tit Com­merce The decor at Le Pe­tit Com­merce is sim­ple: a Formica bar near the en­trance, an open kitchen at the back and a huge black­board that dis­plays the un­usu­ally large se­lec­tion of starters and fish cour­ses of the day. And the fish is ex­tremely fresh, as you would ex­pect from an op­er­a­tion that also has a stall across the street where you can sam­ple plateau de fruits de mer or a few fresh oys­ters. More: 2 Rue Par­lement St Pierre, 33000 Bordeaux.

MAIN PIC­TURE: LA TUPINA; IN­SET: LIFE­STYLE FOOD CHAN­NEL

Rus­tic fare on dis­play at La Tupina restau­rant, above; and chef Bruno Lou­bet

Canele spe­cial­ist Bail­lardran

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