Bordeaux for beginners
A leading chef uncovers some of southwest France’s tastiest secrets
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.
Rustic fare on display at La Tupina restaurant, above; and chef Bruno Loubet
Canele specialist Baillardran