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Epicurean Destination Guide to Bordeaux, France

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A report on Bordeaux, the city and its environs -  food, wine, makets, restaurants, hotels

Bordeaux --the city (not the vineyards)-- has developed into a treasure of French architecture, food & wine culture, and civility since our last visit over 16 years ago. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bordeaux city is an overlooked jewel currently in the process of a Renaissance of French joie de vivre. The zone of the World Heritage Site corresponds to the inside of the boulevards, to and including the Garonne. It stretches out over 1,810 hectares, or nearly half of the city’s surface area. Furthermore, the city of Bordeaux as a whole, the area outside of the boulevards and 8 surrounding communes (Bruges, Cenon, Floirac, le Bouscat, Lormont, Mérignac, Pessac and Talence) are concerned by the so-called heritage sensitivity area, which is also recognized.

Updated 2014! This UNESCO World Heritage Site is Better Than Ever . . .

Bordeaux hotels, restaurants, cuisine

Bordeaux Food Shops & Markets

Capcucins Market (Marche du Capucins) counts among our favourite food markets in all of France. You'll encounter great places to stop for breakfast or lunch, as well as the gamut of food vendors, butchers, cheese mongers, etc. Here's a few recommendations:

A specialty butcher in the Capucins market who has excellent French, Basque, and Spanish saussages and other ingredients, incudling wonderful boudin blanc with truffles.
 
A fromagerie also at les Capucins market: La Ronde des Fromages de Michèle Morand
This is the best of the cheese mongers at the market--good selection, cheeses nicely aged and cared for, knowledgeable service.
 

Finest fromageur/affineur in the city?
 
Bordeaux has long been home to the acclaimed cheese shop of Jean d'Alos. However, over a period of years, it failed to inspire a strong recommendation. Three years ago opened Fromagerie Deruelle, not far from La Fabrique Pains et Bricoles, at 66 rue du Pas-Saint-Georges (Tel. 05 57 83 04 15). A recent buying trip confirmed that this would be our current top choice, and it's gratifying to see a number of specialty fromageries popping up around the city centre.
 
The best small wine shop: Cousin & Compagnie
 
Place du Parlement
2 rue du Pas-St-Georges
33000 Bordeaux
This small wine shop in the trendy restaurant area contains a superb choice of well-selected wines at prices from the reasonable to the somewhat expensive. Staff are extremely welcoming, helpful, and informed. They know the wines of the shop. Bordeau is, bien sur, a forté but Cousin has a well considered variety from the rest of France and abroad as well.
 
Another good wine store: L'Intendant de L'Hôtel des Vins, 2 Allées deTourney, Tel. 05 56 48 01 29
An amazing wine store of 4 levels connected by a single spiral staircase--geogrpahical seperation by floor. The carefully selected wines for under 20 euros appear on the first floor. The collection includes over 15,000 bottles.
 
A good wine shop:  Vinotech is the better of the larger Bordeaux wine stores, and stocks wines from a variety of price ranges. You can sometimes find good Bordeaux wine deals at the larger supermarkets, such as Auchon at Merideck shopping center downtown. A 2001 Sauternes for less than 10 euros is hard to pass up!

Bordeaux Hotels, in and out of the City

Staying in Bordeaux City, the options have strengthened over the past couple of years. First on our list would be the Grand Hotel, a Regent property. Truly a majestic accomoodation, with an unsurpassed location for exploring the historic city, or doing a bit of wine purchasing.  The hotel faces the impressive Grand Théâtre and is located inside the Golden Triangle, the finest shopping and pedestrian area in the city. 

The Regent Grand Hotel Bordeaux
2-5 Place de la Comedie
33000 Bordeaux
France

Tel: +33 5 57 30 44 44
Fax: +33 5 57 30 44 45
Email:
info.bordeaux@rezidorregent.com

Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux 

An elegant and more intimate hotel solution in central Bordeaux is Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux. With an excellent location not far from the Cours d l"intendance, the rooms are chic modern and eclectic.

3 rue LaFaurie de Mondabon.

Tel. 05 56 48 80 40 

Another suggestion would be the 4-star Mercure Chateu Chartrons, 81 cours Saint-Louis, 33300 BORDEAUX.

Outside of town, in the vineyards, Bordeaux has to its credit world-class hotels du charme.

1. Les Sources du Caudalie is a fairy-tale property set amdist the vineyards of Chateaux Smith-Haut-Lafitte. The main draw here-aside from wine tourism--is the Vinotherapy spa. The Caudalie beauty products and treatments are unsurpassed for quality.

2. Close to Bordeaux but nestled in a beautiful natural setting, surrounded by prestigious vineyards, in the adorable little village of Bouliac,Le Saint-James has an unusual architectural style. Designed by Jean Nouvel who was inspired by the region’s tobacco drying barns, Le Saint-James is a design treasure bathed in natural light. Everything here is devoted to the cult of beauty and pleasure with exceptional wines to accompany the sublime food prepared by top chef Michel Portos. The quality of the local produce and the influence of exotic Mediterranean flavours inspire him to create incredible dishes such as “roasted langoustines with a sushi of crunchy vegetables and iced cream of boquerones” or the “crépinette of pigs trotters and squid spiced with pequillos served in their juices with slices of chorizo sausage”.

3. With 24 rooms and 4 suites, Chateaux Cordeillan-Bages provides for an unforgettable sybaritic experience. In a beautiful setting of vines on the outskirts of the Pauillac region,Château Cordeillan-Bages is an attractive 18th century mansion converted into a hotel and restaurant. This small hotel is a member of Relais & Châteaux. Chef and host Thierry Marx's strict yet inventive cuisine, makes every meal at Cordeillan-Bages an unforgettable experience.

R. W. Apple on Bordeaux, 2002, The New York Times

A good wine shop in Margaux, the Medoc: La Cave D'Ulysses

Great Wine Capitals of the World: Bordeaux

The Independant newspaper: 48 hours in Bordeaux

One to Avoid: Palais des Saveurs

 We stopped in at this seemingly cute and charming litle restaurant for a quick lunch on a rainy day. The Palais offers a variety of savoury tarts as well as a simple menu with three options for lunch.

The frenetic woman running the front of the house could barely contain her disappointment when we wanted to order to tart & salad combos at 8 euros each, so one of us chose a lunch menu for 11 euros. It was all, in short, more than horrible. Disgusting is a better way to put it. The "grilled" andouillette was fetid. The onion tart with lardons shoved in a microwaive, where it deliquesced to nothing. There was simply no scrap of food resembling freshly made on iether plate. Vegetables were flavourless, and the salad a bunch of torn up Romaine, some of it rotten.

 

Bordeaux: An Introduction 

We first visited Bordeaux in the early 1990s and left completely unimpressed--by the wine culture and by the city itself, which appeared as a gloomy, half-modern and half run-down city without identity.

Now, everything has changed.

As the New York Times, the Independant of London, and many others have noted, Bordeaux has undergone a transformation, nay a transmogrification from the city that France and the rest of the world had written off into a stunning example of civic pride, urban renewal, high culture, gastronomy, and architectural preservation. There is more to come, as the process of cleaning facades and sprucing up neighborhoods is in process. The immigrant quartier of St. Michele--centered on a stunning Gothic Church that is a World Heritage Monument of UNESCO--is the next one up.

The urban project launched in 1996 by Alain Juppé and made concrete by the cleaning of façades, the development of the quays along the Garonne river, the commissioning of the tram that runs on a ground-level power supply and the requalification of urban areas strengthened this desire to protect and showcase Bordeaux's heritage.

Bordeaux is also naturally situated at the center of the vast wine region (since it was always the commercial hub of the whole region) and therefore forms a perfect base for visiting Medoc, Graves, Sauternes, or Pomerol. And if you don't have time to go out too see all the vineyards, they will come to you through numerous retail wine merchants and the Wine School.

The food markets of Bordeaux count among the finest we have seen in France, Italy, or Spain. Locales like Les Cupucins--which has a history going back to 1749 but is now housed in a modern parking structure--have an amazing breadth and range of products, inlcuidng both permanent vendors in stalls and others who come in for the day. Vegetable & fruit vendors spill out onto the streets outside the market as you head towards Place Victoire. Fresh seafood, an astonishing selection of oysters, cheese mongers, butchers, and a wine shop all find their home here.

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Bordeaux contains interesting historical information.

Bordeaux Restaurants
 
Le Gabriel
Bar, Bistrot, and Gastronomic Restaurant
10, place de la Bourse
05 56 30 00 80 - www.bordeaux-gabriel.fr

Located in an unparalleled position at the center of the place de la Bourse, with memorable views of the place, reflecting pool, and river, Gabriel has caught our attention for over 4 years. It's a combo affair, consisting quite intentionally of 3 different venues on 3 floors: spacious & comfortable bar at the entry level; what intends to be a classic French bistro on the 1st floor; and the Michelin one-starred restaurant above that. Purportedly, the kitchens of the two dining venues remain totally apart, though the entire operation remains under the command of one chef: Francois Adamski.

 Dinner at the bistro was pleasant and the food passable, but for the price there are numerous other options in Bordeaux of greater value. Enough said.

Restaurant Dan 

6 rue de Cancera,  Tel. 05 40 50 76 91

 Dan (the restaurant) catches the eye: Chinese silk lanterns inside a narrow stone building with warm pine floors, and tea pots strewn about as part of the decor. The concept owes much to a vision of Chinese-inspired cuisine at an elevated level. Dan manages to pull if off! There's very reasonable luncheon menu. 

L'incontOurnable

7, rue du Cerf Volant, Tel. 06 74 25 11 11

www.resto-lincontournable.com 

Scallop ravioli topped with leaks & foie gras with asparagus & Comte cheese, jambonette of duck confit and roasted turbot. We choose L'incontournable due to its sylish and welcoming interior--a combination of natural wood and pleasant colour--and its concise but pleasing menu. A small, open kitchen let you observe what's going on. Observant and well-timed service complimented the very satisfying dishes. There is also a smartly-selected short list of wines.  

 
La Brochetaille
12, rue des Piliers-de-Tutelle
Tel. 05 56 81 00 64
This purely grill restaurant provides tasty meats and some fish in a quaint, very French atmosphere. The jovial host has selected some good wines to go with his rustic fare, the local favorite of which is the duck carcass filled with sliced duck breast and foie gras. It was delicious, though perhaps a bit pricey for the quanitity of actual meat served. The beef à sel gros was good as well. This is not a restaurant for vegetarians.
Other restaurants:
 
La Salle à Manger
15 Rue des Bahutiers, St. Pierre district, 0 556811651
This new restaurant in the up-and-coming St. Pierre quartier has stylish, understated character and an owner who looks after every detail. A short list of carefully selected wines compliments a menu of well-conceived dishes. An amuse-bouche of a fish purée followed by eggplant gratin, baked camembert with garlic (the cheese is cut horizontally and half and baked in a hot oven), lamb chops with root vegetables, and pork loin with a basil sauce were all well-prepared and  timely presented.
 
ô de L'Hâ
5, rue de Hâ, Bordeaux, 33000, Tel. 0 556814221
This trendily stylish restaurant on a sidestreet is named after the now largely non-existent fortress named, peculiarly, Hâ. The service was good to excellent, though it comes in a casual style. The food arrived well presented and in timely. L'Hâ's cuisine is pretty straightforward French with a slight nouveau twist. Beef tartar and and a chestnut "crêpe" (which was really more of savory terrine)  followed by a prefectly-cooked beef daube with a foie gras sauce and coquille St. Jacques (which came with an underwhelming 4 scallops).  Good wine list, including excellent choices by the glass. Overall, recommended.
 
Cafe Régent, 46 Place Gambetta, Bordeaux city, Tel. 0556513658
Given its superior position on a corner Place Gambetta, we had avoided Le Régent as it seemed overpriced. This was a mistake. If you're looking for a more traditional French-style meal at reasonable prices, try this medium-sized establishment with its efficient service and enticing menus. The wine list is good, and though slanted towards more recent Bordeaux vintages and a bit pricey, well selected. The ambiance is brasserie/cafe style--not overly elegant--but very French.  The cuisine is nicely presented and provides varied tastes. The tarte fine, duck breast, and andouillete were all memorable, and the desserts pleased everyone. NOW CLOSED
 
Chez Jean-Mi, Bistro à Huitres, Halle des Capucins, Bordeaux city Tel. 06 22 81 12 06
Go to the morning market at les Capucins around 11 a.m. and stay for a little snack and glass of chilled white Bordeaux wine after your basket is full. There are just a few specialties one can trouver here: the freshest of oysters, good bread, wine, and soupe des poissons with the traditional rouille and grated cheese--c'est parfait! 6 oysters and soup and two glasses of wine cost 11 euro 30.

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