I had a sort of gastronomic awakening in Bordeaux - if that's what you'd call it. A foodie revelation. I ate steak cooked (much) rarer than my usual liking, slurped oysters in their shells (which I used to love, then went off of for about six years), and drank eye-wateringly expensive wine - all things I'd previously been a little uncomfortable with but thought, hey, YOLO. And I loved it all.
Life's too short. And Bordeaux's the perfect place to have this type of awakening. I seriously just felt like I finally came to my senses - literally. The produce is fresh, vibrant, and plentiful. Even the garlic smells and tastes different (i.e. fragrant, with an added dimension that I couldn't put my finger on). The fennel I cut open back at our Airbnb apartment scented the entire kitchen. The tomatoes were deep red: sweet and juicy. I returned to London with a heavy sense of disappointment over the limp, anemic-looking lettuce lining the shelves of Tesco; the same food trends being recycled over and over again.
Don't get me wrong: Bordeaux does experimental too (and the Michelin-dining is exquisite - I'll write about that in another post), but a part of me can't help but think that when you strip things back down to the basics, Bordeaux wins. You'll see what I mean as this post continues below.
So, although we only grazed the very tip of the Bordeaux food scene, here were five places we discovered during the week we were there for delicious food and wine:
After scoping out the wonderful antiques in Bordeaux's Chartrons district, we stumbled into El Nacional - and what a delightful accident it was. Humming with locals, businessmen, and a handful of tourists (us, plus the American
John ordered the formules du midi, which included steak with chimichurri sauce (a concoction that made your palate go zing!), crispy french fries, a glass of wine and a coffee. I was feeling less hungry that day but had a craving for calamari, which came pan fried (not battered!) and exquisitely seasoned with garlic and chilli. Funny story: the power went out in the entire square during our meal, so all the lights went off and the kitchen went into a bit of a panic! Because their coffee machine wouldn't work, we were presented with these homemade chocolate-chip cookies with a caramel filling instead. I *so* wish I could have taken a box home with me. They were outstanding.
Whenever I'm in France, I try to find the best boulangerie in town - one that's worth dragging my lazy butt out of bed for at 7 a.m. to get the best pick of the fresh-out-of-the-oven croissants and pain au chocolats. Naturally, I Googled, "best bakeries in Bordeaux" and found La Fabrique Pains et Bricoles at the top of the list. The pain aux raisins were so fluffy and soft, I could have cried. I loved the sprinkling of sugar on top! We took them back to our Airbnb apartment and enjoyed them there with a cup of strong coffee with the balcony doors open - it felt so French!
When I asked for recommendations on Instagram, more than one person suggested Plume for brunch, which was just a quick 6-minute stroll from our Airbnb. It had just opened its doors when we arrived, so we were the first ones in. Despite this, brioche was off the menu (sad face) so we ordered the "Classic" breakfasts instead: fruit, bread, jam, butter, coffee and juice. Simple, but effective. French bread and pastries are the best. Even the butter tastes better in France!
After paying to escape a locked room at The Escape Hunt Bordeaux (most random but best hour of my LIFE!, we talked animatedly about all the clues we tried to solve en route to Marché Des Capucins, a covered food market that puts Borough Market to shame.
We immediately joined the line for Chez Jean-Mi, known for its seafood platters piled high with fresh oysters, sea snails, prawns, and crab claws. Clearly popular with locals, the open-air restaurant was filled to the brim by the time we arrived at 1 pm. Shells flew, oysters were slurped, and glasses of white wine were knocked back with abandon. It looked like so much fun!
After waiting for about 10 minutes or so, we were finally seated - cheek to jowl with the next table, but we didn't mind. It was all a part of the experience. We ordered the seafood platter for two and tackled the crab claws and oysters with the joie de vivre of two people who seemed to have waited their whole lives for this foodie-tastic moment ... it was nothing short of exhilarating and fun.
In the evening, we headed to the cheesy-but-aptly-named Wine More Time on Rue Saint James for champagne, cheese, and - for me - sweet wine. The outdoor seating was perfect for people watching (so many cool people whizzing past on bikes) but the indoor tables had a great vibe as well.
The staff was super friendly and happy to make recommendations when asked. On our last night in Bordeaux, we cooked a simple dinner at home after buying a delicious rotisserie chicken from Marche des Capucins and headed back out to Wine More Time for a final hurrah. We stayed late into the evening sipping wine and talking about everything under the sun ... it was so lovely to have a date night like that!
Last night, we watched Rick Stein's 'Long Weekend' series on BBC, which started in Bordeaux, and we already can't wait to go back to try the restaurants he mentioned. The best thing is that a long weekend is totally possible, with Bordeaux being only an hour and a half away from London by plane.
Looking into tickets right now.