Monday, 8 June 2015

Bordeaux Restaurant recommendations

I recently chatted with Will Lyons, who writes for the Wall Street Journal about various favourite restaurants in the Bordeaux area. Here below is an edited version of the article that featured in the Wall Street Journal. Many clients of Bella Wine Tours have experienced these fantastic restaurants frequently.

How to Eat Like a Winemaker in Bordeaux

Five Bordeaux restaurants where you can rub shoulders with winemakers, local châteaux owners and négociants—and enjoy some of the region’s best cooking

The traditional dish 'terrine du terroir' at restaurant Chez Mémé in St.-Julien, France The traditional dish 'terrine du terroir' at restaurant Chez Mémé in St.-Julien, France Photo: Markel Redondo for The Wall Street Journal
BORDEAUX IS SO DOMINATED by fine wine that it’s easy to forget that this is a region steeped in good food. With the Atlantic on one side, you’re never far from fresh oysters, scallops, mussels and crabs, usually served with a glass of crisp, white wine from the Graves. But it’s the local meat, such as Pauillac lamb, that pairs so well with the region’s heavy red wine, and no trip is complete without sampling an entrecôte Bordelaise and a glass of mature Médoc.

More on Wine

This weekend, Bordeaux’s top châteaux will open their doors to more than 2,000 visitors for the Weekend des Grands Crus—a chance for amateurs to step into the shoes of the professionals and enjoy two days of tastings, dinners and cellar tours. While it’s not difficult to eat well here, the best experiences can be found at the small, out-of-the way places where the vignerons snatch a quick lunch, the proprietors gather to gossip and the négociants meet to hatch deals.
Here are five places where you’re more than likely to spot a winemaker, the local château owner or even the odd wine critic scribbling notes in the corner.

Where Bordeaux Winemakers Dine

Five restaurants where Bordeaux’s wine crowd eats, drinks and does business.

CHEZ MÉMÉ // St.-Julien-Beychevelle
Amid the grand châteaux and manicured lawns that line route D2 sits Chez Mémé, a small, unpretentious bistro. In fact, you could be forgiven for missing it (as I have many times), as the only clue to its existence is a green awning and a few tables and chairs covered in red, checked table cloths. Inside is a cozy room where you’re almost guaranteed to see half of the growers from St.-Julien and Pauillac. Ask for the special of the day and you’ll receive three courses of country cooking, with dishes like boudin noir. Open lunchtime only, around €20 a person; 30 rue de St.-Julien; +33 556 738532
L’ENVERS DU DÉCOR // St.-Émilion
For those in the know, L’Envers du Décor is the go-to wine bar in St.-Émilion. Enter this informal bistro and you’ll be hit by a wave of chatter and the smell of country cooking. The menu is classic, with Bordeaux favorites like lamproie à la Bordelaise (lamprey eel in a red-wine sauce) and duck cutlets. The wine list is extensive, and there’s a large selection of wines by the glass, dominated, as you’d expect, by St.-Émilion. Join the wine crowd in the backroom by the open log fire, or in the summer outside in the courtyard. Book ahead as it can get busy. Around €40 a person; 11 rue du Clocher;
CAFÉ LAVINAL // Pauillac
Behind Château Lynch-Bages and a short drive from some of Pauillac’s most famous estates is the small hamlet of Bages, at the center of which sits Café Lavinal. Owned and run by the Cazes family, the proprietors of Lynch-Bages, this relaxed bistro has proved a popular haunt for wine buyers and growers since it opened in 2006. All dark wood and red leather banquettes, it takes its aesthetic inspiration from Paris. The wine list is extensive and cosmopolitan, but the cooking is traditional and uncomplicated. Around €30 a person; Passage du Desquet; +33 5 57 75 00 09
For a classic French brasserie complete with large mirrors and Art Deco prints, Brasserie l’Orléans wins hands down. Its position in the center of town, overlooking the Place des Quinconces, means there’s always a fair share of tourists and locals, but look closely and you may well spot a table of négociants settling down for a long lunch. The restaurant’s policy of allowing châteaux owners and négociants to keep their own wine selection in the cellar makes it a popular haunt for wine professionals. The wine list is traditional Bordeaux, and the food—typical brasserie fare—is good, too. Try the onion soup and steak tartare. Around €40 a person; 36 Allée d’Orléans;
If you’ve never experienced the sight and smell of a big entrecôte sizzling away on an open fire made from vine cuttings, make a beeline for Auberge les Vignes. Nestled in the village of Sauternes, in the heart of sweet-wine-making country, this little restaurant is more often than not frequented by owners of the local châteaux, such as Guiraud and La Tour Blanche. This is a place to order foie gras and a glass of chilled, honeyed sweet wine before an afternoon exploring the area’s rural charms. Around €30 a person; 23 rue Principale;