At last, Tim Atkin finds a mid-range restaurant in Bordeaux where the food is as good as the drink ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Autumn 2010
Bordeaux is a gastronomic paradox. Wine-lovers are well catered for by the region’s 9,000 chateaux, but for those of us who like to drink our claret, white Bordeaux or Sauternes with food, France’s seventh-largest city is a mediocre place to eat. Though there are two good restaurants at the top end (Le Chapon Fin and Le Saint James) and plenty of acceptable inexpensive places along the Quai des Chartons, there hasn’t been a whole lot in between.
But things are looking up. Three Bordeaux-based friends told me independently about La Brasserie Bordelaise, a wine-focused restaurant in the city, so I went to try it for myself. It certainly looks the part, with dramatic red awnings, upturned wine barrels and bottles almost everywhere you look. Even at lunch time, the place was buzzing. The food menu showcases regional products from the south-west—oysters, cheeses, duck and pork—with real style.
La Brasserie Bordelaise is a more ambitious version of Le Bouchon Bordelais, a wine bar that used to be located across the street. Owned by the same proprietors, the brasserie has more space, not only to display and store wine, but to hold tastings and winemaker dinners. Food is important, although it’s the wines that are the main focus. I’m delighted to report that the list is as well chosen as anything I’ve sampled in Bordeaux, and offers considerably better value than many, with plenty of bottles under €20. What it lacks in leather-bound form, the selection makes up for in content with around 300 eclectic choices. One glance is enough to tell you that the youthful co-owners, François Pervillé and Nicolas Lascombes, love wine.
French lists tend to be regional affairs, listing local wines and not a lot else, other than Champagne. And when you’re based in Bordeaux, a city surrounded by 57 appellations, you could be forgiven for sticking solely to them. But one of the many things I like about the selection at La Brasserie Bordelaise is that it includes wines from farther afield—not only the Rhône, Provence, Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Loire, Alsace and the Languedoc, but also Spain, Portugal, Italy, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, America and Australia. For France, this is an unusually cosmopolitan line-up; in fact, it’s almost revolutionary.
Bordeaux still bestrides the list, mind you. Its wines are divided into sections, which sometimes overlap: namely dry whites, wines from the right and left banks of the Gironde estuary, organic wines, winemaker wines, rare wines, négociant wines, rosés and sweet wines. There are also separate ranges from Michel Rolland and Olivier Dauga, two well-known winemaking consultants.
A bonus if you’re a fan of the plusher Right Bank styles is that La Brasserie Bordelaise specialises in the wines of Pomerol, listing 23 separate bins from this famous appellation. The restaurant deserves praise for resisting the no-brainer temptation to select star names such as Le Pin or Pétrus, seeking out less familiar wines instead. I had a bottle of 2005 Clos René (€45); it was silky and fine, with a touch of spice and medium-weight tannins.
Confusingly for the punter, the positioning of some wines on the list seems a little random. What makes, say, 2006 Château Thieuley more of a vin d’auteur et de vigneron than the 2007 Clos Floridène, listed under the Left Bank? Similarly, why is the 2001 Les Pagodes de Cos included among the rare wines, but the 2004 Clos du Marquis excluded? Both are the second wines of top Médoc chateaux; both sell at €68.
The list isn’t perfect. I’d like to see more selections by the glass, more growers’ Champagnes (as opposed to big brands) and more information about the wines in general. Rive Droite and Rive Gauche aren’t necessarily familiar to people who don’t live in Bordeaux; Olivier Dauga even less so. And what about a few notes on different vintages? In Bordeaux, there’s a huge difference between 2003, 2004 and 2005. That said, the service is friendly and knowledgeable, so ask the sommelier for advice. Do so, and a great wine selection awaits you. And, unusually for Bordeaux, some very good food to go with it.
La Brasserie Bordelaise 50 rue Saint Rémi, 33000 Bordeaux; +33 (0)5 57 87 11 91
IN THE BIN
Number of wines 300
By the glass 18
Under €30 Around half
Over €100 10
Best value 2001 Château? La Garance, Graves (€29)
Worst value 2004 Château Latour (€430)
Expense account adjuster •••••
White Bordeaux index 2.42**
* Probability that the next-door table are paying with the company’s money
** 2009 Dourthe Numéro Un at ?€17or €7 at La Cave Dourthe in St Emilion