City Guide :: Bordeaux

Monday, March 18, 2013

The city of Bordeaux, approximately 500 kilometres south west of Paris and the ninth largest in France, is a city of great open spaces connected by labyrinths of tiny, meandering streets. Where the most classic 18th century buildings house the most intriguing, innovative and contemporary spots. Where everyone seems to live outside, skating alongside the Garonne river, sipping chilled, local wine en terrasse, hanging off a balcony to watch the world past by beneath. Of great beauty covered by the grime and graffiti of stories past.
To be honest I had very little expectations of Bordeaux. I hadn't invested much time researching the city as in my mind it was just a gateway to both the Atlantic coast where we would spend the second half of our trip and the wineries from which my favourite plonk is named. After arriving on the TGV around noon and checking into our appart'hotel we headed by tram to the top of the city, where the largest square in Europe, the Esplanade des Quinconces, is located and where our sight-seeing was to start. Any reservations I may have had about the town were badly impacted when we found there an enormous and ghastly carnival covering the entire place for the school holidays. After recoiling in horror and bemoaning at our misfortune we spun on our heels towards town via the grand promenade on the river foreshore.
Bordeaux then pleasantly surprised me.

The architecture is stunningly beautiful and the magnificent open squares are impressively grand. It was refreshing to walk through such space whilst still in a city, much like how I feel each time I pass through Place Vendome. Mr M, who ordinarily doesn't like to draw attention to himself, even did his space dance through the middle of the Place de la Bourse by skipping around in large circles with his arms stretched out. To see a six-foot-tall person do this whilst being followed by a tiny white puppy is quite hilarious.
After losing ourselves amongst the tall buildings and cobblestones whilst munching on the famous and delicious cannéles du Bordeaux from Baillardran we settled on the Cours de l'Intendance in the sun with a glass of Lillet, an aperitif consisting of Bordelais wines and the rinds of citrus fruits, to watch the beautiful people of Bordeaux stroll by. A lingering visit to the very amazing Fromagerie Deruelle cheese shop and stop at Le Comptoir Bordelais for some local wine and chocolate-coated raisins provided a picnic dinner & dessert for that evening.

The next day, our only full day in Bordeaux, we woke early to visit Saint Emillion, a tiny village of a town just a 30 minute train-ride away. The village proper is a good twenty minute walk from the train station but is an excellent introduction to the celebrated vineyards that have been there since Roman times and great way to build an appetite for a hearty lunch.

It was difficult to fathom that this tiny, ancient, crumbling village which boasts four winery estates classified at Premier grand cru classé A, the highest quality level for French AOC wines, is enjoyed at the most upmarket and chic tables the world over; making your way up and down through the hilly town you feel that urbanisation is a million miles away. One of the only caves in town, Clos des Menuts, gladly welcomes visitors (and pups), and after exploring their numerous caves you're able to buy affordably priced older wines for enjoying right away or more recent wines to lay down. We invested in a 2004 bottle that we plan on keeping to enjoy when we finally make the decision to move back home in, hopefully, a few more years time.

Needing decent replenishment from our day's jaunt once back in the city, we headed to Bordeaux's "Eat Street", Rue Porte de la Monnaie. This tiny, very unassuming, cobblestone street boasts five completely different restaurants all run by the father of Bordeaux's restaurant scene, Jean-Pierre Xiradakis. Walking past the simply-named Bar-Cave, with its wine-swilling Bobos laughing on the terrasse we approached the Mediterranean-themed Kuzina, a nod to Xiradakis' Greek heritage. Wanting to enjoy something a little more local we pressed on to scope out La Tupina, the first restaurant to set-up shop on the street and an institution as far as South-West dining is concerned. Tupina is the basque-French word for the kettle that hangs from a fireplace and it's this homely sentiment that feeds the atmosphere at La Tupina. Dishes from recipes handed down from generations of grandmothers grace the menu alongside offerings from local producers that Xiradakis and other leading chefs from the region discover and nurture. This local produce is also offered to diners to enjoy at home via the Le Comestible, a dine-in epicerie, across the street. As appealing as the warmth of La Tupina was, our stomachs were still full from our three course lunch so we decided to cover the rest of the street to see what else we may find. Just around the corner at the end of the street we were delighted to find Le Café Tupina.

A relaxed, retro space with red vinyl booths, mosaic tiled walls and vintage bikes and kitsch knick-knacks for decoration, Le Café Tupina was exactly what we were looking for. While it may be refered to as a "café", the grand restaurant from which it takes its name has a heavy influence on the gourmet menu. We enjoyed grilled calamari flavoured with Espelette peppers cultivated from the Basque region, the cocotte du jour of pork ribs served simply with sautéed capsicums and rice, and for dessert pear poached in Bordeaux wine. It was the perfect way to sample very well cooked local flavours.

The next day marked our last day in the city. Realising there was to be a big flea market that coming weekend right near our hotel close to the Marche aux Puces, we wandered into the city via where they are located, Place Canteloup, and found ourselves amongst the energetic groceries and fabric stores reminiscent of Paris' North African Goutte d'Or district. We crossed the place in search of our morning crémes and came across a delightful organic café, the Chat Noir Cha Vert, run by a group of girls as warming as the coffee they serve. Mismatched vintage crockery displaying home-made scones, tarts and biscuits sat proudly on the counter top; I couldn't resist trying a treat called a corne de gazelle, a light, crescent-shaped biscuit dusted with icing sugar. Decorated with a trompe l'oeil bookcase, plants on every surface and artwork by local creatives, you could tell the cafe was a the hub of the area's alternative community. It gave us just the energy we needed to whiz through the city one last time before our 2pm train.

Wanting to pick up a few forgotten supplies before heading to the almost deserted coast we set off for Rue Saint Catherine, the 1.5 kilometre pedestrian shopping street that intersects the old town, detouring via the very cool Rue du Pas-Saint-Georges, the same street that hosts the amazing cheese shop. Boutiques such as Graduate Store and a.Copola had us curating our ideal wardrobes and Bloom had us wishing for a garden.

After abusing our pockets shopping we headed to Place du Palais to be kinder to our stomachs at La Cagette, a great spot we'd seen on our first day.
Since its opening not yet one year ago, La Cagette's formula, while seemingly unique to Bordeaux, is one that has been wildly well received. A modern cantina that produces a new menu each day according to the fresh produce available from local producers, the La Cagette's open kitchen not only services its 30-cover salle but can prepare their dishes for take away, apéro and picnic hampers by special order, and each Sunday they put on a set-menu brunch available up to 3.30pm.
Its clean, minimalist black, white and pinewood interior is the kind I fall head over heels for;  if I could design my ideal kitchen this is what it would look like. It felt like we were dining in the cafeteria of a chic Scandinavian junior school. The only colour in the place came from the amazing embroidered art work by Cécile Jarsaillon on exhibition and the fresh produce used in their dishes that are kept stacked against the wall in their cagettes (crates), which only works to highlight them both.

While I would have loved test the kitchen's plat offerings we were super excited to see decent sandwiches on the menu. Mr M and I took the sandwich + dessert formula at the very reasonable 9€, and some freshly pressed juice. The staff haven't lost their new-kid-on-the-block bounce and were attentive without being over bearing (for a while at the start we were the only ones in the café - early Anglo eaters!). Should I ever hope to find myself in Bordeaux again I'd be making a beeline to La Cagette as soon as I step off the train, perhaps even schedule the trip around being in the city on a Sunday morning to try the brunch.

We worked hard at seeing as much as we could in the little time we had in Bordeaux, and while happily satisfied and inspired with what we did, I know that if I was to stay a little longer and scratch at the surface a little further a whole new creative and exciting city would open up to explore. It was this lingering feeling that occupied my thoughts during the hour-long train ride to continue our holiday on the coast.

55, cours de l'Intendance, BORDEAUX
Mon - Sat: 9h - 20h, Sun: 10h30 - 20h

Rue du Pas-Saint-Georges, BORDEAUX

#66 - Fromagerie Deruelle
Tues - Sat: 9h00 - 13h00 & Mon - Sat: 16h00 - 19h30

#63 - Graduate Store
Mon - Sat: 9h - 19h

#72 - Bloom
Mon: 9h30 - 19h, Tues - Sat: 19h30 - 20h

61 Cours d'Alsace Lorraine, BORDEAUX
Mon: 14h - 19h30, Tue + Wed: 11h - 19h30, Thurs - Sat: 11h - 20h

Le Comptoir Bordelais
1bis, rue des Piliers de Tutelle, BORDEAUX
Everyday: 9h - 19h30
Tel: 05 56 79 22 61

Clos des Menuts
3 Place du Chapitre, SAINT EMILION
Open everyday: 9h - 19h

Le Café Tupina
1, Quai Ste Croix, BORDEAUX
Open everyday: 8h - 23h

Chat Noir Cha Vert
47, rue des Faures, BORDEAUX
Tues - Sat: 9h - 23h, Sun: 9h - 20h
Tel: 05 57 95 93 32

Resto La Cagette
8, place du Palais, BORDEAUX
Open everyday. Mon - Sat: 12h - 14h30 & 19h30 - 23h. Sun for Brunch: 11h30 - 15h30


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